How to Start a Corporate Philanthropy Program

How to Start a Corporate Philanthropy Program


Most company leaders understand that every business decision should tie back to a clearly-defined strategy. Yet, when it comes to philanthropy, many small and mid-size organizations operate in the dark. Instead of thinking proactively about the causes they want to support, they are reactive: making ad hoc cash or product donations based on the requests that come in.

A better strategy: Create a corporate philanthropy program to help guide your decisions about what causes your company should support, why they matter and what resources you can make available. By putting some structure around your giving, you’ll not only save time vetting donation requests, but your company can also do more good in the process.

In fact, it’s never too early to begin a philanthropy program—even if it starts with a simple mission statement, guidelines for the events or organizations the company will support and in what capacity. Here’s how Fifth Third often helps companies establish their approach:

Start Local

If your operations are focused on a single city or region, it typically makes sense to build your philanthropy program around causes in those areas. In addition to making a difference in the places your business and employees call home, keeping things close makes it possible to tie-in cash or product donations with volunteer efforts.

Stay Focused

Ideally, your charitable plan should align with your corporate mission—and not just because it builds goodwill and stirs up positive publicity. By supporting causes that play to the strengths of your business, you can have a bigger impact. For consumer-focused companies, the path is typically pretty clear; match what you do with organizations or causes that overlap with your products or services (i.e. free shoes from a shoe company). Beyond the obvious, however, there are ways to use other resources, such as land, equipment or buildings, to help charitable causes.

Consider Need

True philanthropy isn’t a solution looking for a problem—so companies should seek to identify causes most in need. In addition to thinking about whether causes make sense geographically or categorically, look for organizations that do good work but tend to fly under the radar. Before you make any single organization the focus of your giving, you'll want to do some due diligence. In addition to understanding the organization's mission and leadership, consider their bottom line. As a rule of thumb, well-run charities generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs and are savvy about their fundraising, typically spending no more than $25 for every $100 raised in public support.

Partner Up

Mapping out a philanthropy program could lead a company to build a non-profit from the ground up, but for most small and midsize organizations this isn’t an option. While targeting a specific cause that is underfunded is ideal, this is true only to a point. Plan to work with established non-profits that are running their own operations wisely.

For instance, more than 100 years ago, a partnership between Fifth Third and United Way emerged when both organizations were still in their infancy. Since then, our two groups have been involved on various committees, boards, campaigns and volunteer efforts – and have been able to support each other's objectives.

Give Time

In addition to constructing a plan for making cash or product donations, think about how you can incorporate volunteering. This can take many forms, including organizing volunteers for related events or days in service, giving employees paid time off for volunteer activities. Doing so brings your giving full circle and can be a tremendous (and cost-effective) way to rally your employees around a cause—and in the process foster a greater sense of community and pride in the workplace.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever.