Funding Beyond Borders: Corporate Philanthropy in a Global Environment
The increasing trend toward globalization over the last 30 years has changed the way American interests do business. As America’s preeminent companies find themselves competing for markets and influence outside the U.S., the targets of their philanthropic efforts have also shifted. International corporate giving is no longer an afterthought for these interests—instead, it is a priority born out of necessity, as the demands of international commerce make plain that a failure to make the appropriate investments in overseas markets can thwart expansion and hinder growth.
This shift in philanthropic priorities has profound implications for the American nonprofit sector. While U.S.-based nonprofit organizations dedicated to international giving are holding their own, and growth in charitable giving has increased steadily post-recession, U.S.-based nonprofits with national and regional missions no longer have the luxury of understanding the American for-profit sector as a bankable commodity.
Instead, these nonprofits are finding themselves facing increasingly stiff competition for resources, as the returns on overseas investments for many American companies often exceed the potential returns in mature domestic markets.
Given this dynamic, the question arises: What additional steps can U.S.-based nonprofits with national and regional missions take to promote their causes and ensure their continuing viability in the wake of an increasing focus on international philanthropy? Stated more succinctly, how can such nonprofits compete in an increasingly competitive environment, in an arena where traditional borders no longer matter? Additionally, what can the experience of U.S.-based corporations competing abroad teach today’s fundraising professional?
Make peace with the new norm
The first and, undoubtedly, most important step in addressing the question presented is the ability to make peace with the new norm. Regardless of its origins, the shift in American corporate philanthropy is almost certainly here to stay and likely to grow, and pining for a return to yesteryear is unlikely to be productive. American corporate interests have, for the last several decades, had to learn to do more with less. Nonprofit professionals are going to have to learn and apply the same lessons if they hope to be successful.
Target donors with specificity and spot trends
That American companies are taking increasing advantage of overseas philanthropic opportunities does not mean that resources are now unavailable to traditional U.S.-based nonprofits. Instead, it means that these nonprofits have to go the extra mile to identify potential supporters, making efforts to align themselves with the interests of potential supporters and to identify specific opportunities when they present themselves.
Consider the history of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Founded in 1982, the Komen Foundation has established a nationally and internationally recognized brand over the last 30 years despite stiff competition for resources from more established concerns. Today, the Komen brand is so successful that the foundation hosts more than 150 “Race for the Cure” events involving more than 1.3 million participants throughout the U.S. and other countries, including Germany, Greece, Italy and Belgium.
While a number of factors undoubtedly account for the success of the Komen Foundation, there is little doubt that the Komen Foundation identified the trend toward increasing the number of women in the workplace, and worked to take advantage of this change—a strategy that has paid dividends in the Komen Foundation’s fight against breast cancer.
Develop strategies to add value
Another consideration that fundraising professionals should recognize is that adding value is a critical component of today’s competitive environment. The traditional strategy of corporate fundraising—making a generic ask of last year’s donors followed by a gala and a round of “thank you” letters—is unlikely to return significant dividends over the long term.
Indeed, today’s donors can afford to be more particular—there are more charitable causes today than ever before and more outlets for donors to express their preferences. Additionally, decision-makers are often themselves pressed for evidence of tangible results. Accordingly, fundraising professionals should think long and hard about how they can assist corporate givers in their decision-making processes and what kind of concrete returns they can promise and deliver.
The intrinsic value in raising money to build schools in an emerging market, like Indonesia, is no more pronounced than improving educational opportunities for American children in Detroit and Appalachia. What is important is how we frame value and how we make the returns manifest. You have to sell the client—not the other way around.
Pick up the phone and get outside the office
Finally, fundraising professionals should do the obvious—pick up the phone and get outside the office. Just as changes in the global marketplace have forced American companies to expand their horizons, changes in the philanthropic market are making it imperative that fundraising professionals get outside their comfort zones if they hope to be successful in developing opportunities. Sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring is a recipe for disaster. Today’s environment rewards the proactive, especially given that traditional donors and supporters have more options than ever before. You should always be working to identify the next prospective donor.