Corporate philanthropy: He loves me — He loves me NOT

Last week I facilitated a panel discussion about corporate philanthropy at a Boys & Girls Club regional conference in Milwaukee. Serving on that panel was a CEO, COO and CFO from two companies in the Fortune 500 and another company from the Fortune 1000. I personally had a great time interviewing those gentlemen, but later that evening I caught some of the news coverage about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Needless to say, it was a confusing day for me that represented quite a dichotomy.

When I feel this way, I typically like to retreat back to listing off simple facts and try to find some truth and clarity. Here are a few of those facts running through my head this morning:

  • Of the $300 billion given to charities every year, approximately 5-percent comes from corporations and more than 75% comes from individuals
  • There are CEOs who are committed to corporate responsibility and making our world a better place to live as seen in this YouTube video from the 2011 Board of Boards CEO conference.
  • There are individuals who are afraid of corporations and banks as you can see in this YouTube video of a 20-year-old Wall Street protester.
  • While corporations are legal structures without emotions, there are countless numbers of people behind the corporate veil who are living, breathing and compassionate.

From a charitable giving and non-profit perspective, I am always amazed at how aggressive we go after corporate sponsorship and donations even though the statistics don’t seem to justify that strategy. After giving this some thought, I’ve concluded the following two things:

  1. Non-profit volunteer solicitors must feel more uncomfortable talking to individuals about making a donation than even I thought possible.
  2. Non-profit volunteers exhibit this sense of “entitlement” when talking to corporations about charitable giving. (e.g. corporations “owe” this charitable money to our non-profit organizations because we shop at their stores every day and give them our hard-earned money).

If my two conclusions are “on the mark,” then non-profit leaders have a problem on their hands, and I assure you that things are not going to end well. Regardless of how much we cross our fingers and wish, these two things will NOT change: 1) corporations will not suddenly find more money to give away (go back and listen to the CEO conference video very carefully) and 2) individuals will always be the at the heart of a successful charitable giving program.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Don’t stop engaging corporate America . . . continue writing grants, asking for contributions and sponsorships, and building partnerships. However, you need to keep perspective and your eyes on the prize. Listen carefully to this corporate philanthropy manager and I suspect you will come to the realization that your corporate philanthropy strategy can drive the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING to your resource development plans — increased individual giving and support.

Non-profit leaders need to pick themselves up off the ground, put the daisy down and stop singing songs related to: “She loves me, she loves me not“. We need to start LEADING and understand that corporate leaders need to make tough decisions around their limited charitable giving budgets. CEOs want to see return on investment, but even more so, they want their non-profit partners to help them engage their employees and advance their brand.

Additionally, non-profit leaders need to double down on training and working with their fundraising volunteers. We need to help these people get over their fear associated with soliciting individuals. We also need to help them let go of their entitlement attitudes around corporate philanthropy. These two things won’t happen without your leadership, and this paradigm shift must occur if your non-profit organization is going to get healthy during these tough economic times.

So, please feel free to go down to the Wall Street protests in your community, pick-up a sign and march to your heart’s content. It is quintessentially American to do so if you feel that way about the state of our economy and corporate America. However, you ALSO need to figure out how to build bridges to your corporate partners that will enable you to walk their employees (and your future donors) across that bridge and towards your organization’s mission.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847|


  1. Well stated, Erik! I was there when you interviewed the corporate giants last week. Their responses to the questions were open and interesting. How easy it is to forget that they have to be responsible for their giving to their stockholders, employees, customers – to themselves also! A lot of folks to keep engaged if not happy about how they give back. As hopeful recipients of their giving, it is good to remember that they will do as much as they can with what they have to give – if my organization is not the ‘right fit’, then go on with the knowledge and find a company that is a good fit. All this is obvious, but good to remember when things are changing daily regarding the corporate landscape and focus.
    (BTW, I read your blog every day, enjoy it much and hope it goes for a very long time.)


    1. Thanks for the kind words, Vickki. I, too, hope this blog goes on for a very long time. 😉

      Thanks for the feedback on the Corporate Leaders & Philanthropy General Session last week. I love all of RD professionals who provided me with input including Jamie Morris from Evansville who was “Tweeting” his feedback in real-time. LOL Very clever of him especially since my guest blogger was doing a 5-part series on Twitter that week.

      Specifically regarding corporate philanthropy, I was struck by how our panelists re-affirmed my belief that charitable giving by corporations is less about the actually money and more about gaining access to employees who translate into volunteers and future donors.

      Thanks for reading and a big THANK YOU for your comments! Please keep it coming. XOXO ~Erik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.