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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Leveraging Corporate Social Responsibility as a Nonprofit

Updated: May 29

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is one of the nonprofit industry’s latest buzzwords. Double the Donation defines CSR as a company’s efforts to improve society in some way. You’ve likely already seen CSR in action in some way—perhaps event sponsorships, matching gift programs, or some other corporate give-back initiative. 

CSR is a trend that nonprofits stand to benefit from in a myriad of ways that can help move your mission forward. So whether you’re new to learning about CSR or have already worked with business partners on CSR initiatives with your nonprofit, this guide will outline key points to act upon to help you leverage as many CSR benefits as possible.

A group of colleagues cheering at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Before you dive into any CSR partnership, it’s a good idea to understand the motivations behind these types of efforts from the corporate point of view. What’s in it for them? Is it completely altruistic or do companies glean other benefits from CSR programs? You’ll not only gain a better understanding of why companies lean into CSR, but also collect important information to include in any pitches or proposals to potential partners. According to GolfStatus, some top CSR benefits include:

  • Positive brand association. Support of and association with good causes provides a brand lift like no other. Companies see a more positive public perception as a result of these programs. 

  • Community connections. Companies that give back to the communities where they’re located create strong connections with nonprofits, residents, and other businesses. 

  • Tax benefits. Yes, CSR is great for nonprofits, but there’s also a monetary benefit for companies. The IRS states that corporations may deduct qualified contributions of up to 25% of their taxable income.

  • Competitive advantages. Creating positive social impact has become a true competitive advantage. More and more, consumers are interested in working with companies that are socially responsible.

  • Partnerships that serve corporate goals. CSR programs often result in win-win outcomes—corporate entities can partner with nonprofits with mutual goals, so everyone wins!

Working with partners that have similar goals and values or align with your mission in some way makes your CSR proposal significantly more likely to be successful. Why? Companies are picky about who they support, so when there’s already synergy between your nonprofit, it makes it an easy choice. 

Here are a few suggestions for seeking out potential partners that are a good match:

  • Reaching out to businesses you have an existing relationship with. One of the biggest components of securing corporate sponsorships is to build strong, lasting relationships with them. And if you already have a business or corporation that you’ve partnered with in the past, the door might be open for expanding that relationship through their CSR programs.

  • Connecting with corporations that offer relevant goods or services. Let’s say you’re hosting a charity golf tournament. As you create your sponsor prospect list, include businesses who have overlapping target audiences. This shared focus makes it easier for that business to say yes since they’ll reach potential clients and customers.

  • Use sponsorship-matching software. Software tools make it a snap to browse and match you with corporate sponsors that have similar needs and preferences.

CSR comes in many forms, all of which benefit nonprofits in different ways, such as providing direct financial support, boosting volunteerism, and increasing individual giving to your organization. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the top types of CSR programs and initiatives you should further explore:

  • Matching gift initiatives. These are a type of corporate philanthropy in which companies pledge to match the gifts employees make to nonprofits. Companies typically match gifts at a certain ratio, such as 1:1, depending on their program guidelines. These can have a huge impact on a nonprofit’s fundraising outcomes! 

  • Volunteer grants. These are an effort by companies to encourage their employees to volunteer in their community by providing monetary grants to the nonprofits where their employees regularly volunteer.

  • Corporate volunteerism. This might occur in two ways. One, by allowing employees paid time to volunteer at local charities and two, by organizing a company-wide volunteer outing.

  • Corporate grants. These provide direct monetary support for nonprofit fundraising efforts to help the organization implement programs that help in fulfilling its mission. There’s typically an application process where the nonprofit must lay out their case for support.

  • Corporate sponsorships. These might be sponsorships for a specific event, program, or general support. The corporation provides monetary or in-kind support to nonprofits in return for recognition and other predetermined benefits.

It’s important to determine which might be the best fit for your nonprofit and potential partners, helping you better prioritize those specific opportunities when crafting your partnership proposals. 

A CSR Partnership in Practice

So how does CSR actually work in the real world? A great example is a nonprofit that’s hosting a charity golf tournament to raise funds for their work. Once they determine a date and golf facility, they begin to strategize about how they can leverage CSR in support of the golf fundraiser. 

One strategy the planning team implements is to approach a business the organization already has a positive relationship with to sponsor the event. The business is interested in the exposure that comes along with a hole-in-one contest, so they sign on as a sponsor. In return, the nonprofit lists the business on their event website, mentions their support on social media, and includes their logo on the contest sign recognizing them as a sponsor. The business provides two employees as volunteers to run the contest and assist with tournament setup. 

Planning team members check in with the sponsoring business frequently to ensure they feel valued by the nonprofit. They ask the sponsor for their feedback and opinions on how the tournament went and if they met their goals, gauging the perceived return on investment. This open communication builds a stronger partnership for the subsequent year’s tournament, in which they level up their support and sign on as the tournament’s top sponsor.

Even if you aren’t currently planning to host a charity golf tournament, these general ideas and practices are applicable to other such fundraising events or outreach efforts. Think about how your nonprofit might forge a similar partnership using the tips outlined in this post and above example. 

Wrapping Up

As you start outlining potential CSR partnerships, you might look to similar nonprofits to see how they’ve successfully pursued CSR. It’s also a good strategy to build gratitude into your partner processes to ensure you retain your sponsors year over year, such as creating custom thank-you packages and reporting on the outcomes of your partnership. No matter what CSR option you pursue, it presents an incredible opportunity to make an impact—for both you and the partnering business.


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