Develop a Giving Program for Your Business

From Toolkit for Giving: Ways to Give

Business philanthropy is a key component of a healthy and viable community, and it is a longstanding tradition in Minnesota.

Benefits of Business Philanthropy

As described in the Minnesota Business Giving and Community Involvement Workbook, the benefits of business philanthropy include:

It's good for business.
Support for local causes is a good way for a business to develop a positive reputation, reinforce relationships with customers and develop closer relationships with community leaders and officials.

It's good for the community.
Studies show that vibrant, healthy communities have strong charitable and educational organizations. These are supported by the volunteer time and financial contributions of community citizens and local businesses. Businesses understand the importance of a high quality of life to a healthy business environment.

It's a sign of leadership.
Great business leaders are also leaders in the community. A business owner who stands up for a cause can inspire others to get involved and can create confidence and optimism.

It builds company morale, cohesiveness and stability.
Contributing to organizations and community groups that employees care about enables business owners to promote a more positive work environment and build shared pride in the company's role in the community. Studies have shown that this can help attract and retain employees.

Giving Options

If you own a family business or are an officer of a corporation, there are several options for you to consider in structuring your company's charitable giving: an annual contributions program, a corporate foundation, or a donor advised fund, Businesses also often support employee giving and donate products and services to community organizations.

Annual Contributions Program
Many businesses have an annual giving program to make charitable contributions, funded as part of their annual operating budgets. Some business owners blend their family business with family philanthropy by channeling their charitable support through their family business. An annual giving program is not subject to the rules and regulations governing private corporate foundations and thus requires less record-keeping.

Corporate Foundation
A company can create a corporate foundation as an independent, tax-exempt private foundation. A corporate foundation is usually started with a single gift that can become the endowment, to which the company can add future contributions as it wishes. The foundation's officers are usually the company's owners and key executives. At some companies, employee committees make giving recommendations about projects they believe are worthy of support. The corporate foundation is subject to the same rules and regulations applicable to other private foundations.

Donor Advised Fund
Companies can create their own donor advised funds at a community foundation of their choosing. For more information on this option, see Give to or Through a Community Foundation.

In-Kind Gifts & Pro Bono Services
In addition to cash contributions, many businesses donate their products to charity "” often referred to as "in-kind" gifts "” or offer their services on a free "pro bono" basis. Many companies have products that can be used by nonprofits, including products from current inventory, obsolete merchandise, returned or slightly damaged goods, computers, or office furniture and equipment. Nonprofits can also benefit from services provided by a company or its employees, such as printing, legal representation or publication design.

A company's charitable donation of its products can qualify for a charitable deduction. However, limitations exist on what and how much can be deducted. The rules are complicated and require careful prior analysis by corporate or outside counsel. The value of staff time donated to a nonprofit organization is not deductible, although out-of-pocket expenses (gas, mileage, meals, etc.) for such volunteer work can be deducted within certain limits.

Supporting Employee Giving and Volunteering
As part of their contributions to the community, companies can encourage and support the volunteer efforts of their employees. This can be done by:

  • Matching employees' cash contributions to nonprofit and community organizations
  • Making a donation to a community organization where an employee has volunteered a significant number of hours during the year
  • Providing "release time" to employees to volunteer in the community during normal work hours
  • Implementing a workplace giving program and facilitating payroll deductions for employees' charitable gifts

Giving Examples

Some examples of business giving:

Additional examples can be found at Minnesota Business Gives.

For some varied examples of how businesses have set up their missions, guidelines and contributions policies, visit the websites of the Minnesota-based businesses who are members of MCF.

Supporting Employee Volunteerism

Volunteerism is a key component of many companies' philanthropic and community affairs programs. In addition to giving dollars to charity, another important way to help your community is to give of your time. Nonprofit and community groups and organizations are in great need of capable, committed volunteers, and your volunteer contributions can leverage the financial contributions you make to an organization. Employee volunteerism can be a triple win: helping people in the community while giving employees a chance to shine and benefiting the company in numerous ways.

Employee Volunteerism Programs
Minnesota companies utilize a growing number of methods to support, encourage, coordinate and facilitate the volunteer efforts of their employees, including:

  • Organizing company volunteer events, such as a paint-a-thon or a food drive
  • Helping employees find volunteer opportunities by posting openings on company bulletin boards and intranets or via broadcast e-mails
  • Providing contributions to nonprofits where employees volunteer
  • Allowing release time for volunteering during working hours
  • Providing staff to manage the company's volunteer efforts

To learn more about the benefits of encouraging employee volunteerism efforts, read the article "Employee Volunteerism: Good for Community, Good for Business," from MCF's Spring 2009 edition of its Giving Forum newspaper.

Benefits of Employee Volunteerism
Companies reap numerous benefits from employee volunteerism efforts, including:

Leveraging grant dollars
Directing both a company's contributions dollars and its employees' time and talent to the same causes can sometimes produce results far greater than either could do on their own

A recruiting edge
Many companies find that a solid volunteerism program can be an important employee recruitment and retention tool.

A stable commitment
Volunteerism can help a company increase its commitment to the community, even in lean economic times, when it might not be able to increase its charitable grant dollars.

Company-sponsored volunteer activities can foster team spirit and allow people to get to know their colleagues outside the workplace.

Volunteer opportunities encourage employees to take the lead.

New skills
Volunteering challenges employees to learn new skills that may help them in their careers.

Next Steps

Resources for Business Giving and Volunteering

The following resources can provide you with more information on business giving and employee volunteerism:

Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship: The Center for Corporate Citizenship offers a broad and objective perspective on the role of business in the 21st century. Its business-savvy insights and practical management tools are provided in a context and a community that shares the highest standards and a passion to continuously improve.

The Business Civic Leadership Center: BCLC is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is the Chamber's resource and voice for businesses and their social and philanthropic interests. Its mission is to promote better business and society relations and improve long-term social and economic conditions by communicating the U.S. private sector's unique and valuable contributions, cultivating strategies and practices that achieve positive results, and coordinating public-private partnerships and coalitions.

Center for Ethical Business Cultures: The Center works to encourage current and future business leaders to build ethical cultures in their organizations and high standards of integrity in their communities. The Center's products, services and research are focused in three areas: ethical leadership, management and culture; work-life and critical employer-employee relationships, and corporate citizenship. The Center has been affiliated with the University of St. Thomas since 1988.

Charity Guide: Charity Guide's mission is to inspire and facilitate flexible volunteerism. The site promotes opportunities to make a difference that is entirely flexible and immediately actionable -- "Volunteering On Demand." Charity Guide uses one-to-one marketing techniques to appeal to "would-be volunteers" on the cause of their greatest interest and at the moment of their greatest willingness to act.

Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy: The Committee leads the business community in raising the level and quality of corporate giving. CECP is committed to: representing the CEO voice, promoting business discipline in corporate philanthropy, and setting the standards for philanthropy practice and measurement.

Corporate Volunteerism Council - Twin Cities: CVC advocates, supports, and grows workplace volunteerism to improve the community. As a professional membership organization it supports its members through networking, professional development programs, and sharing best practices.

HandsOn Twin Cities: Formerly the Volunteer Resource Center, HandsOn brings people together to strengthen communities through meaningful volunteer action. It works to link volunteers with volunteer opportunities, develop meaningful volunteer projects, and provide training and consulting for volunteer managers and groups, among other activities. A project of Action Without Borders, is an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.

Minnesota Business Gives: Managed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in partnership with local chambers of commerce, Minnesota Business Gives is designed to motivate, educate, and recognize local businesses throughout the state for the valuable contributions they make to their communities. In addition to sponsoring a two-hour workshop, Strategies for Smart Giving: How to Say Yes and When to Say No, each local chamber recognizes businesses in their area that have contributed 2% or more to community organizations. This recognition program is based on the Minnesota Keystone standard.

The Minnesota Business Giving and Community Involvement Workbook: The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has a toolkit created specifically for business leaders looking to explore giving options. Read more at

Minnesota Keystone Program: The Keystone Program is a longstanding voluntary program, operated by the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce that promotes and sustains corporate support for communities by encouraging and recognizing Minnesota companies that contribute 2 percent or more of pre-tax earnings to address community needs and aspirations that enhance Minnesota's quality of life. Giving levels recognized by the Keystone program include 2 percent and 5 percent categories.

Volunteer Match: VolunteerMatch strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect. The organization offers a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement. It serves as an internet recruiting tool for more than 74,000 nonprofit organizations.


The Minnesota Council on Foundations is available for one-on-one consultations. Contact the Council for more information.