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CSR to strategic philanthropy: How we’re shaping the future

Emma Clary
Content Marketing Manager
February 08, 2024
A male and female colleague stand in a conference room analyzing data that is written on a whiteboard.

Over the last two years, leading social good technology from CyberGrants, EveryAction, Network for Good, Social Solutions, and WeSpire have come together to form Bonterra. Since then, we’ve rolled out a new website, an integrated tech lineup, and a new vision. Our vision, which we call “3% by ‘33,” is aimed at increasing giving from 2% of U.S. GDP to 3% by 2033 — a number that hasn’t changed significantly in the last 50 years.

With such an ambitious goal, we needed to have a clear roadmap for how we’ll enable social good organizations to raise more, match more, grant more, help more, and impact more. For corporations, Bonterra is focused on strategic philanthropy — an innovative approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) which is centered on programs that directly result in meaningful community impact like hours volunteered or dollars donated.

In this blog, we’ll dig into how we developed our vision for strategic philanthropy, why it’s key to re-engaging employees and repairing the nonprofit funding gap, and how we plan to make it a reality.

The evolving CSR paradigm

Over the last decade, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been at the center of several paradigm shifts which changed expectations between companies, employees, customers, and nonprofits.

Consumers perceive corporations as trustworthy institutions

With nearly every company on the S&P 500 now publishing CSR agendas and annual progress reports, it’s clear that commitment to CSR is more salient than ever. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, employees and consumers increasingly view corporations as trustworthy institutions and expect them to address the failures of governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Plus, being able to meet these evolving expectations with impactful CSR programs has become critical for building a loyal, recurring consumer base and positive brand perception.

Employees prioritize purpose when deciding where to work

Now more than ever, employees want to work at purpose-driven companies where giving and volunteering are at the forefront. According to the Cone Communications Gen Z Study, millennials and Gen Z are more likely than other generations to seek out giving and volunteer programs at their workplace. Similarly, the Deloitte 2023 survey found that 39% of Gen Z and 34% of millennials have turned down employers who do not align with their values. These findings show that demonstrating purpose is non-negotiable if your business wants to attract and retain top talent, especially when it comes to younger generations.

Nonprofits increasingly rely on corporate giving

Individual giving as a percentage of nonprofit funding fell from 70% in 2021 to 64% in 2023. As individual giving continues to taper off, nonprofits increasingly rely on corporate funding to fuel their growth and capacity building efforts. According to America’s Charities, 49% of nonprofits rely on workplace giving programs to promote their mission, programs, and services, and recruit new volunteers.

The state of corporate giving

This evolving relationship between corporations, employees, consumers, and nonprofits would suggest that corporate giving should be driving an increasingly large share of funding and that employees should be more engaged than ever in CSR programs. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

According to the CECP 2022 Report, employee participation rates fell from 29% in 2019 to 17% in 2022 and have not rebounded since. Although employees list giving and volunteering as key factors when deciding where to work, they’re disconnecting from these programs at alarming rates.

Similarly, Giving USA data found that as the number of 501(c)(3)s increased by ~37%, corporate giving as a share of operating profits has declined by ~44% since 1980. While the number of eligible nonprofits increased, they were forced to compete for a stagnating pool of grant and workplace giving opportunities, which left many of them struggling to do more with less funding.

These findings beg the question: Despite the increasing emphasis on CSR, why have employee engagement and funding volume declined?

Bonterra’s perspective: Missed connections = missed impact

At Bonterra, we believe the decline in employee engagement and nonprofit funding can be attributed to missed connections which results in missed potential for CSR.

Employees become increasingly disconnected from their employer’s CSR strategy when giving and volunteering opportunities do not align with their passions or interests. In fact, nearly one-third of employees say they don’t give through their workplace program because the causes they care about are not made available.

Similarly, this disconnect also exists between companies and nonprofits as 80% of nonprofits say they have difficulty building long-term corporate partnerships and workplace giving strategies. These ongoing partnerships are critical as the most impactful programs are built when corporations work alongside nonprofits to understand the unique needs of the communities they’re working to support and implement programs that address them.

Although the amount of effort going into CSR initiatives is increasing, without employee participation and nonprofit alignment, these programs will continue to miss their potential.

The path to strategic philanthropy

To eliminate these missed connections, CSR, as we know it, is in dire need of a seismic shift. At Bonterra, we believe the key is strategic philanthropy — an approach that is hyper-focused on philanthropic programs that result in tangible, meaningful outcomes, including hours volunteered and funding provided.

To move from corporate social responsibility to true strategic philanthropy, it’s imperative for corporations, employees, and nonprofits to foster mutually beneficial relationships that result in shared impact. As a result, employees can more easily get involved in giving or volunteering opportunities that align with their passions and can share those opportunities with colleagues to build awareness and increase impact. Corporations can build lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with nonprofits, enabling more strategic funding and maximum impact.

This targeted approach, paired with measurable outcomes, is ultimately what motivates and retains employees and builds corporate brands.

How Bonterra enables strategic philanthropy

Although the key to achieving strategic philanthropy is building connections, doing so is often easier said than done. This is where Bonterra comes in.

To achieve this connected vision, Bonterra offers a set of solutions that enhance nonprofit discovery, make matching gifts seamless, and generate trust in each step of the funding process. Our network, combined with robust nonprofit profiles, eligibility preferences, and impact measurement tools will result in a more connected experience for every participant. Here’s how:

  • Corporations will be able to connect with and develop the right nonprofit relationships through intuitive discovery, grantmaking, and impact management tools.
  • Nonprofits, regardless of size or location, will be able to find and connect with corporate partners and their employees to obtain sustainable funding sources.
  • Employees will be able to seamlessly maximize matching gifts and participate in volunteerism to support the causes they are most connected to.

To learn more about our vision for the future of CSR and how we plan to enable our customers to achieve strategic philanthropy, watch our recent webinar with Bonterra’s CEO, Scott Brighton, and VP of Product, Lauren McCarthy. If you’re ready to see Bonterra Strategic Philanthropy in action, schedule a demo with one of our experts.

Written by

Emma Clary
Content Marketing Manager
    Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Corporations
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Employee giving
  • Employee volunteering
  • Grant management & grant making