Fundraising opportunities

Understanding Corporate Philanthropy

Contributed by Cindy Morton, PRG Associate

We often hear from our clients about their desire to expand corporate support for their organizations. They point to the fact that, after all, the economy has been strong for years since the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. And it’s been particularly robust here in the Bay Area, home to mega-tech companies, as well as major banks, retailers and others.

So, they ask, why are we not getting more support from the corporate community?

First, we need to be clear about what corporate philanthropy is and how it fits into the overall picture of giving. We find a surprising level of misunderstanding leading to often unrealistic expectations. According to Giving USA, corporate giving represents just 5% of all philanthropic support (compared to 68% from individuals and 18% from foundations). Based on this data, it’s easy to see where the greatest opportunities are for increasing your fundraising. Yet, connecting with the business community is still an important element of a successful and diversified fundraising strategy both for its proceeds and for expanding any nonprofit’s network.

So, what steps can you take to attract corporate support?

Start first by understanding why a company creates a giving program at all. Most corporate philanthropy is part of a company’s overall business strategy. It can enhance profitability by creating a positive image while doing good. It’s a win-win.

Studies show that giving can also help companies attract and retain employees by supporting their philanthropic interests with matching funds and time off for volunteering. These are relatively low-cost ways to compete in a very tight Bay Area labor market. And, of course, many company leaders are simply people who, like everyone else, hold dear any number of charitable causes.

Philanthropy vs. Sponsorships?

In addition to understanding the motives of business owners and executives, it’s important to distinguish between corporate philanthropy and corporate sponsorships, to further guide you in working the best channel to secure funds.

  • Corporate Philanthropy: These funds are typically driven by a corporate foundation, employee-directed gifts, and/or matching gifts. Typically, this type of support is most powerful (and can be the most generous) when alignment exists between the mission of a company combined with its overall business strategy and your nonprofit organization.

Employees themselves are an access point for a nonprofit and the connection is greatly improved when there is a champion inside the company. A recent survey showed that 71% of surveyed employees say it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering. Pro-bono services and/or in-kind support can also provide real value to a nonprofit.

Some regional examples include:

Wells Fargo Bank (consistently ranked in the Top 10 leaders Bay Area corporate giving) (a new leader in corporate philanthropy)

Chevron (long-time Bay Area corporate philanthropic presence)

  • Corporate Sponsorship: This funding reflects a “business arrangement” from business and marketing divisions of a company where a business receives tangible benefits as well as visibility, e.g., event tickets, co-branding, naming opportunities, or event hosting.

Sponsorships can also be a pathway to expanding a relationship, towards a goal of broader philanthropic support. Keep in mind, this is essentially a marketing opportunity for the company. If you get that in-person meeting with a potential sponsor, remember to share what your organization has to offer, not only in terms of the tangible benefits mentioned. Be prepared to tell them how many consumers you touch within your community and how their support for your nonprofit positions them as a good corporate citizen. Corporate sponsorships may evolve into corporate sponsor partnership programs with diligent stewardship.

Examples of regional organizations with significant corporate sponsor partnership programs:

San Francisco Symphony –

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank –

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco –

Bank of Marin –

Remember, this summary represents general trends, and each community is unique. Like any donor, companies require on-going stewardship. In fact, while engaging corporate leadership is critical, giving is increasingly driven by employees and their volunteer involvement. Once these relationships are established, businesses often continue investing in an organization, providing sustainable, on-going support.

Corporate Philanthropy by the Numbers

  • Americans gave $427.71 billion in 2018. This reflects a 0.7% increase from 2017.
  • Corporate giving in 2018 increased to $20.05 billion—a 5.4% increase from 2017.
  • Foundation giving in 2018 increased to $75.86 billion—a 7.3% increase from 2017.
  • In 2018, the largest source of charitable giving came from:

Individuals at $292.09 billion, or 68% of total giving;

Foundations ($75.86 billion/18%);

Bequests ($39.71 billion/9%);

Corporations ($20.05 billion/5%).



So, What Are Giving Circles?

Giving Circles – A Funding Source Often
Overlooked by Nonprofits

Contributed by Serena M. D’Arcy-Fisher and Michael Howe, PRG Associates 

Today’s giving circles are built on traditions dating back over a hundred years, as mutual aid societies and other forms of giving in support of communities. In the United States, giving circles were initially composed of women; there are some indications that they are growing more diverse in terms of race, age and gender, but women continue to make up the majority of founders and members. The major feature of giving circles is that charitably minded individuals with limited funds can pool their funds with other donors and experience far greater impact.


According to a 2017 Collective Giving Research Group study, “Giving circles and other forms of collective giving (GCs) are changing the face of community philanthropy across the United States. From small groups of friends meeting over drinks to large organizations with their own nonprofit status and staff, GCs have grown significantly in visibility and popularity over the last 20+ years. Often started by donors, they are widely understood to be a highly flexible, democratic, do-it-yourself vehicle for giving, and previous research has illuminated the positive impact that participation has on the giving and civic engagement of donors. “Today, there are more than 1,600 giving circles and giving circle chapters in the U.S. …Since inception, it is estimated that giving circles have channeled an impressive $1.29 billion into communities.”

We feel it is important to note that the research only tapped a small pool of examples to examine diversity and the topic is one we’ll explore in more detail in a later blog. For now, suffice to say  one giving circle that launched around 2006, as 100+ Women Who Care sparked the 100 Who Care Alliance in support of all the “various 100 Women Who Care, 100 Men Who Care, 100 People Who Care, 100 Businesses Who Care, and 100 Kids Who Care groups. There are currently more than 650 chapters making a huge impact in local communities throughout the world.”

1) How Do Giving Circles Work?

Currently Giving Circles bring philanthropically and socially minded individuals together to create a collective philanthropy.  The organizing structures can vary. One example is where the donors in a giving circle collectively oversee both the collection of funds, decide on the funding goals and also the criteria for grantmaking to the distribution of funds. Another variation is where a supporting organization like a community foundation provides the support to giving circle donors. This support covers the collection of funds, the funding goals and criteria for grantmaking to the distribution of funds.


2) Interested in Finding a Giving Circle or Seeking Funds?
Start with an on-line search for Giving Circles, narrowing the search by selecting a specific state or county, or even a grantmaking focus. Check out the website of the giving circle you are interested in for details on how to join the circle, and/or their grant making process. Also check out your local community foundation’s website and then search for “giving circles,” or “committee-advised funds.”

Typically giving circles are their own independent/free-standing grant making foundations, as in the examples below. You can find more information on some of these organizations in the addendum. They are also linked to the organizations’ webpages.

Contact your local Community Foundation. Community foundations are often helpful in establishing giving circles and frequently sponsor giving circles in support of their donor members’ philanthropic goals. Following are links to Bay Area Community Foundations.

Likewise, some regional associations of grant makers often incubate giving circles. As an example, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers conducted a national scan of giving circles and shared giving, then in 2005 produced Giving Together – A Guidebook to Giving Circles (PDF download) and in 2008, A Handbook for Giving Circles Hosts (PDF download).


3) What Do Giving Circles Fund?

Some giving circle members decide on the projects they wish to fund through a democratic voting system.  Other circles may have been founded to support specific funding areas and priorities within these areas (e.g. universities, juvenile justice). Funding priorities can change from year to year or be a permanent focus of the giving circle.


Examples of Giving Circles

100 Women Charitable Foundation in Los Altos actively encourages women’s participation in philanthropy to make a viable difference in the local community. Purely volunteer, they distribute 100% of the funds raised to vetted nonprofits, relying on a grant evaluation process backed by a membership vote. Their stated areas of interest include nonprofits serving in the fields of Health and Wellness, Education and Family.

Mentioned above, the Latino Community Foundation’s giving circle network is comprised of 21 Giving Circles across the state of California with new ones emerging each year.  A large number are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their guidelines are more stringent than some, with a required minimum yearly donation of $1,000 (or $85 monthly). Each Giving Circle collectively chooses its funding priority and where the funds will be allocated, with guidance from LCF staff working closely with each Giving Circle to identify Latino-led organizations that align with their identified priority areas of interest.

This is the first in a three-part series exploring giving circles. Be sure to sign-up on our mailing list so you’ll be the first to know when they post.


What Major Donors Really Want After Making Big $ Bets

At Partnership Resources Group, we’ve spent most of our time over that last 25+ years helping boards and nonprofit leaders achieve their fundraising goals. We work directly with talented and committed CEOs, Development Directors, Development staff, Board members and volunteers who, together, are the backbone of any successful campaign. Perhaps our greatest joys, however, come from getting to know donors across Northern California and the values that drive their generosity.

We’ve pondered how these very donors felt once their gifts were made and the campaigns were over.

  • What motivated them to dig so deep?
  • Why did some give not only their money but precious time to help lead and solicit others?
  • What frustrated them?
  • What uplifted them?
  • How did they feel when all was said and done?

It seemed to us that these were terribly important questions and wondered what these donors and campaign leaders would say if asked.

We self-commissioned a study to explore these questions.

We saw an opportunity to just do it when we were asked to teach an AFP Master Class on the “Post-Campaign Let Down” last spring. A survey was sent to 21 individuals who made contributions of $50,000 or greater and those who had chaired campaigns of $5 million or more. They came from a wide geographical spectrum – San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma and Alameda counties. This was not a scientific sample, simply our selection of folks we admired and had gotten to know.



Sixteen people (76%!) responded to a lengthy survey.

They represented all kinds of campaigns – capital, endowment, special projects and even debt retirement. Some just checked questionnaire boxes, others wrote extensive narratives. All were simply grateful to have been asked.

Their feedback was fascinating, and the highlights are worth sharing, starting with common myths:


  1. “Our donors are burnt out.” 75% of respondents (12 of 16) have continued making significant financial contributions beyond their campaign gifts. One donor actually made a post-campaign planned gift in an amount that will generate the equivalent of their campaign contribution each year! Forever.

“For people who were pledging, do something special to recognize the completion of their pledge. Nobody has ever done that for me. They just sent a final bill and then a standard thank you letter. It was like I was forgotten once I paid my pledge.”


  1. “Our leaders have done all that they will do.” Not so. Only 3 respondents said they would never lead a fundraising effort again. More than half shared a deep sense of satisfaction and would consider an ongoing leadership role. We were struck by those who said they would commit to serving a “similar mission elsewhere.” To us, this suggests that any single campaign benefits a broader ecosystem of like organizations who can draw experienced leaders and donors from other campaigns. At least some high-level contributors are thinking this way. Maybe we all should re-evaluate the “turf” assumption toward the common good of organizations in our broader mission spaces.

“My wife and I are concerned and always looking for ways to get our (adult) children involved. It was hard to do that while I was leading a campaign even though they knew what I was involved with. I think having them in to see what our campaign created would have been a great idea and another way to pass our philanthropic ‘torch.’”


  1. “We know how our donors and leaders feel about us.” Really? Only 2 respondents said that they or the organization conducted a post-campaign evaluation, formally or even informally. They all got thanked and some got plaques. But nearly 90% never came together with agency leaders to reflect, feedback and evaluate. Imagine the learning lost that is so easily captured with a single, well-conceived roundtable session or a series of one-on-one’s with campaign leaders, major donors and smaller contributors. This is the essence of stewardship.

“There was a dereliction of duty by the organization’s Board. A few of us not on the Board were the main drivers behind this campaign and almost never a word from the Board.”


  1. “We’ve pretty much saturated our donor market with information and opportunities for involvement.” Think again. Two-thirds of those surveyed wished there was more and ongoing communication about the impact of the campaign and one’s gift on the lives of those served. Nine respondents suggested that donors be invited to volunteer in non-financial ways. Two said that they would have gladly added a year or two to their multi-year pledge if they’d been asked. These responses surprised us, too, but are indicators that the boundaries in communication and stewardship are broader than one might think.

We did a great session with new clients of the organization that came right out of our campaign. This was a highlight for me.”


  1. “Our donors know how much we appreciate them.” Not always. Besides, who doesn’t want to feel their efforts are meaningful, rather than being taken for granted?

We didn’t do a very good job of educating donors beyond the needs of the endowment – we were too focused on the numbers. I learned later that some key donors felt they were totally lost in the shuffle and may have given more if we were paying attention.”

How can you benefit from what we learned?

Don’t let the end of your campaign end relationships. Plan for a reflection phase of your campaign that focuses on engaging and stewarding lead donors and volunteers into the future. Remember, they made big bets on your ability to make a difference in the world. Many of them are waiting for a gesture, some sign that what they gave in time and treasure will have an impact, and they are jazzed.

So, pour one more cup of coffee, get revved up and reach out!

News Flash

Elliot Levin is participating in the AFP Golden Gate Chapter’s Spring Forum. As the Development World Turns–Vu Le On the Evolution of the Field

Other panelists include Amira Barger, MBA, CVA, CFRE and Beverly Estrellas Mislang

These development professionals will touch on topics like how we incorporate equity, diversity, and inclusion into our work. Or, how to raise money and generate support while avoiding the savior complex and remain authentic partners with our donors?  Are we up to the task of starting difficult conversations such as ones about wealth and income disparity?

This forum promises to be provocative and thought provoking.

When: Monday, April 29, 2019 from 3:00-5:30PM | Reception following 5:30-6:30

Where: David Brower Center Goldman Theater @ 2150 Allston Way in Berkeley 94704

Transportation & Parking: 1 block from downtown Berkeley BART | Allston Garage @ 2016 Allston Way – Earns 2.5 CFRE Credits

Diverse group working together

Make Your Fundraising Message Stand Out

Is Your Nonprofit Truly Campaign-Ready?

North Bay nonprofit expert Kay Sprinkel Grace

PRG Presents North Bay AFP Workshop: Kay Sprinkel Grace on the Brave New World of Philanthropy