Corporate Philanthropy and Social Justice: An Unexpected Partnership

By Audrey Levitin 

If you work for any kind of a social justice organization, now is the time to consider expanding your outreach strategy. The corporate philanthropic sector has changed, and employees have more influence than ever before. 

AudreyFrankly, this is new. Before the summer protests of 2020 the corporate sector mostly kept social justice causes at arm’s length – utilizing philanthropy to be good public citizens while avoiding controversy. There has been a sea change. Businesses have become surprisingly and suddenly strong allies to organizations working on equality, fairness, reform, and social justice.

The Black Lives Matter movement forced many in the corporate sector to make a choice. While the NFL did not stand by Colin Kaepernick, Nike did. And the NBA, its players, coaches and management spoke in a unified voice about policing reform. Coaches like Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers spoke out publicly, as did many players. 

A report by McKinsey & Company, which tracked corporate responses from May to October of that year, found that while 18 percent of the top 1,000 U.S. companies made internal commitments, like diversifying their hiring, another 22 percent pledged to promote racial equity through donations or other means. Those pledges included $100M from Starbucks, and major commitments from diverse companies like Nike and Amazon; the biggest funding numbers come from the financial sector – Citi, PNC, Bank of America each committed more than $1B and Goldman Sachs says it will give $100 million as part of a 10-year $10 billion investment to advance racial equity and economic opportunities for Black women. 

As someone deeply ingrained in funding for justice reform work – I left the Innocence Project after 15 years as Development Director and joined CauseWired – it’s been fascinating to see corporate support for justice work emerge; justice reform organizations including the Innocence Project, the Vera Institute of Justice, Equal Justice Initiative and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have been the beneficiaries of significant corporate support.  

The change makes good business sense. Corporations are not bound by the electoral college, and the last Republican to win the popular vote was George W. Bush in 2004. Now hundreds of companies have signed a letter opposing the assault of voting rights. We see this trend continuing. In addition to activist sports figures and celebrities, there are now activist employees. Conversations at DEI committees, human resource departments,and at staff meetings, led to a change in America’s business culture. 

As Lily Zheng wrote last year in the Harvard Business Review: “Corporate Social Justice is a new paradigm that imagines a healthier and mutually beneficial relationship between companies and the communities they interact with. It is driven by the growing desire of socially-aware consumers and employees for companies, especially socially-conscious and forward-thinking companies, to do better. Companies have an opportunity to rise to the occasion and leverage their influence to build a better world for all — including themselves.”

In our work at CauseWired, Tom and I put a social justice lens on our consulting – but we also take a wide view of what constitutes social justice work in the nonprofit community.

Here are four things we recommend you consider when seeking some of the “new” corporate support available for social justice causes.

  1. Seek a low “first step” gift while trying to build a multi-year partnership with the company.
  2. Take the time to see if the company’s philanthropic priorities have changed and who their most recent partnerships are with.
  3. Be sure to center employee engagement as you approach a company. Take the time to review what employees do in the context of their company-connected philanthropy and volunteer work.
  4. Once you find a connection at the company – either through the front door or through a network contact (like a Board member and someone on your Young Professionals Committee), treat that person like a top major donor. Invite them to briefings, personalize all materials, make sure they connect with your leadership.

The world of corporate philanthropy is changing dramatically and in real time. Where doors were previously closed they may very well be opened. A strategic approach that includes employee engagement can lead to new and unforeseen funding opportunities.

Connect with Audrey Levitin about your development strategy. Drop her a line at today.

Partnership & Structure: How to Supercharge Your Annual Campaign

By Audrey Levitin


As Tom announced earlier this month, I am thrilled to join CauseWired as Senior Counsel and I am so grateful for this opportunity, which comes at a time of great possibility for social justice organizations.

With the pandemic beginning to ease and renewed hope for change, I am especially enthusiastic about sharing my experience to help strengthen the development programs of vitally important organizations. I am particularly looking forward to sharing my experience in creating effective annual campaigns, the foundation for building long-term relationships, and the sustainability needed to fuel programmatic growth and capital campaigns.

Each year as one fiscal year ends and another draws near, development teams experience a collective sense of relief mixed with the dread about having to start over again. Accountability for meeting annual goals is certainly a great deal of pressure. That internal tension, however, can be transformed into focus and motivation and ultimately results. 

Let me introduce two core elements regarding components of a successful annual campaign:

  1. Partnership –  Essential to success is the shared commitment and alignment among the development team, Executive Director and Board. Like a conductor, the development team anchors and moves the program forward in one unified voice. The Chief Development Officer is at the center, moving forward the vision, programmatic goals and relationships of the organization. 

A successful campaign, however, is never executed alone. A winning partnership between the Board of Directors, Executive Director and Development Team is based on a shared commitment to the financial goals. Key to success is transparency regarding both victories and disappointments. I recommend weekly meetings with the Executive Director to track results and quarterly reports to the executive or finance committees. Realism, shared responsibility and teamwork are necessary for success. 

  1. Structure – Developing clear goals, broken out by constituency and quarters are necessary benchmarks to track outcomes as the year unfolds.  

The development team is responsible for keeping the annual campaign on track and on time. Planning should start in earnest in the third quarter preceding the beginning of a new fiscal year. This is essential.  You want to be sure input from the development team is integral to planning the organizational budget. 

Create goals by constituency: typically comprised of individuals, foundations, online support, events, and corporations. Consider the flow of funding for the past two to three years and create goals based on anticipated renewals. From there you will have a gap. The strategy for your annual campaign should focus heavily on filling that gap with prospect outreach, lapsed donors, and a strong moves management program. 

Most importantly, a development leader’s job is to keep the donors connected to your organization. With a strong case statement and effective engagement, and a lot of very hard work, the money will follow.

I’d love to talk more about your annual campaign. Please feel free to email me at – we’ll continue this conversation in future newsletters.