December 23, 2019

What Consumers Want to See from Your Corporate Foundation

Led by the millennial generation, a growing number of consumers seek out brands and companies with a focus on social responsibility. Make sure your corporate foundation meets their high expectations for transparency, ethical practices, and impact.

According to a study of millennial consumer preferences, 9 in 10 would switch brands to one associated with a cause. The number goes up to 95% for affluent millennials. Not only that, 86% would tell friends and family about a company with a social responsibility commitment. 

When you see stats like these, it’s hard to argue the value of charitable giving and corporate foundations. It’s also a call to action for getting the word out about what you’re doing and why. Especially given the fact that as of 2019, the millennial population now surpasses baby boomers. That’s a big opportunity.

But there’s a small caveat. Consumers aren’t just looking for brands that dispense money toward causes. They’re seeking something more:

  • A focus on truly solving social problems, not band-aid initiatives
  • Proof that your efforts are making an impact
  • Opportunities to connect with your company’s efforts
  • Transparency in how your company selects and funds organizations

Let’s talk about each of these in more depth, along with how your corporate foundation can put them into practice.

Get to the Root Cause

While there’s certainly value in meeting people’s immediate needs (and it often creates a tangible connection with the community), don’t overlook the bigger picture. When your efforts are mostly reactive, the cynical millennial might assume you’re only doing it for good PR. 

For example, as a large restaurant chain, your foundation might typically fund projects that help people directly affected (like food pantries). Look for ways you can also support initiatives that address the reason people are hungry (like poverty research or advocacy organizations). 

In other words, think about the core issue(s) you’re trying to solve, rather than focusing on a simple connection between what your company does and the charitable activity. Does this restaurant want to end food insecurity in its community? Make healthy foods accessible to everyone? 

This will drive your social responsibility mission, making it clear to your consumers that you’re in this for the right reason and your foundation is focused on solving the tough social problems facing our communities.

Measure and Share Impact

Once you’ve reassured millennial consumers that your foundation is about more than just positive PR, you need to demonstrate you’re moving the needle on the social problems you’ve identified as your focus.

The Council on Foundations points out that “most companies still perceive their philanthropy as charity. They do not focus on the actual results.” They advocate instead that, “Companies view their philanthropy as contributors to breakthrough collaborations and innovations that address complex social challenges.”

Making that transition isn’t simple, and even leading foundations sometimes struggle with accurately measuring impact for social issues. After all, these are complex problems with many possible variables. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get better. And it’s important that you do.

For example, instead of reporting that you funded a program that refurbished 100 computers for local schools, take it a step further. Share where those computers went, how the teachers used them, or a story about a child who achieved academic success because of the donation. If you funded related grants that helped the same schools, what connections could you make to graduation rates or college acceptance?

Once you start collecting more information, you’ll find that grant management software is an essential tool. You can easily analyze data, see trends, and produce reports about your grantees’ impact. Not only that, with a CRM built in, you can stay in touch with your grantees more easily, learning more than just what’s in their final reports.

Start Conversations on Social Media

In an article about millennials and corporate social responsibility, the California Management Review says it best: “By consistently advocating for causes online and opening up an honest dialogue with followers on social media, brands can publicly demonstrate both authenticity and their genuine devotion to making the world a better place.”

Take the stories and stats you’re gathering about the impact of your programs and share them widely through social media. Give consumers a way to react, suggest, participate, and comment on what you’re doing. Focus on content like Facebook Live streaming events and Instagram Stories so you have an opportunity for real conversations that develop into relationships with buyers. 

When it comes to appealing to millennial consumers, the more information you offer, the better.

Open Up Your Books

That leads us to our last topic -- transparency. As a corporate foundation, you’re required to publish public disclosures about the funds you disperse. But millennial consumers want more. They want assurance that your practices are ethical, fair, and responsible. Keeping things open inspires trust.

In a study by Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse, “81 percent of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.”

But that means more than a simple list of organizations and projects that receive funding. Instead, make your internal decision-making more visible. This could include:

  • Your mission statement and values
  • Grant selection criteria
  • Sources of funding
  • Names of your grant review team
  • Testimonials from participating grantees
  • Outcomes from previously funded projects

It’s also important to communicate the trustworthiness of the nonprofits you support. For example, with a grants management system, you can verify candidates through a GuideStar integration. This will ensure that you screen out any applicants that don’t meet certain criteria.


What do consumers want to see from your corporate foundation? Authenticity. When you approach your social responsibility initiatives with a true commitment to making positive changes and communicate openly about the purpose and impact of your work, consumers will reward you with their business.


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