Where can I find information on corporate giving? What motivates companies?
When it comes to philanthropy, corporations give in various ways, including cash donations or grants, in-kind gifts, sponsorships, cause-related marketing, and pro bono services. Companies also like to promote workplace giving through employee matching gifts programs and other efforts that encourage their workers to give their time and/or money to charity.
One sign that a business might support your mission is whether it has taken a pledge of corporate social responsibility (CSR), meaning it takes an active interest in how its company affects the environment and the well-being of society.
CSR includes not only corporate philanthropy, but also environmental issues, employee engagement, and corporate governance. A number of studies, like this one, say consumers prefer to spend their money on businesses that demonstrate social responsibility.
Businesses usually give out cash or grants in two ways. The amount of information you can find varies:
- Corporate giving programs -- These are run by the company itself, often through a dedicated department such as Community Relations or CSR. Companies are not required to make this information public. Unless the company chooses to publicize it, you might have difficulty finding who and what a corporate giving program supports and how much it has given.
- Company-sponsored foundations -- A company can set up a separately-administered private foundation. A U.S. company-sponsored foundation is subject to the same IRS rules as other foundations. They must give money every year and make information about their giving public. They often--but not always--have webpages telling what they will and won't fund, and how to apply. Sometimes they don't take applications, because they only support pre-selected organizations.
For more information on the difference between these two types of corporate giving, see "What is the difference between a company-sponsored foundation and a corporate direct giving program?"
Some companies have both types of giving. A company could also organize a public charity or give through a donor-advised fund. How a corporation organizes its giving is mainly determined by internal considerations about tax and legal issues.
Corporations, unlike foundations, don't exist to give money away. Grantseekers should keep that in mind.
Businesses usually are looking to benefit in some way from their philanthropy. If you approach or write a proposal for a corporate funder, emphasize how support for your project will help the company achieve its own goals. For more information on what companies expect to hear from you, click on this blog, "Corporate Relationships in Action: Unlocking Corporate Needs and Interests."
Corporate giving is motivated by a combination of altruism and self-interest. Most companies tend to favor:
- Locations where they operate. They are looking for nonprofits that work in and improve those communities.
- Organizations or causes that their employees support with their own time and money. (See Workplace Giving.) Sometimes companies base their giving on a CEO's favorite cause; for example, Dave Thomas, the founder of the Wendy's chain, was adopted as a child and the company is a major supporter of adoption and foster children.
- Causes that align with their business interests -- for example, Home Depot gives grants and assistance to build homes for veterans.
While many enjoy the glow of being a good corporate citizen, some companies are cautious about revealing too much about their philanthropic activities. They fear:
- being inundated with requests they cannot fill.
- raising expectations of potential beneficiaries in a good year but disappointing people in a lean year.
- angering shareholders who might think the company is wasting money or who might not approve of an organization or cause the company supports.
- stirring up controversy and losing public support.
To find corporate funders and details about their giving, use Foundation Directory, our searchable database of U.S. grantmakers. You can subscribe, or visit our Funding Information Network locations to use the resource for free.
Learn more about corporate fundraising with Introduction to Corporate Giving. The course is available free as an online training or in-person class. Watch now:
More Knowledge Base resources on the topic of corporate giving can be found here.
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Explore resources curated by our staff for this topic:
Adler & Colvin
A Basic Guide to Corporate Philanthropy
Provides a comparison of the basic legal distinctions between different corporate giving options, including a company foundation, direct giving and a donor-advised fund.
Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship
The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship provides information and tools to help companies integrate corporate citizenship further into the business.
Americans for the Arts
Business Committee for the Arts (BCA)
The Business Committee for the Arts helps businesses collaborate with arts groups. Site includes information on its programs, excerpts from lecture series, news articles, as well as survey data on business support of the arts. One of these programs, The pARTnership Movement, provides data, research, and tools to support the development of creative arts and business partnerships.
CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose)
CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose) leads the business community in raising the level and quality of corporate giving. CECP is a coalition of CEOs united in the belief that societal improvement is an essential measure of business performance. Formerly known as Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.
Council on Foundations
Corporate Giving Programs and Foundations
Corporate Philanthropy refers to the investments and activities a company voluntarily undertakes to responsibly manage and account for its impact on society. Corporate foundations and corporate giving programs traditionally play a major role in these areas.
Site acts as a distribution center for corporate reports and press releases related to corporate social responsibility.
CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose)
Giving in Numbers
The CECP (Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose) publishes an annual report on corporate contributions by leading U.S. companies. Downloading in full-text is available with free registration. (CECP was formerly known as Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.)
Corporate social responsibility reports available free. Search by company name, ticker symbol, industry & more.
The 20 Most Generous Companies of the Fortune 500
Fortune has identified the top 20 most generous companies, as measured by cash contributions, by surveying the top 150 companies in the Fortune 500 and collecting data from public documents filed with the IRS and SEC.
The Conference Board
Search corporate giving topics on the Conference Board website using terms such as "corporate social responsibility" to find out more about its research, blogs and videos.