Fighting for corporate funding is always an uphill battle and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent report, charitable giving by America’s biggest businesses rose slowly last year (approximately four percent) and corporate leaders anticipate their philanthropy budgets to remain the same for 2012.
In addition to being monetarily conservative, many of these companies are also winnowing the causes they support in favor of bigger, high-profile gifts to fewer organizations. This is in part due to a continuing trend of companies focusing on social issues that threaten bottom lines.
So what does this mean for the arts?
For some companies, this means the arts support has decreased. The Chronicle provides UnitedHealth Group as an example of a company who has reduced its support of the arts in favor of programs that improve Americans’ health. Over the past three years, UnitedHealth Group has given nearly $2 million to help the American Heart Association establish safe and accessible walking paths around the country.
While endeavors such as this are undoubtedly necessary and beneficial, many seem to forget that the arts are important and provide value. The arts bring communities together, provide economic prosperity, and have been proven to increase health and wellness (just to name a few).
Despite these trends, several companies are getting creative and staying true to their commitments to support the arts.
Aetna, a healthcare company based out of Hartford Connecticut, has incorporated the arts into its healthcare initiatives. As part of its efforts to reduce obesity rates, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have awarded grants to the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York, The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, and the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford to offer dance-oriented health and fitness programs for children and families who live in underserved areas.
These types of programs demonstrate that even though charitable giving shows little sign of growth in 2012, the arts don’t have to throw in the towel.
Getting Support From Big Companies: 8 Tips for Fundraisers by Maria Di Mento and Raymund Flandez, offers several tips for organizations looking to secure support for corporations.
I’ve incorporated some of those tips with a few of my own (specifically related to the arts) to create:
The 5 Ways the Arts Can Combat Flat Corporate Giving
1. Do your homework
According to the Chronicle study, nearly all corporate executives shared the very basic fundraising advice: do your homework. It is extremely important to be cognizant of the corporation’s mission and what kind of causes and programs they fund. “Strategic alignment” remains the zeitgeist, so it is important to see how your work fits in with a business’s causes. The better of a match you are, the more likely you are to secure funding.
2. Partnerships are key
According to Mark Shamley, chief executive of the Association for Corporate Contributions Professionals, nonprofits “need a partnership mentality.” Businesses don’t want to just give money away; they want a reciprocal relationship with their partnering organization. To help develop more arts and business partnerships, Americans for the Arts has developed The pARTnership Movement. This initiative provides both businesses and arts organizations with the tools and resources to create mutually beneficial relationships.
3. Volunteers provide a foot in the door
By involving employees as volunteers, corporations have the opportunity to “try out” a nonprofit before committing to a cash donation. Nicole Robinson, vice president of Kraft Foods Foundation, says that Kraft often starts by offering its employees as volunteers to help the foundation get a sense of the charity’s work. “If an organization comes to us with three things, but maybe not everything is thought out, they may not be ready for cause when we meet them,” says Ms. Robinson. “But if we see an advocacy opportunity and an opportunity to engage our employees, we can build from there.” Business Volunteers for the Arts are a great way to get companies involved. There are chapters all over the nation, but you can start your own with our tool kit on working with volunteers.
4. Make connections
Just as Aetna joined the arts and healthcare, there are plenty of ways the arts can be linked with other causes or issues. For example, Animating Democracy provides examples of the ways the arts can be linked to community, civic, and social change. The arts have also been shown to help returning veterans. Making connections also refers to partnering up with other organizations for a cause or project. If there is collaborate with them so you can better accomplish your goals. “We need to leave our collective organizational egos out the door and solve the problem at hand, and if another organization has the solution to that, let’s go with that,” says Mr. Robinson, of the Fluor Foundation. “We need those entities out there to work together. No one has a single solution.”
5. Talk the talk and walk the walk
It’s one thing to do great work, but unless you are able to effectively tell to people about it, your efforts often go unrecognized. Nonprofits should be able to demonstrate how they plan to help their communities, says Ms. Robinson, of Kraft, and why a corporation’s support for a program will benefit both the company and the people the charity helps. Check out how these Eight Reasons to Partner with the Arts!
Your story becomes even more compelling when you back it up with facts. “We look for high-performing nonprofits that collect data and metrics, and can tell us on a grant application how many people they’ve served,” showing what each dollar can accomplish, says Kerry Sullivan, president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.
And, Bob Corcoran, president of the GE Foundation, urges that non-profits “do what you say you’re going to do.” He’s seen a number of organizations that regularly seek grants and raise money, but don’t provide the services they set out to do. Follow through with your plans so you can build a positive relationship.
With these tips, you are well on your way to giving flat corporate giving a one-two punch!