Corporate giving: is it worth the pursuit?

The Ross-CASE Survey 2018 shows that corporate giving is once again on the up, with new funds secured from corporates reaching over £99,000,000 last year. Looking back across several years of the Ross-CASE survey, the percentage of corporates who make up the organisational donors for new funds secured and cash income has remained relatively stable, moving a few percentage points either way. Similarly, the growth in organisational donors (this includes trusts, foundations, and other organisations) doesn’t increase a huge amount year on year, suggesting that corporates are increasing the size of their gifts.

And it’s worth noting that this trend is not restricted to the education sector. Last year’s Coutts Million Pound Donors Report, which focuses on £million+ gifts, noted that corporate giving value has increased 900% over the last 10 years and the number of corporates giving has increased by 282% in the same time frame.

Having a new and growing donor source to engage with is certainly great news for both the higher education sector (which tends to catch a good share of those £m+ gifts) and the charity sector.

It should come as no surprise that increasingly, more institutions are considering how to engage with corporates. For the less established development office, corporate giving can make up the bulk of their fundraising income, much more so than giving from individuals. The Ross-CASE report found that organisational giving as a whole (which includes corporates) represents a significant income source for those universities who feature in the Fragile, Emerging, and Developing clusters in Ross-CASE (there are six clusters in total that CASE split participating universities in to).

Why is it that corporate giving is often an area of focus by those institutions newer to fundraising? Perhaps these institutions look at the success of charity-sector corporate giving and are keen to emulate their success.

And perhaps these universities – and their less experienced stakeholders – regard corporate giving as more straightforward than fundraising from individuals. Along with this comes the misperception that it is easier (read: more comfortable) to make an ask from a corporate entity than from an individual.

Unfortunately, such comfort comes at a price, particularly for institutions of higher education, where the inherently more transactional nature of corporate giving often means a missed opportunity to build a culture of philanthropy which, over the long term, is far more sustainable.

If you are a small development team at a university and you are thinking of starting a corporate fundraising programme, be aware of the huge impact it will have on the amount of time you can spend on other – potentially more worthwhile – activities such as individual major gift fundraising.

Before you put all of your eggs into the corporate basket, consider the following:

Don’t forget your alumni

Do not forgo pursuing individual engagement to focus just on corporates. Those institutions in the Established and Elite clusters have strong programmes for both audiences, with healthy income from both. In fact, the Elite cluster sees more income from individuals than it does from organisations in both this and last year’s surveys.

Find the right fit

Consider how your individual development work can complement corporate engagement in a manageable way. What companies do you want to connect with? Do you have alumni who work there? You’re likely to find that it works both ways and your corporate outreach will complement – and strengthen – your relationship with the individual.

Keep it simple

If you are going to pursue corporate fundraising, don’t completely overhaul your approach to fundraising. In the beginning, establishing relationships with individuals or corporates involve the same core principle: aim to understand what their philanthropic priorities are and what is important to them.

Team up

Corporates present powerful relationships, bringing support to multiple areas of the university, not just to philanthropy. Be clear from the outset about how you will manage such a multifaceted relationship and identify anyone else who might need to be involved. Talk often with colleagues across the university. Understand what they need and how they manage current corporate relationships themselves. You never know if a current corporate sponsor may want to become a donor or vice versa.

Have a strategy

With so many potential touch points across the university, these kinds of relationships can soon become unwieldy. Worse, you may find you are spending time and energy on a relationship which is not benefiting the university as you intended. Have a clear strategy for each corporate you are approaching and ensure that both parties are getting what they’re looking for from the relationship.

 

For more expert analysis of the Ross-CASE 2018 findings, see our highlights and insights.

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