Corporate giving, also called corporate philanthropy, is a term that includes all the actions a corporation voluntarily takes to make an impact on society at large, whether through monetary donations, donations of time and expertise, in-kind donations, employee volunteer programs or any other activity that aims to support a social cause. In other words, corporate giving is anything a company does to make a difference in the world. It can be as simple as buying uniforms for a local youth sports team or as complex as creating a separate foundation to direct and manage contributions to dozens — if not hundreds — of community organizations.


Why is Corporate Giving Important?

When a business donates to a cause, it doesn’t just benefit the cause. In fact, a well-designed corporate giving program impacts all the company’s stakeholders: investors, employees, customers, clients and the community. Some of the benefits include:

  • Improved reputation of your brand as a socially responsible company.
  • More resources for the causes and charities chosen as recipients.
  • A wider network and reach in the community.
  • Higher employee engagement and happier employees.
  • Stronger company culture.
  • Improved customer loyalty.
  • Better new employee recruitment.

And these statistics demonstrate just how much of an impact corporate giving can make:

  • 70% of Americans believe that it’s important for companies to make the world a better place.
  • 77% of consumers are more motivated to buy from companies that try to make the world better.
  • 73% of investors believe that when a company tries to make the world a better place, they are more successful.
  • 87% of customers have bought a product because a company supported a cause they care about.
  • 82% of customers donate to charities supported by companies they trust.
  • 74% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they have opportunities to make a positive impact at work. 
  • 90% of employees who believe their company has a strong sense of social purpose are more inspired and engaged in their work. In addition, 92% say they’re more likely to recommend their employer.
  • Employees who feel that their causes are supported by their employer are more likely to stay with that company.
  • Younger employees are increasingly likely to choose jobs where they feel they can make a positive impact on the world. 

In short, companies that practice corporate giving are increasingly more aligned with what their customers, employees, prospective employees and communities want and expect. Their workers are more inspired, more engaged and more likely to stay in their jobs. Their customers are more loyal and more likely to recommend them to friends, and they are more likely to attract job candidates who are aligned with the company’s core values and mission.

Sounds pretty good, right? Before we talk about ways to develop the kind of corporate giving structure and culture that brings those benefits, let’s take a look at the history of corporate giving and how it’s brought us to where we are.


A Brief History of Corporate Giving and Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate giving has its roots in the historical concept of noblesse oblige — the idea that those who are more fortunate have an obligation to act responsibly and to generously support those who are less fortunate. Steel magnate Andrew Carnergie embodied this belief. The man who was unarguably one of the wealthiest, most astute businessmen of his era also pioneered the sphere of corporate giving. In his lifetime, he donated to thousands of individuals and causes. His most enduring legacy, though, may be in the way he used his fortune to support public education through the establishment of schools, universities and some 2,500 public libraries around the world. 

He also openly championed his philosophy that those who accumulate great wealth have a responsibility to manage and administer it in a way that benefits those less fortunate. In his own words, “…the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; intrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.”

The Evolution of Corporate Social Responsibility

The years following World War II saw the rise of formal corporate giving programs. Businesses such as the Ford Motor Company, AT&T, Chase Manhattan Bank and Johnson & Johnson all created foundations to direct charitable giving as a way to give back to their communities. These earliest foundations, like Carnegie, shared a great deal with the concept of noblesse oblige, most particularly that the corporation itself had the wisdom to dictate where its money would do the most good. 

The Growth of Strategic Philanthropy

Over the course of the next several decades, the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) evolved into one of strategic philanthropy.

Strategic philanthropy suggests that the way to make real and lasting change through corporate giving is to decide on a goal that’s important and create a strategy to achieve that goal. Most definitions of strategic philanthropy emphasize the importance of fitting corporate giving to the company’s core mission and ethics. In practice, it often means that a company adopts a corporate giving policy that benefits both society and itself. An example of strategic philanthropy would be a technology company that funds educational opportunities for STEM students.

In recent years, some voices have started to question whether this approach is the most useful way for a business to make meaningful contributions to society. They note that people are most likely to give of their time, skills and money when they personally believe in the cause they’re supporting. More and more, companies are starting to offer more choice and individuality in the way they support the causes that matter to their company and their employees.

The Genesis of Workplace Giving

The middle of last century — the so-called golden years of corporate giving — also saw the development of the first formal workplace giving programs. They arose from the creation of community chests, precursors of funds like the United Way, and a need to expand the way those community organizations raised money. Rather than soliciting individual donors, those charities learned they could raise more funds by partnering with employers. 

As the workforce and employers became more comfortable with automatic payroll deductions for taxes, social security and other employee benefits, employers found it was easier to encourage employee participation in workplace giving programs if they offered the option to make regular donations to charity through payroll deductions. The strategy was wildly successful in increasing engagement among employees and donations to the charities involved. In fact, by the 1970s, employee giving made up nearly 50% of the United Way’s annual contributions. There were a number of reasons for this:

  • It made it economically feasible for employees to make charitable donations, especially those with less discretionary income. 
  • It gave donors the assurance that their donations were going to a vetted charity.
  • It helped build a company culture of charitable giving.
  • It reduced the amount of work for fundraisers.

It had one drawback — it gave employees little choice in which charities the company supported. That has been changing as more and more companies give their employees (and, in some cases, customers) more of a voice in choosing which charities will receive the funds raised.


Forms of Corporate Giving

Of course, there are many ways that businesses support their local communities and help leverage the donations of their employees. Some of the most popular include:

Matching Donations

This is where the company matches donations made by its employees, effectively doubling the donating power of the individual.

Volunteer Grants

This type of grant is when companies make a monetary donation based on the number of volunteer hours donated by their employees.

Employee Grants

With employee grants, the company donates money to a nonprofit or cause chosen by its employees.

In-Kind Donations

In-kind donations refer to when the company donates its own goods or services to an organization.

Community Works and Volunteering

This includes volunteer work in the community where employees can work together to support organizations.

Paid Time Off for Volunteering

Some companies will pay an employee their regular salary for hours spent volunteering in the community.

Important Factors To Consider in Developing an Employee Giving Program

If you’re looking to start a corporate giving program, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Employees appreciate choice in where their donations are spent.
  • The easier it is for someone to access corporate giving programs, such as employer matching, the more likely they are to use it. 
  • The best programs remove barriers to volunteering and make it more accessible for employees. 
  • When your employees can track their own donations and volunteer hours easily, you empower them to take control of their own philanthropy — and receive the same tax benefits that any individual donor would receive.
  • The knowledge of what motivates employees can help corporate leadership shape future directions for the company.

Empower Corporate Philanthropy

In a recent interview, Taylor Amerman, the senior manager of CSR at CDW, a Fortune 500 company, made one of the most quotable and profound statements about the future of corporate giving: “Let’s just empower everyone to make philanthropy accessible.” 

If the goal of corporate giving is to make the world a better place for us all, then it should allow everyone a voice and a choice in deciding how they want their contribution to work. The Groundswell giving platform does just that. To learn more about corporate giving and how to incorporate into your work, contact us today.