Nonprofits looking to launch cause marketing campaigns, garner employee volunteer support or land corporate sponsorships for their events need to do their research and better understand the changes going on inside corporate giving offices, according to corporate philanthropy experts.
Data collected by the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals for its 2017 Benchmarking Report show that a fair amount of companies participate in cause marketing and event sponsorships. But while many charities might assume a company’s corporate social responsibility department or charitable foundation would be where to inquire about such things, they will have better luck working with the marketing department instead.
“It’s not really well-understood among the nonprofit sector,” said Maryann Fiala, communications and marketing director at the ACCP.
It wasn’t that long ago that most—if not all—of a company’s charity was handled by one department. But as the field of corporate philanthropy has grown in breadth and sophistication, the tasks associated with it have been divvied up, with specialists from a variety of fields now involved in CSR program execution.
Today, the different components of corporate giving and community investment—be it in-kind donations, cash contributions, employee volunteerism, sponsorships and cause marketing—might fall under an array of different divisions, including marketing, public affairs/relations, CSR and even human resources, all of which have their own goals and budgets. Knowing where to go, who to talk to and what they are looking for in a proposal is critical to success.
And don’t count on getting any help from company staff either. If a nonprofit inquires with the wrong department, it’s possible that the company will help point them in the right direction—but only if there’s an established relationship, Fiala said.
“There’s a reticence to pass someone off to a colleague in another department when there’s been no real vetting of the organization,” she said.
“Nonprofits need to really do their homework” on where their project would fit in with a company’s structure, Fiala said.
Nonprofits would also do well to learn some of the other ways in which companies are changing their CSR and philanthropy programs—in particular, their efforts to align with employee interests.
Per the ACCP report, just over half of companies surveyed have Dollars-for-Doers programs, and a similar number now allow their workers to volunteer during work hours for non-company-sponsored events—both of which are proving ever more popular with employees. Meanwhile, the number of companies with signature volunteering programs, where employees are called on to support a company-sponsored and coordinated volunteer project, is declining.
“This reflects an overall trend in companies following a more employee-centric focus with their giving and volunteer programs,” said Fiala.
With signature programs, a company is essentially telling its workers to support a particular issue or cause, typically one that aligns with the company’s business interests in one way or another. In contrast, by letting them volunteer with non-company-sponsored projects, or rewarding their volunteer efforts through cash Dollars-for-Doers grants for whichever charity suits their fancy, companies are letting their workers take the lead in directing corporate charity, Fiala said.
Other findings from the Benchmarking Report highlight this trend as well. For example, just 29 percent of surveyed companies participate in a federated campaign. Long a staple for major corporations, federated campaigns offer workers a set slate of well-vetted charities to support through payroll deductions, but that might be proving to be too prescriptive, according to Caitlin McDanels, also of the ACCP.
“There’s more emphasis today on the employees’ choice of recipients,” McDanels said. “But there’s no way to include all of the possible choices” in the roster of organizations employees can support through federated campaigns.
That’s because a significant amount of time and resources goes into selecting recipient organizations that are on the up-and-up.
“It’s just too hard to have every possible nonprofit sufficiently vetted,” she said.
The same issue crops up with matching gift programs, McDanels said. According to the survey, about 40 percent of companies offer matching gifts, but the inherent limits to such programs—namely, determining who is included on the list of charities eligible to receive matches—can make them less attractive for workers who have specific organizations they would like to donate to.
Eventually, these trends will result in nonprofits seeing fewer donations from some long-established programs that are losing favor among American workers.