Corporate Contributions and Volunteerism

Corporate giving in 2009 totaled 4% of total contributions which is a relatively small, but high profile, percentage of annual giving in America. Corporations traditionally spend a comparable amount on sponsorships that are written off as non charitable business expenses. Some corporations allocate up to 5% of their budget for their employees to provide volunteer and pro bono services to the community. This recession significantly impacted all three avenues of corporate assistance but many corporations are now in a stronger cash position.

As with individuals, some corporations have been more seriously impacted than others affecting their bottom lines and capacity to provide contributions and assistance. Now more than ever, it is important to research, assess, and comprehend each corporation's or business's current situation and outlook to determine if and how best they can provide assistance.

Corporations and businesses generally offer two primary forms of donations: philanthropic donations or donations tied to advertising, referred to by NPS as corporate campaigns. Philanthropic donations may take the form of either in-kind contributions (volunteers, donated products and services, etc.) or cash.

Here are some indicators of current corporate realities and their implications:

Cash Contributions

  • The losses in the banking sector are significant; banks were the second largest corporate givers in 2007, second only to pharmaceutical companies (McConnon & Delevigne, 2008). In 2010 JP Morgan Chase and its foundation gave more than $150 million in charitable contributions, up from a level of $100 million in 2007.

  • In contrast, some of the lower cost merchandise store chains (Target, Kohl's, Walmart and Dollar Tree) have attracted more shoppers, maintained their profitability and continued their corporate giving programs.

  • As some companies continue to close (Mervyn's, Linens and Things, Circuit City, and Shoe Pavilion) and others are less profitable, corporate philanthropy overall, and especially major gifts, will be limited.

Corporations - like individuals - will limit the portfolio of charitable causes which they support. Again, cultivating and maintaining personal relationships are key to maintaining their commitment.

In competing for limited corporate dollars, concentrate on corporations that were not as severely impacted by the economy, seek to be more competitive or expand their operations and markets, have a major presence in your vicinity, market to your visitor demographics, and can most readily benefit from an association with your mission.

Corporate Campaigns

  • Sponsorships are similar to donations but are more directly linked to the expectation of realizing commercial advantage for the corporation. During this recession some corporations increased their advertising budgets even as they decreased their donations, choosing to support organizations and/or causes through sponsorships to better compete for market dollars.

  • It is important to determine if a corporate sponsorship arrangement will: 1) provide support that you need, and; 2) be consistent with your mission, goals and agency image in the public eye.

Cause-related Marketing

  • Cause-related marketing (CRM) is a more advanced form of sponsorship, a hybrid between "sponsorship" and "donation." Cause-related marketing is the concept that a company donates money, usually an amount or percent for each customer purchase, to a charity whenever a consumer purchases a product or service. The National Park Service was one of the first organizations to benefit from CRM through the 1983 American Express/Statue of Liberty partnership. Another example of cause-related marketing was when Macy's Inc. partnered with the National Park Foundation to donate a portion of the sales of discount cards during National Park Week 2008, 2009 and 2010.

  • Cause-related marketing is a potential win-win situation for all parties. Cause-related marketing allows companies to support nonprofits and consumers to feel good about their purchases. Increasingly companies are seeking to enter into CRM arrangements as part of their business plan for competitive market advantage and because owners and employees like the idea of supporting worthy causes. In addition to the Macy's example, there are other ways companies and government agencies can use CRM to benefit a park, a cooperating association or friends group such as:
    • Partnering with Credit cards companies that donate a portion of their proceeds to select charities,
    • Nabisco's Animal Crackers CRM with the World Wildlife Fund,
    • Endangered Species Chocolate bars and the Ocean Conservancy

With the value of the National Park Service brand, CRM can continue to be a valuable tool to any nonprofit, especially during difficult financial times. Cause-related marketing should be done without use of the NPS arrowhead nor imply NPS endorsement, both of which are prohibited under Director's Order #21. Section 7 of Director's Order #21 provides additional guidance on corporate campaigns.

In-Kind Contributions

Corporations are often inclined to contribute products, supplies and services they manufacture or retail. These contributions can range from test products, new product lines, and discounted, outdated or an over supply of merchandise and equipment. During this recession, corporations that downsize, consolidate or cease operations may be disposing of products. It is crucial to ensure the in-kind contributions offered are needed, useful, value-added, and can be cost effectively maintained and serviced.

Some corporations are becoming more willing to donate goods. A large inventory or increased supply with a decreased demand has created this excess situation. Be careful, there is a reason why the company has not been able to sell the items. You do not want to end up with an excess supply of items you really can't use.


Some corporations traditionally underwrite up to 5% of their payroll or individual employees' work time for community service volunteer work. Companies also undertake community service projects through volunteer teams and work days, sometimes as teambuilding exercises. With workforce reductions, layoffs, and lower profits, many corporations can allocate less staff time to community work projects. Parks and their partners will likely have less offers of, or access to, corporate volunteer hours and projects. However, they are receiving increased interest from unemployed, underemployed and retirees.

Remember that some companies are doing better than others. Many companies have the capacity to help and the management and staff that are eager to make a positive difference for select causes that the employees want to support.

  • Many parks that rely on corporate volunteers should expect a drop in donated hours; Wachovia Bank donated 135,000 hours of volunteer time in 2008, and is not expected to contribute as many hours since their merger with Wells Fargo. When a company is acquired, monetary and in-kind contributions, employee ranks and corporate locations decrease.

  • Urban parks noticed a significant reduction in corporate volunteerism. As corporations begin to cut costs and reduce staff or have not rehired workers, the remaining employees are forced to pick up additional responsibilities. As a result, many companies have fewer employees, hours and budget dollars to dedicate to volunteerism.

Many of the recently unemployed, especially the older workers who are having trouble getting back into the workforce, are highly skilled and have lots of down time that can be put towards volunteering. Some of these people are donating their time and services to nonprofits. The Taproot Foundation ( is among a growing number of organizations that connect nonprofits with pro-bono professional assistance from individuals.