Forget Corporate Giving, Focus On Individuals


I'm in Charleston, South Carolina this week teaching at the New Strategies Forum. That distinguished gentleman in the photo is Curt Weeden, the founder of the Forum and the former chief giving officer for Johnson & Johnson.

Three times a year, Curt and I teach 25 to 35 nonprofits of all sizes how to raise money from companies. It's a sobering endeavor when you listen to Curt talk about it.

  • Corporate giving has plummeted to just .80% - even as corporate profits have soared.
  • Corporate giving represents just 6% of America's philanthropy pie. Compare that to individual giving, which is 72 percent of the pie.
  • Corporate giving is a part-time activity for many companies. Of the 12,000+ public companies, fewer than 500 have full-time contributions or community relations managers.

My conclusion: forget corporate giving, focus on individuals. There's too little money in traditional corporate giving and you have to jump through too many hoops to get the money that is. Forget about it and move on!

You can close your mouth from disbelief.

You should continue working with companies. But you should take a different approach. Target companies that will give you access to individuals (e.g. specifically customers and employees) and raise the money from them instead of the company. Here's why:

  • You'll raise more money from customers and employees than you'll ever raise from the company checkbook.
  • Instead of fighting over the scraps from the company foundation, you'll be dining on the largest piece of the philanthropic pie.
  • Employee relations and sales and marketing are full-time activities for companies. You'll get more cooperation and have more success when you're targeting OPM (aka Other People's Money).

Instead of wasting your time with paltry corporate giving programs, nonprofits should view businesses as a means for raising money from individuals. For example:

  • A company gives you access to customers so you can ask them to donate to your organization at the register.
  • A company opens their employee payroll deduction program to your organization. Perhaps they match employee gifts as an incentive.
  • A company hosts a collection drive that has customers and employees donating gently used winter coats to your organization.

I like what George Brandt said in Forbes last week.

"Checkbook Philanthropy” seems to be going away. The people I talked to, like Regeneron’s Erin Loosen, represented corporations far less interested in writing unrestricted checks than in leveraging their talent, technology, and infrastructure [me: aka assets] to help those in need. This makes total sense. There’s no synergy in cash. Organizations leveraging their own strengths build those strengths while doing good for others.

I'll speak to the group tomorrow and here's my main message: the future of corporate giving is finding ways that companies can stoke giving with employees and customers.

There is no alternative. Corporate giving is dead.