February 6, 2010

Courting our Corporate Coffers

‘Tis the season!

Yes it’s that time of year in New Mexico, when winter weather makes its last furious blasts against our windows, when post-season football parties take a whack at many a New Year’s resolution, and when the proverbial iron is hot for corporate grant proposal writing. In this article we will talk about trends in company giving, motivations influencing corporate philanthropy, and tips to screen and approach funders.

Many, if not most, corporations that participate in formal local philanthropy operate on a calendar budget year. It is common for companies to follow a tradition of accepting and reviewing requests on an ongoing basis until… well… until the money runs out.

Corporate giving, or corporate philanthropy, falls under two basic categories: donations or grants made from the corporation itself and grants made from a company-sponsored foundation. The latter are structured as separate entities and you can view their tax returns (including grants awarded) on sites like www.guidestar.org.

In seeking corporate funding sources, start with those in your own backyard. Begin with local companies or national companies with local operations. Then think of other ties:

  • What businesses have supported you in the past through things like donations, in-kind goods, volunteer projects, employee matching gifts, or sponsorships?
  • What businesses synch well with your organization (e.g. pet stores for animal welfare groups)?
  • What businesses are geographically close to your service sites?
  • What businesses do you have a relationship with (via staff, board, volunteers, volunteer projects)?
  • What companies have funded agencies that do similar work to yours?

When you have your list of prospects, start going through their websites. Donation guidelines are usually found on tabs or links for “About Us,” “Company Information,” or “Community Involvement.” Check geographic restrictions, interest areas, deadlines, and submission guidelines. When you have your winnowed list of good prospects, it is wise to call or email the representatives (unless discouraged) to find out if your program is indeed a good fit. In this economy, many company representatives are more forthcoming about where the giving will really focus and what dollar amount is likely to be received most positively.

Companies exist, at the most basic level, to make profits and they tend to view giving in terms of return on investment or community reinvestment. Giving means they are opting to pull money from their bottom line and invest it with community organizations. While many companies give because they want to “give back” to the communities that have been good to them, there must be a winnowing process for all of the worthy agencies seeking support. To write corporate requests successfully you need to understand the “returns” or “profits” they prefer.

Do they like projects that can dovetail with their employee volunteerism efforts? Are they invested in the public association and recognition that can be derived from projects with community organizations, such as sponsorships or significant media coverage? Are they looking to cultivate their industry, say, by helping develop the next generation of skilled workers? Is within-company goodwill a greater interest than goodwill in the community? Does their giving tie-in with product development, sales opportunities, employee priorities, or pricing strategies? Are the giving areas personally driven by founders or higher executives?

While you may not have a detailed answer to each of these, you can generally get a sense of priorities from websites, guidelines, annual reports, and interactions with company employees. When you have an idea of the driving factors, craft your proposal to speak to these interests in a clear and compelling way. By taking an organized and thoughtful approach, you will maximize your chances of securing awards and gain your own goodwill with companies.

Final thought: Think of corporate giving in a long-term way. Much like major individual donors, a good approach is to “cultivate” company partners over time. Perhaps there is a volunteer project for which you can request company employees as participants, or a board or advisory committee position that would be of interest to company representatives, or a product donation that can be the basis for a creative media event, or a fitting award for which you can nominate the company. There may be an opportunity for leaders of the company to support a grant to an external party via a letter of support or endorsement quotation – or even by serving as a co-signer on your letters of request or thank-you letters.

Contact: Aly Sanchez, Director of Organizational Strategy and Learning, aly@thegrantplantNM.com


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