The corporate response to COVID-19 has provided a glimpse into the potential role that widespread, institutional philanthropy can play in sustaining and ultimately growing the non-profit sector. A recent CAF America survey of Fortune 500 companies revealed that a majority of corporations have increased charitable giving, allowed grantees to repurpose funds, and offered grant extensions since the start of the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the focus of this giving is skewed towards disaster relief, health, food security, and education.1 Time will tell if that distribution changes, but the message is clear: these institutions are motivated and capable of sustaining a significant role in the social sector during times of economic uncertainty. As corporate entities increase giving, they should reevaluate their philanthropic strategy to ensure program success.
Before engaging new partners, corporations should examine the 1) missions that best align with the goals of their philanthropic program, 2) what capabilities and assets they can leverage to support partners, and 3) the outcomes that they hope to realize over the course of the partnership. This combination of factors will help ensure a productive relationship between parties, and more sustainable impact in the long-term. It is a critical step to help define the portfolio of causes and organizations that a corporation can/should engage.
Most non-profits experience volatile funding cycles from year-to-year. They burn valuable administrative resources scrapping for charitable dollars without any certainty of that funding returning the next year. Perhaps the most valuable contribution that corporate entities can provide non-profit partners is continuity over a multi-year period. Developing long-term partnerships can help alleviate some annual fundraising pressure, and can provide breathing room for decision-makers to allocate administrative personnel and resources more efficiently.
Corporations can add value to partner organizations by expanding the scope of their philanthropy. Organizations are evaluating new ways to supplement funding with non-monetary giving such as providing floor space in underutilized offices, in-kind services, and general management support. This latter category is an area that many non-profits recognize as a critical gap, and corporate entities can help them improve operations through support in the form of long-term planning, operational design, and strategic decision making.
This rising tide of corporate philanthropy is an opportunity to redefine the nature of cross sector partnership. While the current crisis has created an understandable emphasis on short-term preservation of front-line programs, corporate philanthropy must help balance a longer-term survival of social sector causes. This includes supporting a diversity of mission areas within the portfolio of philanthropic investments, ensuring long-term commitment to partners, and providing creative problem solving for issues beyond fundraising.
¹ “The Voice of Corporate Philanthropy in Response to COVID-19 Worldwide” Volume 4, CAF America, July 2020