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How to Navigate Corporate Giving in 2021

Posted: 1/19/2021

Click here to read on The Chronicle of Philanthropy

by Kyle Mitnick

The pandemic has transformed vast swaths of the economy, and corporate philanthropy is no exception. Covid-19 and the need for remote work have caused many companies to reassess their philanthropic priorities. The way that businesses and charities work together is evolving, too.

At my company, our employees value participation in charitable activities. Our in-office holiday food drives and group volunteering events give workers a sense of purpose, support worthy causes, and are fun. They also build team spirit and foster connections among employees, a charity, and the community. While the pandemic put these events on ice, it also has created an even greater desire for companies like mine to find new ways to help.

That help is critical right now. About nine in 10 nonprofits have seen revenue decline by 15 percent or more as the pandemic has forced cancellation of fundraising events.

Despite current challenges, nonprofits and companies can strengthen ties and even find new partners in 2021. Here are a few ways to do that:

Make personal connections despite social distancing. At many companies, employees are approaching 10 months of working from home. Despite efforts to move office life online as much as possible, many of us now spend our days cramming our thoughts into tiny boxes so that we may "chat" with people we used to sit next to. People are craving human connection, particularly when it comes to charitable giving.

At the start of the pandemic, we tried to help staff channel this energy into a digital version of an office fundraiser. We sent out emails highlighting local charities and invited employees to join the company in making donations. However, when employees stare at a screen all day, an email about a charitable project — no matter how worthy — can easily be overlooked in a bulging inbox.

A simple but effective way to address this: Set up an all-hands Zoom call with a representative of a charity who explains what the organization does and how the pandemic has affected the people it helps.

Our employees respond very positively to these calls and ask a lot of questions. Recently we held sessions with Dream Center and Allies for Every Child, two Los Angeles-based charities, and saw donations increase by up to four times compared with email fundraising campaigns we held at the onset of the pandemic.

In early January, we plan to host Laundry Truck LA, which provides mobile laundry services for the rapidly growing homeless community. Although this type of outreach may seem labor-intensive (and isn't suitable for all charities), it can encourage a lasting relationship between the charity, a business, and its workers.

Expect shifting priorities and keep in touch. The pandemic has focused attention on issues related to health and poverty and caused many companies to consider redirecting their giving toward these problems. Donations to Feeding America through Giving Basket are reportedly up 1,980% over 2019 as donors prioritize alleviating hunger. Among my coworkers, interest in helping support local charities like Laundry Truck LA has grown.

The Charities Aid Foundation recently surveyed 73 corporations and found that 30 percent had broadened the range of causes they give to as a result of the pandemic, while 18 percent had narrowed it. When a vaccine is distributed and the pandemic starts to recede, a further realignment may well occur.

For charities trying to navigate this shifting funding landscape, regular outreach to companies is more vital than ever. Reach out to businesses to see if your mission now aligns with their evolving giving strategy. Small and medium-size companies are often particularly flexible in their approach to philanthropy and tend to favor local causes, so they are a good place to start. Check out their social media and websites to determine which causes they recently supported and get in touch if you think your work matches their interests.

Make it easy for companies to find you. While the largest corporations have separate charitable foundations, the vast majority of companies approach philanthropy on a best-effort basis. With needs so great in so many areas right now, it is vital that companies can easily identify nonprofits. Our main ways of finding charities to support are through recommendations from our staff, media coverage, or sites like GreatNonprofits. It's essential that companies can quickly understand the difference a charity makes, so investing time in clear and compelling messages will pay off.

Although more resources like these are needed, two new databases help identify charities that support pandemic relief and social-justice issues. Give Blck has created a list of around 200 nonprofits with Black founders, while Vanguard Charitable's interactive map highlights nonprofits by geographic area.

Charities could consider setting a single point of contact for business partners, much like companies appoint account managers for each client. For business owners not steeped in the nonprofit world, this would make it easier to know whom to contact at a charity.

Communicate clearly and keep an open mind. The national reckoning on racial injustice, the pandemic, and the economic fallout have created a blizzard of statistics. People are feeling overwhelmed. So for charities communicating with corporate partners, I suggest keeping it simple. Be direct about the needs you address in your community and about how your organization solves problems.

Businesses and employees have always wanted to know their charitable donations make a difference, but providing data on your results is more important than ever. Be transparent about how donations will be used, how many people will benefit, and how you measure success.

Keep the lines of communication open with companies that support your nonprofit and be flexible about new opportunities. For example, although in-person volunteering may not be possible right now, companies can still donate staff time by sharing their expertise over Zoom. Plus, shifting patterns of retail and remote working may create opportunities for charities to temporarily use warehouse space or tap into other logistic capabilities.

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