Until about four years ago, Camp Fire USA Inland Northwest Council in Spokane, Wash., shied away from soliciting corporate funding.
Instead, to keep afloat, the youth-development nonprofit relied heavily on funding from United Way and proceeds from candy sold by children.
“There was not much happening to generate funds from individuals, grants or corporations,” says Lee Taylor, the organization’s executive director.
But since signing on in 2003, Taylor has been out in the community trying to sell Camp Fire USA to what he had hoped would be significant funders — the business community.
His move to reach out to corporate donors comes at a time when more and more companies are integrating their philanthropy with their strategic goals.
Gone are the days of undesignated, general donations.
Now it’s all about merging business values with focused giving.
“Corporations are engaging more in cause-related marketing or strategic-impact giving through which they are doing things that further their own marketing, image and branding agenda,” says fundraising consultant Matthew Beem, president of Hartsook Companies Inc. in Wichita, Kan.
An example is the alliance between the Arthritis Foundation and Bayer Aspirin, which lists the foundation on its bottles. But corporations are moving well beyond these types of partnerships.
As a nonprofit seeking much-needed operating funds, it’s not enough to target corporations with affinities.
Corporate givers are going so far as to direct specifically the way they want their philanthropy to be packaged, often breaking up gifts into smaller increments and dictating a nonprofit’s programs and how they are to be delivered, says Beem.
The irony is that the more focused corporations are in their giving, the more flexible and off-focus nonprofits must become in order to meet a wide variety of corporate goals, says Whitney Jones, founder of fundraising firm Whitney Jones Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Corporations and foundations are dictating missions, perhaps not intentionally, but that’s the end result,” says Jones.
Because a lot of companies have made education their top priority, for example, nonprofits that are not educational institutions are going out of their way to do something educational in order to meet giving guidelines, he says.
“There is a lot of stretching going on,” he says.
At the same time, large corporations have instituted a new set of more narrowly focused guidelines and an Internet-based application process that creates another hurdle to overcome.
“As a result, it’s become much more important to develop relationships and for nonprofits to involve directly key people from corporations to help them make their case,” says Jones.
Larger nonprofits are more likely to be able to do that, he says, but the impact is greater on small nonprofits, which are less likely to have corporate involvement on their board or among their volunteer base.
Lee Taylor is up against exactly that situation.
“The wife of the CEO of one of the major banks here happens to be on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs so what do you think they support?” asks Taylor, who has targeted corporations with like synergies, and even went to the effort of collaborating with one organization to develop what was supposed to be a long-term partnership.
“We had one good year of support and then went back to being just one of the many organizations asking for money,” he says. “The reality was that organization was not able to break free from the more traditional employee-driven philanthropy.”
That’s leaving many nonprofits frustrated.
And in Camp Fire USA’s case, the group is having to re-examine where to look for funding.
“Eighty percent of philanthropy comes from individuals,” says Taylor. “I think about the amount of time I spend trying to develop revenue from corporations and I think proportionately I need to do less of that and more of the individual giving. We are starting to do that now.”