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Knowledge Base

What motivates companies to give through corporate giving programs?

There is no simple answer to why corporations support nonprofit organizations and their causes. Many contribute out of a combination of altruism and self-interest, and it is nearly impossible to determine where one leaves off and the other begins. The attitudes of top management more than any other factor seem to impact the giving philosophies of corporations. CEOs often play a primary role in company giving, with contributions officers usually reporting directly to the CEO. Grantseekers should remember that corporations, unlike foundations and other charitable groups, do not exist to give away money. Their allegiance, instead, is to their customers, shareholders, employees and, most of all, to the bottom line.

Corporations give to charitable causes to:

  • influence legislators and other opinion makers.
  • build better public and community relations.
  • improve the quality of life in the geographic locales in which they operate. (Cleaner, safer, better-educated communities are good for business.)

At the same time, many corporations are wary of having their charitable activities publicized. As a result, it is often quite difficult to track down information on corporate giving, especially non-foundation support that is not legally mandated as public information. In fact, when approaching corporations, the lack of information may be the biggest obstacle the grantseeker faces. It may be difficult to obtain information about corporate giving programs because corporations:

  • fear being inundated with requests they cannot fill.
  • fear raising the expectations of potential beneficiaries in a good year, because a lean year may follow.
  • do not want to arouse the ire of their shareholders who may perceive the company's charitable activity as giving away profits.
  • fear losing the patronage and/or support from the public that could result from even the smallest controversy over their giving.

On the other hand, giving may be good for business, and corporations may want to project the image of good citizenship. Most corporate CEOs understand publicity's power. The nature of the corporate mind-set, however, means corporate givers will often expect concrete rewards for their generosity.

Learn more now about corporate fundraising with Introduction to Corporate Giving. Available free as an online webinar or in-person class.

For a listing of resources that may be helpful in finding corporate funding, see our Knowledge Base article Where can I find information on corporate giving?

For books and articles on the motivation behind giving to charity, try searching our Catalog of Nonprofit Literature (CNL), the Center's bibliographic database. You could start searching on the subjects "Philanthropy--analysis", "Fundraising--analysis", "Corporations--ethics", or by using the abbreviated keyword "motiv*" (with the asterisk but without the quotation marks).

Many of the books and articles found through CNL can be located in Foundation Center libraries and Funding Information Network locations. It is best to call ahead to verify a specific library's holdings.

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