In the lead up to Christmas my children were super alert to any presents hidden in the house. They paid lip service to the idea of Santa visiting, preferring to play along in case the pipeline of presents dried up. I had to get creative with hiding spaces, especially when they graduated to things on wheels.
We know it’s been a challenging year for non-profits and you’re hunting down hidden revenue opportunities like a beagle sniffs out truffles. Corporate partnerships still present untapped potential but the nature of engagement is evolving as more corporates establish their own foundations. These foundations are tax effective vehicles for corporate giving, allowing them to maximise the value of their own contributions and those of staff and customers. The priorities and focus of corporate foundations vary greatly. They can range from the personal interests of the organisational founder to a deep alignment with the core business. Whatever the motivations, it’s clear that corporate foundations present a fresh opportunity for your non-profit.
What are the unique opportunities in partnering with corporate foundations?
Appetite for longer term investment
Setting up a corporate foundation requires a commitment to giving despite the ups and downs of the economic cycle. Corporates view their giving as a strategic investment, in the way they commit to any other major project. This ensures that the investment is quarantined and protected from short term budget cuts. Your non-profit will be able to secure a longer term commitment than you could achieve by simply tapping into an annual marketing budget.
Decjuba Foundation recently announced a $3.6mln investment in Smiling Mind to fund systemic change in mental health for children. As the Decjuba CEO stated, ‘it is a great fit for the Decjuba Foundation and our commitment to long-term, meaningful partnerships that create sustainable change’. The partnership certainly enhances the Decjuba brand values with customers and staff but goes far beyond the traditional sponsorship funding approach.
Privately owned businesses can leverage their foundations to fund the less sexy or PR worthy causes. Such foundations are often influenced by the personal preferences of the founder and owner of the business and less by the demands of external stakeholders or investors. This enables a greater flexibility to support the smaller organisations without much public profile but doing great work. For example, Kennards Hire Foundation supports a range of educational initiatives for indigenous young people from remote Arnhem Land to country Victoria. Their strategic focus is on disadvantaged young people, tackling the core drivers of disadvantage in the early years. There is additional flexibility for non-profits in dealing directly with decision makers, rather than a large corporate hierarchy.
Support for grassroots organisations
Corporate partners looking for positive PR will often choose the biggest charity names to amplify and promote their brands. Corporate foundations can take the time to explore grassroots organisations, especially those that operate in similar locations, because they achieve deeper impact with smaller numbers of beneficiaries. Investment in smaller non-profits such as Nawardekken Academy in the Northern Territory or Stepping Stone House in inner Sydney can be transformational for that organisation. Your non-profit may be small and less well-known, but it can be a perfect fit for the strategic goals of the right corporate foundation.
Corporate foundations will often take a strategic view of how they support community partners. A number of foundations employ staff that have previous experience of working in the non-profit sector. They understand the struggles you face and are keen to build your capability, not just fund a program. The Decjuba investment in Smiling Mind is also helping to transform the non-profit’s fundraising capability and put them on a stronger financial base for the future. Foundations want you to succeed and thrive into the future and many are prepared to fund things like evaluation, impact measurement and appropriate staffing. Don’t be afraid to ask for support with building your own capability as an organisation.
Tackling the bigger issues
Corporate foundations typically use their long term investment to explore innovation and new ways to tackle the root causes of your issue. If you work in homelessness, think about the upstream causes not just the immediate fix of temporary accommodation. Foundations are often more interested in solutions for the root causes as the impact will be more sustainable. The Paul Ramsay Foundation recently announced a $5mln investment in job creation for neurodivergent people. It enables participants to take control of their own future and move from disability pensions to valuable employees. Be ambitious, show how you can use your expertise and be prepared to work collaboratively with foundations to create solutions.
Not every corporate foundation is a strategic investor. Some are still obviously driven by short term PR for the business. But the growth in foundations, especially among privately owned businesses gives us hope for a more considered and sustainable approach to non-profit partnerships. When you’re exploring new corporate partnerships and sources of support, watch out for corporate foundations. They could be the hidden present behind the Christmas tree.