Is Corporate Giving Dead or Just Sleeping?

Former Boston City Councilor Thomas Keane writing in yesterday's Globe Magazine lamented the decline of corporate philanthropy.

The kind of Vault-like civic engagement we once saw from area corporations has faded away.  SupermanMergers and acquisitions are partly to blame...But even the companies that remain have different priorities.  Their businesses are global: sometimes Bangkok matters as much as Boston.

Tom's right.  And it's this global focus that's made things especially challenging for local cause marketers like me.  Big companies generally want national programs they can roll-out across the country, not just in one market.  The BMC brand means something in Back Bay and Brockton, but not in Boise and Boca.

But working with national companies--especially retailers--isn't impossible for local nonprofits.  As I've preached before, it's all about knowing what your assets are and giving prospects what they want and need.

  • All business is local.  Sometimes a big national company is broken into regions that have a lot of autonomy in local markets.  While this isn't the case with say Starbucks or Target, it is with Pepsi and Valvoline Instant Oil Change.  Find the companies that think globally but act locally.
  • Short on breadth?  Add depth.  When I meet with national retailers about Halloween Town, I talk about a cause marketing opportunity that builds local capital.  I talk about a turn-key program that's seamlessly executed by our employees, not theirs.  I talk about a fun, family event that is perfect for employee volunteers.  I talk about a special reception and free admission for their key customers.  Can I do a point-of-purchase program in 42 markets?  No way.  Can I deliver a turn-key point-of-purchase program tied to a unique brandland experience that will engage customers and employees in one market?  You bet.
  • Don't give them an excuse to say no.  When a large company insisted on a national cause marketing program, we gave them one.  We developed two separate programs: one for Mass. stores that benefited BMC, the other for out-of-state stores that went to a different hospital.  We gave the prospect what they wanted and created a bigger pie for ourselves--and gave a slice to another. 
  • If you can't beat them, join them. Boston's Children's Hospital is a top player in local cause marketing, but with a top-notch children's hospital in just about every major city, they can't compete nationally, right?  Wrong.  Children's Boston belongs to a coalition of children's hospitals called the Children's Miracle Network.   Maybe you've heard of some the companies they work with: Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, Blockbuster, Marriott.  What Children's Boston can't do nationally, they do through CMN.  It's a twofer.  I would love to do the same with a coalition of safety-net hospitals from across the country.  It's a big idea, but so was CMN.  What's YOUR big idea?
  • If you can't beat them, give up.  Working with big, national companies is great work if you can get it, but it's not for everyone.  Besides, there's a gold mine right outside your door: small businesses.  But where's the money in that, you ask?  Where it's always been, with the customer.  As Tom points out, the real money is in individual giving not in corporate philanthropy.  Look at small businesses as another way to connect with individual givers--including the business owners themselves--and suddenly partnering with them makes a lot of (dollars and) sense.

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