Report: Four Trendlines in Corporate Philanthropy

“Giving in Numbers,” the annual survey by Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP), benchmarks corporate giving trends based on the peer data it collects from more than 200 companies.

The information the companies provide comes from the top, following a leadership movement that CECP cofounder Paul Newman began two decades ago to engage corporate CEOs in making philanthropy a strategic priority, and shaping the companies they lead into forces for good.

The 2021 edition of “Giving in Numbers” represents self-reported activity across 10 sectors, including healthcare leaders like Bristol Meyers Squibb and Eli Lilly, industrials like Boeing and Fedex, technology firms like Dell and Microsoft, and consumer staples companies like Kellogg and Cargill. Together, the companies represented in the report were responsible for $36 billion in total community investments in 2020.

A year that was defined by a raging pandemic and social justice reckoning following the death of George Floyd saw community investments rise by 41% in a three-year matched data set, the highest increase on record.

With that big boost in mind, here are four trends to keep an eye on.

1. Continued healthcare sector growth driven by COVID 

The 2020 Giving in Numbers report predicted an “outsize role” for the healthcare sector this year, driven by COVID-19 interventions, especially as product donations and other in-kind donations were included in totals.

That forecast proved true. Across all sectors, the median total community investments attributed to pandemic response was $3.9 million, or nearly 17% of total giving. But while the communications industry posted the highest share of the overall increase in community investments across all companies at 60%, the healthcare industry realized the highest level of growth, at a steep 136%.

As forecasted, that notable rise was driven mainly by product donations like PPE, medication and medical equipment. That builds on past gains between 2017 and 2019, when the industry’s combined total community investments grew by almost 60%, concentrated mostly among companies in pharmaceuticals and in healthcare facilities and services.

In terms of the program areas corporations supported through cash giving, healthcare companies also reported the highest level in the healthcare program area, while consumer staples firms ranked highest across the categories of civic and public affairs, culture and the arts, K-12 education and disaster relief. 

2. Social justice and DEI

The companies’ median level of giving for what the report categorizes as “social justice and racial equity issues” represented only 3% of total community investments in 2020. But the overall resources committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) show a more concerted effort. DEI spending was reportedly on the rise at a full 93% of surveyed companies in 2020, evidence of a clear preference for funding company-based practices and partnerships rather than engaging outright in large-scale social justice philanthropy.

3. Matching gifts continue a downward trend

Surprisingly, while many corporations created special matching funds for both COVID and social equity in 2020, overall giving remained flat, continuing a downward trajectory that started in 2017. Virtual volunteering also became the norm as the pandemic went on, rising from 38% to 87%.

Overall giving through workplace giving campaigns decreased from 44% to 38% in 2020. One reason for that might be a drop in vital in-person appeals from colleagues in the next cubicle as stay-at-home orders went into place. Still, employees made COVID-19 interventions a clear priority, raising the median dollar value of disaster relief matches by a whopping 258%. 

4. Employee engagement and brand-building prioritized

Nonprofits looking for corporate backing should note the continued importance that corporate funders place on two expected benefits: employee engagement and brand-building. Fifty-five percent of respondents named increasing employee engagement as the most important factor for giving. Within brand-building, respondents ranked the idea of improving reputation and trust benefits first, at 33%, and improving brand perception second, at 26%. The clear takeaway is that engaging employees in volunteer and leadership roles matters, as does shoring up organizational reputation to be seen as a trusted partner.

Look for in-kind giving from the healthcare sector to remain strong again in 2022, as the pandemic stubbornly drags on — and for further developments in the ways corporations address racial inequity through community investments.

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