By: Una O. Osili, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Afshan Paarlberg, JD, Visiting Assistant Professor, Muslim Philanthropy Initiative, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The COVID-19 pandemic, economic shocks, and social justice protests have significantly shaped individual and institutional giving behaviors. With #GivingTuesday and end-of-year giving approaching, it’s important that corporations reflect upon philanthropic trends emerging from the last 18+ months.
In partnership with Salesforce.org, our team from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI conducted a study to understand the effects of COVID-19 on individual and corporate giving.
The insights from this report can help corporations demonstrate their ongoing commitment to their communities and employees. These lessons can also strengthen and support corporate engagement with employees and nonprofits.
Here are three key lessons from the study that corporations can use to incorporate in end-of-year giving and beyond:
1. Align corporate giving priorities with causes supported by employees and community needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans and corporations gave generously. Despite the economic shocks, Americans maintained their commitment to their charitable priorities, especially toward human services organizations. Year-end giving remained high in the first year of the pandemic. In fact, December 2020 giving was higher than usual. Donors to COVID-related causes indicated higher levels of overall trust. In comparison to other donor types, corporations gave considerably more to health and international causes.
Moving forward, corporations can examine the gaps between their corporate giving priorities and those of their employees — as well as the needs of the community. It’s important for companies to consider that today’s workforce comprises people from more diverse backgrounds and a wide range of interests, ages, and cohorts. There is now more complexity for corporations to navigate in offering workplace giving and volunteering options for their employees, and individual employees may have different preferences. In this more heterogeneous and nuanced work environment, corporations can maintain flexibility and demonstrate a willingness to support the holistic wellbeing of employees, which are actions that might also support employee engagement.
2. Adapt to the realities of changing workplaces and assess effectiveness. Corporations should not assume the preferences of employees, but instead survey their preferences to enable more informed decision making. For example, do employees working virtually want to connect in person for team building and volunteering? Or, are virtual volunteer opportunities preferred? Do nonprofits, corporations, and individual employees have capacity for virtual volunteering?
As corporations adapt to the changing, evolving nature of the workplace, they should also consider a range of flexible giving options that meet their employees’ preferences. In today’s shifting landscape, corporations can seek to understand the preferences of their employees and their communities and incorporate more flexible, inclusive practices and approaches to giving.
Giving Tuesday and year-end giving provide opportunities for corporations to track, measure, and assess the strengths and limitations of their overall virtual and in-person workplace giving and volunteering programs. COVID-19 and the changing socio-economic landscape should be incorporated into these conversations.
3. Consider how technology can help enhance corporate, employee, and community purposes. During COVID-19, technology became a lifeline for both individuals and organizations but also posed barriers for households that lack access to high-speed internet. To virtually engage with clients, patrons, and supporters, nonprofits moved events online and diversified their giving channels. They also demonstrated innovation and creativity to stay connected with their donors and clients.
Similarly, corporations can leverage digital tools for social good and impact. They can design new modes and techniques for employee engagement, data collection, and data visualization. They can initiate social media campaigns in support of causes valued by employees. Corporations can also support nonprofit partners by resharing or amplifying their existing fundraising campaigns. Corporations might also mitigate the digital divide for nonprofits that have struggled to keep pace with technology. Here, corporations can build capacity and digital presence for nonprofits through technical or funding support. They can also support nonprofits in meeting the needs of clients with identified gaps in digital accessibility.
Learn more about our research and findings about individual and corporate giving in response to the unprecedented health and economic crises associated with COVID-19, download the recently published report: Understanding Philanthropy in Times of Crisis: Role of Philanthropy in COVID-19.
About the Author
Una O. Osili, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research and International Programs; Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy; Dean’s Fellow, Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
Una Osili is an internationally recognized expert on philanthropy and social innovation, economics, and international development across the public and private sectors. She leads the school’s extensive philanthropy research on national and international trends in economics and philanthropy. The NonProfit Times named Osili to its list of the 50 most influential people in the nonprofit sector in 2019, 2020, and 2021. She earned her B.A. in Economics at Harvard University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from Northwestern University.
Afshan is engaged in mixed-methods research with special attention on forced migration, third-sector organizations, and governance. Afshan has a JD from the University of Houston Law Center and a BBA and BA from the University of Texas at Austin. She recently completed a fellowship with the Zakat Foundation Institute on Muslim Philanthropic and Humanitarian Studies. Prior to joining the school, her legal career focused on immigration law, nonprofit governance-risk-compliance, and access to justice initiatives.