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How Decentralizing Your Corporate Philanthropy Strategy Can Achieve Greater Impact at Scale

Unlocking the power of grassroots giving

In the world of corporate philanthropy, a common scenario is that large corporations write substantial checks to a select few well-known charities. The recipients often implement programs that align with signature initiatives or thematic cause “pillars” that align with a company’s philanthropic strategy. And while this model of giving has undoubtedly created significant impact, it is also important to acknowledge that it limits the opportunity for smaller, lesser-known, but equally deserving charities to receive much-needed support. So, what does it look like to turn the model on its head? Or, put differently, what does it look like to both support a few strategic partners AND decentralize your company’s philanthropy by empowering employees to show support for causes and charities that matter most to them?

Decentralizing the traditional model of corporate philanthropy creates a unique opportunity for grassroots nonprofits often in need of financial support. This shift can translate into meaningful impact at the local level, often in communities where employees live, work, and care about deeply. Donation data analyzed by Groundswell speaks to this: we estimate that over 60% of donations are made to local charities. And it also helps companies gain powerful insights into the causes and nonprofits that matter to their employees. Think of it as a philanthropic pulse-check: what do your people truly care about?

Employees empowered to participate in their company’s giving program transforms them from passive participants to active changemakers. It also fosters greater inclusion. As a diverse group of individuals with a wide array of interests and passions, employees can bring to light myriad causes that might otherwise be overlooked in a traditional philanthropy model. From local environmental initiatives and small nonprofits working on minority rights, to community health projects and education for underprivileged children - the possibilities for impact are vast and varied.

During the pandemic, I witnessed first-hand the critical role that grassroots nonprofits play when I worked to address critical delivery gaps for emergency food assistance in cities across the country - from Atlanta, Louisville and Houston to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Stockton. I partnered with organizations working in the midst of lockdowns to step up and support the most vulnerable populations. In San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, Bayview Senior Services supported low-income seniors who were unable to leave their homes by delivering warm meals. In Atlanta, Community Outreach in Action provided much-needed food assistance to those impacted by the pandemic. And in Houston, Bethel’s Heavenly Hands played a critical role for the community not just providing food during the pandemic but also when historic freezing temperatures crippled residents across the city. These are all examples of small (by revenue) but high-impact organizations working on the frontlines to support residents in local communities. 

As we look towards the future, it's clear that the traditional model of corporate philanthropy needs to evolve to keep pace with the changing expectations of employees and society at large. Decentralizing corporate philanthropy is not merely a trend; it's a powerful movement that can redefine corporate social responsibility. By harnessing the power of grassroots giving, companies can truly transform lives and communities, one employee-chosen donation at a time.

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