How to Promote Corporate Giving Even Amidst COVID Cutbacks

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Budgets slashed, companies (both non- and for-profit) faced furloughs and cutbacks, and even now, events are significantly limited or on-hold. It may seem like a bleak outlook for nonprofit organizations. But the good news is that businesses and individuals are still prioritizing giving so you can still promote corporate giving.

Since the global pandemic hit back in 2020, 56 percent of Americans engaged in a charitable activity or donation, according to a recent poll from Indiana University. Moreover, increased social awareness and cultural movements saw large corporations increase donations, pledges, and support.

Despite the economic turmoil and financial uncertainties, many nonprofit organizations pivoted their strategies to resourcefully and successfully fundraise in the midst of COVID-19. We found six examples of businesses that still allocated a portion of the budget to philanthropic initiatives and NPOs that got creative to keep the pipeline flowing.

Hopefully, each narrative offers inspiration to guide your strategies and continue to promote corporate giving this year.

1. Leverage a Business’s Current Products, Services, and Expertise

Perhaps you won’t see the same cash contributions this upcoming year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t approach organizations for donations-in-kind. Many companies might be cash-strapped but still want to provide meaningful support. Additionally, many businesses are looking for new ways looking to give back during these difficult times.

For example, online printing company Vistaprint likely saw reduced business due to fewer in-person events this past year. However, that didn’t stop them from using their resources to support front line workers:

“Vistaprint rallied its engineering and manufacturing teams to optimize existing machinery to produce face shields in a matter of days. We’re showing support for frontline healthcare providers by donating 100,000 face shields to hospitals in communities across the country. There are three recipient locations in the greater Boston area [our U.S. headquarters]: Boston Children’s Hospital, St. Elizabeth Medical Center and Dana Farber Cancer Institute.”

Put it in action: Think outside the box, research businesses, and brainstorm ways to leverage their products or services. Companies are being advised to be cautious. For instance, SMB Compass tells their customers to be mindful of cash flow but in the same article, that they should find new “responsible marketing and sales” outlets via digital platforms. Appeal to these needs. During outreach, explain to prospects how in-kind giving can translate into positive digital PR without breaking the bank. Connect the dots for them on how they could contribute their resources. For example, perhaps a local print shop can create pro-bono mailers.

2. Push the Local Angle with Corporate Giving

One of the positive outcomes of everyone staying home was a renewed focus on our communities. Individuals saw small businesses like restaurants struggling and came to their aid in the form of gift cards and increased take-out orders. That same notion can apply no matter what your cause or industry. Companies want to give back to the community their business serves.

Scott J. Corwin, attorney and president of the professional law corporation, Scott J. Corwin, explains why he never cuts back on local initiatives in his native LA:

“Operating a business and working in your local community go hand-in-hand. The more you show up for the community, the more they’ll show up for you in terms of positive word of mouth, opportunities in local media, and reinforcing a stellar reputation. Organizations like the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Charity (LATLC) do such important work for Los Angeles citizens and deserve our time and resources to keep them running well. A rising tide lifts all boats. The more vibrant and healthy our charities and communities are, the more demand for business services there will be. Involvement in charitable causes is also good for the heart and soul to keep business owners humble and motivated.”

Put it in action: Refresh your Rolodex and start a new campaign that targets businesses in your area. Explain the value you offer to your city or town and appeal to their community-minded nature. Moreover, clearly define the inherent and tangible benefits they’ll see from supporting your organization. Feel free to use sections from Mr. Corwin’s quote above!

3. Focus on Customer or Employee Matching

Optimize your corporate giving by asking companies to consider a matching campaign. Depending on the business, they could extend the offer to their customers or employees. This type of initiative works well because it’s participation-based. The more individual contributors that participate, the more the company gives. In turn, they can use the results of the campaign for positive PR. If it’s employee matching, it can raise morale as well as help them build a value-based corporate culture.

FabFitFun offers the perfect case study. Leslie Burthey, Vice-President of Marketing, explains:

“Between our seasonal box sales, we host mid-season e-commerce edit sales. As schools began to close, and millions of children were sent home without the free school lunch they depend on, we were proud to quickly partner with No Kid Hungry as our spring edit sale charity partner. Our members [had] the opportunity to donate to the charity through the sale, and FabFitFun [matched] up to 50,000 of the donations received.”

Put it in action: Of course, No Kid Hungry is a larger organization with more resources and national recognition. But that’s not to say a smaller NPO couldn’t manage a similar feat. Ask previous corporate donors if they’d consider a matching campaign. Make sure to clarify the return they’ll see, whether it be an internal campaign for staff or external for customers/clients. If possible, you could even work with them to develop marketing collateral and build awareness.

4. Creatively Increase Awareness via Social Media

We’ve spent more time on our phones and social media while in pandemic-induced lockdowns. This past year saw 490 million new social media users alone. No matter your budget or resources, you can’t ignore your social presence. Your organization must be active to ensure you’re getting in front of potential donors in our increasingly digital world.

One nationwide example is from World Central Kitchen, founded by Chef Jose Andres. They used the hashtag #ChefsforAmerica to connect out-of-business restaurants with their Restaurants for the People program. The organization paid closed restaurant owners and workers to make meals and distribute them to communities hit hardest by the pandemic. They used social media and their hashtag to make the key connection between folks that needed meals and restaurants that needed business.

Of course, WCK is an extremely well-funded organization, but the same lesson can be applied on a smaller scale.

Put it in action: First, don’t cut down on your social media presence. If need be, focus less on the perfect brand presence (i.e., carefully curated pictures and captions) and more presence in general. Take the tact of “done is better than perfect.” With all the increased digital traffic, you can’t afford not to be active. Consider hiring an intern to help with social media management and content creation.

Next, find ways to increase awareness via social channels. Can you partner with local businesses, use targeted hashtags for your campaign, post more images to show your organization’s work?

5. Shine a Light on the Real Stories and Measurable Solutions

Use your online platform as a medium for storytelling and share real-world examples of how your fundraising efforts have resulted in meaningful, quantifiable outcomes in actual lives, so that donors can see their contributions at work.

Rachel Frey, Development Director at Centro Infantil de Los Angeles, a free daycare and preschool education for underserved children in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, offers advice:

“We always provide testimonials [on] the positive impact we have created through our program. We capture important monitoring and evaluating (M&E) statistics that are proven to engage donors…These M&E tools help us show the difference we are making. Instead of showing the desperation and the need, we show the outcome and impact of our program…Donors are more interested in how they can contribute to positive [solutions] and transformation. Through social media, newsletters, and our blog, we tell stories and show how our work has made a difference, thanks to our supporters…Thankfully, our donors came through—we raised more than $3,000 in one day!”

Put it in action: If you have free time due to canceled events or are spinning your wheels on new strategies—revamp your content! Pour more time into crafting narratives and stories from previous wins. Your organization likely has tons of positive results that you can repurpose into meaningful content that will strike a chord with a reader. As Ms. Frey explains, focus on positive outcomes and support your story with data and metrics to show your impact.

6. Tap into Relevant Societal Issues that People Connect With

While you’re pivoting your main annual fundraiser from in-person to virtual, you might consider changing the event’s theme or charity goals to a more topical issue. Given our heightened social, cultural, and political climate, your donors may be more likely to resonate with relevant initiatives.

The Glendale, CA YMCA offers insights on this process. Tara Paterson, CEO and Executive Director, explained how they shifted focus to empower women and eliminate racism in their home city:

“In the wake of COVID-19, YWCA Glendale, a 95-year-old nonprofit providing safe shelter, supportive services, and empowerment programming for women and children, successfully transformed its 23rd Annual Legacy Luncheon into a new virtual event format, exceeding its original financial and supporter engagement goals…Through the course of the event’s transformation, the country grappled with inequities laid bare by COVID-19, skyrocketing unemployment, and nationwide protests demanding an end to police brutality and systemic racism. The YWCA Glendale’s event content and format evolved with these changes, and conversation topics and driving questions were shaped to address the current moment… Through inspiring and thoughtful conversations, attendees learned about new programs to advance housing solutions for our homeless neighbors, replicable models for low waste green school campuses, art interventions for healing and building community, prioritizing emotional recovery and mental health.”

Put it in action: Revisit your event and campaign goals. Can you realign them with more of a current lens or focus on a more relevant issue? Try to connect with some of the problems and issues that we’ve all faced this past year to make campaigns more impactful and significant for your corporate donors.

Think Outside the Box with Corporate Giving for 2021

The financial hardships and effects of this global pandemic are still rolling out, but that doesn’t mean corporate philanthropy and corporate giving will bear the brunt. As you can see from these six examples, businesses still want to support causes that align with their corporate values. What’s more, nonprofits are getting creative and seeing success from new approaches. Use the above strategies to guide your planning this year and encourage new and old corporate support. 

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