How to start a corporate philanthropy program

How to start a corporate philanthropy program

Corporate giving is on the rise—and that’s good news both for nonprofits and the businesses that help sustain them.

From 2014 to 2015, businesses’ philanthropic efforts grew 3.9 percent, totaling a whopping $18.46 billion. One 2015 study found more than 80 percent of companies have giving programs, and almost 80 percent of companies provide matches for employees’ charitable giving.

There are good reasons (and not just the obvious ones) for all this giving. Research says companies and their employees benefit from corporate giving programs in the form of team building, leadership development, and employee engagement, retention, and recruitment. That last point is especially true for millennial workers: One report found job-hunting members of this generation consider companies’ charitable programs when deciding whether to apply for a position.

Corporate philanthropy may even give employees’ productivity a boost. One study found that employees who participate in corporate philanthropy programs demonstrate significantly higher job performance. There’s also some evidence that companies that contribute to charitable causes may enjoy more loyal customers and even higher sales.

For the good of the world and your business, it’s worth making philanthropy a core tenet of your company’s culture. Here’s how to make it happen:

Now that you understand the value of corporate philanthropy programs, it’s time to put this knowledge into action. Here are several strategies to create an effective and sustainable giving program.

  1. Solicit employee feedback

    The more employees feel like they’re personally invested in a company’s philanthropic efforts, the more likely they are to be engaged in the program. Instead of telling employees “This is how we’re going to give back,” make a point of asking employees how they would like to participate in philanthropy, e.g., by suggesting charities or activities. Review that feedback when developing a corporate philanthropy program, and you’ll have a much higher chance of success.

  2. Keep it local

    Provided your employees are on board, targeting your philanthropic efforts in the local community is a win-win: It’s a great way to help employees see the difference they’re making in others’ lives (which can inspire more engagement in philanthropic programs), and it gets your company’s name out into the community in a positive way.

    Opportunities for local involvement are almost endless: Your company could hold a food drive for local food pantries, sponsor local sports teams, help out in a local school (e.g., by offering volunteer hours or sponsoring arts and music programs), participate in local charitable walks, and so on. Keeping your efforts local provides a wide range of opportunities for employee involvement, which brings us to the next point.

  3. Provide diverse opportunities for participation

    Corporate philanthropy programs backfire when they feel more mandatory than voluntary. It’s important to provide employees with multiple choices for getting involved in philanthropic efforts so they can select an option that truly appeals to them. Provide diverse opportunities for philanthropic engagement such as:

    • Donating money
    • Volunteering time or resources
    • Engaging in short- or long-term giving opportunities
    • Participating in inter-office challenges
    • Planning fundraisers or community events
    • And so on

    This will ensure there are as many access points as possible for employees to get involved and find personal connections with the cause.

  4. Office Philanthropy Ideas to Lend a Helping Hand as a Team 
  5. Bake philanthropy into company culture

    In order to make sure philanthropy isn’t something that happens just once or twice a year, normalize regular philanthropy within the company.

    • Clearly establish philanthropy as a company value.
    • Make sure higher-level staff model an active commitment to philanthropy.
    • Ensure every staff member is empowered to be an ambassador for the company’s philanthropy program.
    • Establish one or two days each month as company-wide give back days. (Host these during normal working hours so employees don’t lose their free time to a mandatory activity.)
    • Provide paid time off for volunteering, match donations, and offer other incentives for employees to give back to causes they care about.
    • Embrace opportunities that encourage both team building and philanthropy, e.g., wrap gift donations together during the holidays or plan a fundraising event as a team.
  6. Make it fun

    Charity work doesn’t have to be dreary. You can engage more employees and boost morale if you come up with fun ways to give back. For example, you may consider involving family members and clients to infuse some new energy. Or you could set up a playful office challenge such as a golf competition where the “loser” contributes to a charity of the group’s choice, or anyone who repeats an over-used phrase has to put a buck in a jar. (Then when the jar fills, the team can donate the money to a chosen charity.) Engage your team in brainstorming creative ways to make your philanthropy fun.


Companies of all types and sizes can benefit from a philanthropic mindset. Once you put several philanthropic ideas in motion, take time to reflect on your efforts and refine the program as appropriate. And remember to thank your employees for their dedication in the form of paid time off, casual attire days, or early dismissal one Friday a month. Expressing gratitude for employees’ efforts is one of the best ways to ensure they stay motivated to give back.

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How to start a corporate philanthropy program