The Who, How, What and Why of Corporate Community Investment in Canada

Thursday, December 8, 2011
Grantseeker Monthly
Fundraising
Brynn Clarke
The who, how, what and why of corporate community investment in Canada

“Research tends to suggest that philanthropic motivations are among the most important drivers of giving for businesses of all sizes, and concrete business results are surprisingly low priorities,” says Steven Ayer, President of Common Good Strategies and my co-author on this new fact sheet published by Imagine Canada. Using data collected for the Business Contributions to Communities research initiative, this fact sheet provides valuable, at-a-glance information on the current state and drivers of corporate giving.

An Evolution

In the 1980s, companies were focused on being visible within their communities but were not concerned with long-term community investments. In the 1990s the idea of strategic philanthropy blossomed. In particular, companies began to align themselves with causes that had direct benefits for their business. Today, corporate philanthropy has evolved further; many companies pursue long-term philanthropic relationships in order to effect real social change. This new form of corporate philanthropy does not necessarily have a direct link to the business itself. Rather, more companies are identifying causes where their support can have a significant impact and can truly move the social needle in the right direction.

Companies have moved from the idea of “doing good, to having to prove what [they]’re doing”, says Gayle Longley, Director of Community and Cultural Marketing at RBC Foundation.  It’s not enough for companies to implement the “do no harm” principle or use rhetoric to tell their impact – they are now expected to demonstrate their actions through concrete results.

Corporate Donations Post-Recession

Within the last two decades charities and nonprofits have seen a significant increase in revenue from corporations. Data from the Business Contributions to Communities research initiative indicates that Canadian businesses have a strong commitment to giving. However, the data from this study was gathered in 2007 and 2008, prior to the economic downturn.

The good news for businesses and charities alike? “The recent economic recession did impact corporate giving in Canada,” Steven Ayer explains, “however, although corporate donations decreased during the more difficult months of the recession, they have now recovered to pre-recession levels.”

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when contending for support from Canadian businesses:

1. Connect the Dots: Understand the connection between your organization and the community investment strategy of your potential corporate donors. Identify which businesses have objectives that link to your organization’s mission. An online resource like the Canadian Directory to Foundations & Corporations can help you identify the Canadian corporations with priorities aligned with your funding needs.

2. Be Creative: Think about the other resources a business may contribute to your cause beyond cash donations. Although a business may not have the capacity to provide monetary support, they might be positioned to contribute through sponsorship, a cause marketing campaign, an in-kind donation, or employee volunteer engagement. Steven also reminds us that 98% of Canadian companies are small businesses. Although they are “harder to identify and have less defined processes in place, most of them do donate,” says Steven.

3. Be Realistic: The pool of funds is not unlimited. Although the largest donations tend to be the most visible –think of headlines proclaiming that Company ABC donates $1 million to their local hospital–the median donation for all businesses is $2,000. Also remember that even the largest corporations have a limit to the number of donations they will make. The RBC Foundation provides more grants each year than any other registered corporate foundation in Canada. Despite this, only 13% of grant applications are funded.

4. Be Prepared: If you do get the chance to meet with a corporation, ensure your approach is well planned and executed. Flashy brochures, gifts or other ‘stuff’ will not compensate for lack of preparation. Think of the letter of intent or the executive summary in a proposal like a cover letter for a job application. Use it to make the connection between your cause and the company’s community investment goals. Remember to be clear, concise, and honest.

5. Build Partnerships: As the trends indicate, businesses are interested in strategic relationships with organizations, supporting them above and beyond cash donations. Look for opportunities to position your organization as an attractive partner for real social change.

Acknowledgements
The CSBCC was conducted with generous funding and support from Encana.

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