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Engaging Corporate Donors: A Guide for Higher Education Institutions

Over half of higher education donations made in 2016 came from non-alumni sources. [1] In a previous post, Top Tips to Solicit Non-Alumni Donors we discussed how to solicit individual non-alumni donors. Now, let’s take a look at another important piece of the non-alumni giving pool – corporations.

Align their Goals with Yours

Before reaching out to any company or corporation, get to know them a little. What are their goals? Are they passionate about any specific causes? Are there any relevant events that might make certain initiatives more interesting to them?

Here’s an excellent example of a well-paired team: in 2012 The University of Texas Austin obtained $7.5 million in a 5-year agreement from Shell to support research on the challenges facing the growing worldwide oil and gas industry. [2]

Just as it is crucial to identify with potential individual donors, it’s important to know how to connect your top priorities with those of the corporations or companies you’re targeting.

Look Locally

A study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that 60 percent of corporate donations over $1 million went to organizations that were in the immediate geographic area of the company. [3] When local corporations and companies fund local schools, they are investing in their own communities, in potential employees and in the future of the area.

For example, the University of Georgia’s longtime corporate donor – Georgia Power, a local leading electric generator – has partnered with the university to research solar power technology. The arrangement is mutually beneficial for both the school and the company. UGA receives investment in their program and – as Paul Bowers, President and CEO of Georgia Power, explains – GP gets closer to their goal of positioning their home state ‘as a national solar leader’. [4]

Consider Donations in the form of Volunteers

While your immediate goal may be raising funds, keep your mind open to the possibility of recruiting volunteers. Many corporations are recognizing that having a charitable mission is important to engaging employees in the workplace. [3]

In 2011, the Home Depot Foundation realized just how many of their employees were veterans – more than 35,000 – so they started a campaign to help disabled veterans by pledging to donate a quarter of a billion dollars towards building veteran housing and facilities by 2020. In addition to the corporate financial donations, this goal was powered by the hands-on help of employee volunteers. So far they have transformed over 33,000 houses and facilities! [5]

By engaging a local corporation or company hoping to get involved in volunteering, you will gain support for certain philanthropic goals and create a legacy for your school.

Don’t Forget it’s a Two-Way Transaction

What are you offering in return for a donation? The major difference between individual donors and company or corporate donors is that there is something to be gained on both ends. In return for a donation toward one of your goals, you should be offering the company something that they value as well. [6] This helps build a mutually beneficial relationship that is more likely to continue over time.

So what do companies and corporations look for when they donate to a higher education institution? A common goal is to boost their public image and thereby attract more customers. What you can offer, therefore, is great publicity. Use your school’s publications to promote their name or consider hosting an event in their honor so they can showcase some of their work.

Get Started Now!

So, start looking for your corporate donors now. It’s often beneficial to start your search locally since you’ll tend to have more goals in common, but don’t limit yourself – seek international companies or corporations that share similar interests with your school. Once you have found a corporate donor – keep in touch. Offer them their due recognition for their gift and keep them updated on how they’ve helped and how they can continue helping in the future. If all goes well, you will have gained a long-term major donor.


Sources & Further Reading

4. GEORGIA POWER + UGA LAUNCH SOLAR TRACKING PROJECT, University of Georgia, Corporate Giving



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