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  • Nick Ryan

Initiating support from companies

Charities rarely speak the language of business and as a result, often struggle to open dialogues with prospective companies. I’ll outline the key points that you should be aware of before you make contact.

Why do companies give?

Companies support charities for several reasons, including:

- The desire to build goodwill and a positive public image

- To increase revenues

- To increase customer numbers

- For tax benefits

- To attract, motivate and retain employees

- To improve the communities in which they operate

- To support causes championed by the Chairman or CEO

What support can I seek from a company?

Staff time

Large organisations often have formal volunteering programmes where, for instance, staff might be given three paid days off for volunteering activities a year. Smaller firms, although lacking the time and resource to undertake large-scale volunteering, are often closely connected to their local communities and therefore more inclined to offer support where possible.

Remember to recognise such time given – it might well have cost the company several hundred pounds for each volunteer offered.

In-kind support

Products, training and services all fall into this category. There is usually a self-enlightened angle to such support in that companies are hoping that beneficiaries will be so impressed by the help that they will either become future customers or will recommend others. This self-interested motivation should not cause you to devalue the gift – most companies are aware that any in-kind support needs to be worth something in its own right.

Cash donations

Companies will give cash, but usually after they have given non-cash support first and built a relationship with you. Several larger companies have foundations, and these are mostly independent of the profit-making company – in effect, they work like charitable foundations.

Small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up the bulk of UK companies, are unlikely to have such formal arrangements – the head of the company usually decides where funding will go.

Cause-related marketing

Cause-related marketing or CRM occurs when a company donates to a particular cause or organisation every time a sale of a product or service takes place. For instance, a local travel agent could run a campaign along the lines of ‘5% of any purchase is given to the local children’s charity’. Such a mechanism works for both parties. The business attracts new customers, and the charity receives funds. If you enter into any CRM relationship, ensure that the company’s brand fits your organisation’s ethos.


Companies might sponsor any number of activities or projects, including events, trips or courses. In return, they are expecting to gain coverage of their brand amongst the audience taking part in the action. Sponsorship, along with CRM, are amongst the most transactional of fundraising activities – the more you offer to the company, the more you can ‘charge’ in return.

Working with a charity helps a business market itself to customers and stakeholders. Ensure that you are fully rewarded for such help.

Where do I find companies?

There are lots of potential companies you could approach. Try the following:

- A simple walk down your local high street

- Local business directories, such as

- Companies where your trustees, staff and stakeholders work or have links

- Corporate fundraising directories, such as

- Most large companies have a section on their giving to charities, often called ‘Corporate Responsibility’ or ‘Sustainability’.

What should I include in a proposal?

Large companies will almost certainly have guidelines for submissions. For other organisations, it is nearly always worth speaking to a decision-maker before writing. However, whether speaking or writing, you should be able to:

- Describe what support you are seeking and why

- Be clear why it is in the company’s interest to support (see the Why do companies give? section above)

- Be confident that what you are requesting is within the company’s capacity to give.

Keep your proposal concise – one to two pages is usually enough unless you are developing a very elaborate partnership and already have contacts within the company.

Finally, remember that any company making a cash donation to a charity can offset the support against corporation tax – something that is missed by a surprising number of companies and charities!

You need to use a different tone when writing or presenting to companies than you would when dealing with individual supporters.


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