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One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Four Types of Corporate Funding

October 30, 2009

Photo credit: Steve Wampler via Flickr.

As I mentioned in a previous article, corporate funders do a lot of work that few people know about. The biggest secret about corporate funding: there is more than one way to get a company to support your nonprofit.  Some of the ways are obvious and I hope to surprise you with some “insider tips” to obtaining corporate funding.  This is going to be a five part article – once the other articles are published, I’ll update the links:

First thing is first – you need to know the type of company you’re approaching. Keep in mind the following motivations for a company to support nonprofits:

1 – Brand awareness & exposure – companies like this are eager to have their brand out there. They want to sponsor events and see and be seen. Most likely these are companies that have highly visible products that require broad exposure to break through the clutter.

Examples of these types of companies include McDonald’s & Nike. If you have an event that attracts a lot of people or you have a deep network, you’ll be more successful in approaching these companies for event sponsorship (not necessarily donations).

2 – Impact focused giving / strategic philanthropy – Believe it or not, not every company sees brand exposure as the number one criteria for sponsoring. In some cases, companies are very purposeful in their giving and want to see an impact – not just a splash.  A few examples of the types of programs that a so-motivated company might look to see:

  • In-house mentoring programs that engage employees with in-need students in a long-term manner,
  • Programs that aim to solve social ills, not just treat them,
  • Initiatives that are very focused in their giving (e.g. helping teachers specifically, not just supporting education),
  • Nonprofits that help populations that at first look seem outside of the company’s interests: such as water purification projects in lesser-developed countries.

Examples of these types of companies include OfficeMax and Northrup Grumman. If you have a specific program that would engage the employees of these companies or appeal to the company’s motivation to make an impact, you’ll stand a better chance of getting funding.

3 – Relationship & reputation building – For some companies, the bread and butter of the organization is all in the handshake. Sure, these companies want to make a difference. But at the same time, the company understands that having a positive reputation in their local community is paramount to the success of their business.  If you have a solid board – or you want one – try to recruit executives from these types of companies – they’ll want to engage with you and they will likely support the board seat with some type of financial support.  What’s important to remember is that you board or nonprofit also has to offer something to THEM: a way to develop relationships with key stakeholders.  Examples of these types of companies include public utility companies and Microsoft.

4 – Just because – For this final category, some companies are either donating to your nonprofit because it’s the “right thing to do” or because they always have done it. An additional motivation for this type of company is because the CEO believes in it and has communicated her/his intentions to do so.  Examples of these types of companies include any company that pretty much only supports the United Way. If you want to get in good with this company, find a way to move the emotions of the CEO and enlist his/her support.

Now, these are four “buckets” of companies and they are not mutually exclusive. Many companies cross into more than one bucket or all four. The trick is to find out where the money sits: which motivation is the company’s primary interest.


The writer is the editor of —  You can contact him at JamesERatcitizenpolitydotcom or follow him on Twitter:

Copyright 2009 – CitizenPolity & James Epstein-Reeves – Not to be used without the written permission of CitizenPolity or the author.


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