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Corporate funders: avoid doing business as usual during the pandemic

By Yvonne Thomas
April 24, 2020

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

This is a time of change for everyone, and, as we know, there is no playbook. It’s definitely not business as usual. If you work in the private sector, there’s a good chance your company is actively evolving how it operates, responds, and continues to serve, support, and meet the needs of its customers in this time of crisis. Your company’s philanthropy, corporate giving, or foundation should be no different.

To make sure you’re fulfilling your role as an extension of the company brand, one that demonstrates the value of the business in addition to its products or services, it’s crucial that you think about the needs of your partners, both how you’ll respond to this immediate crisis and how you’ll adjust as needs and situations change as we move into recovery and rebuilding.

Responding to the immediate crisis

This is a moment that requires philanthropy to do things differently, adapt plans. and do everything we can to quickly respond to the needs we’re hearing from our partners and communities. From loosening existing grant spending and reporting requirements to adding emergency funding to significant contributions to community COVID-19 response funds to new or additional employee matching gift efforts, many corporate funders are going beyond a “usual” disaster response to demonstrate their commitment to the people, causes, and communities they support.

If you’re considering similar changes but need to get support from your leadership, these six points can help you build a case to ensure you can be a great partner in this time of crisis.

  1. Restate your purpose—remind yourself and others why your team is a critical part of the company response. Corporate giving is about the bottom line—the reputation of your company. For most companies, the corporate giving team has at least some responsibility for living company values and demonstrating authentic engagement in the issues, causes, and communities where your company can make a unique impact. In order to fulfill your part of this role in this crisis, your work must evolve to respond to current needs.
  1. Clearly articulate how your team’s work will contribute to the company’s overall COVID-19 response. Whether your company has access to global supply chains, unique assets, technology, or expertise, a response that includes corporate giving can help create greater impact for the community and the company. Regardless of what the contribution of your corporate giving program is, make sure it’s responsive to needs stated by the people, organizations, and communities you want to support; is aligned to your company’s values and mission; and is in an easily accessed and utilized form, format, or structure. The closer your response is to both the community’s needs AND your company’s values and, the better you'll be able to deliver and truly make an impact.
  1. Make sure what you offer is actually needed right now. Before making any decisions on what you’ll do in this time of crisis, make sure you’ve talked to current or potential partners about what they need and how they can best utilize your dollars, expertise, or other offers. You may be surprised by what you learn, and that community-led insight helps you think about your response in new ways. All of this insight will help you and your company be an even better community partner in the future as well as the present. 
  1. Explain how you’ll demonstrate impact. Even though this is not business as usual, you should still be able to explain how any changes or additions to your pre-coronavirus plans—even if wildly different than you imagined—will still be impactful for the community and the company.
  1. Be a great partner. With all the uncertainty around us, it’s crucial to share how you’ll listen to and support the organizations you already work with in addition to anything new or different. Demonstrating that you’re a great partner means hearing what the other needs and working together toward solutions that are of mutual benefit. In these unprecedented times, it’s unlikely your nonprofit and community partners will be able to continue in their normal ways. They will need your support as they pause programs, adapt to new needs, shift priorities, and in some cases slow or stop work altogether. They’ll need your partnership as they navigate rough patches over the coming weeks and months. Make sure you can articulate why you selected existing partners, why you MUST continue to support them, even if it’s in ways that differ from those originally intended. More than ever, this is your opportunity to champion the idea that now is not the time to stop or hold back.
  1. Fight the urge to do “business as usual.” People across the country and around the world are demonstrating great leadership, flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness in this time of crisis. Every individual at every company has an opportunity to think about how it can support people and communities in addition to ensuring its business remains strong and resilient. Be sure to check out this list of philanthropic good practices in this time of crisis.

Tags: Novel coronavirus (COVID-19); Foundations and grantmaking