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[ASK AN EXPERT] Can I Apply Simultaneously For A Corporate Grant And Sponsorship?

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Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a nonprofit employee who wants advice on whether it’s okay to apply for a corporate grant and sponsorship at the same time:

Is it okay to make an ask for a sponsorship (say, for an event) from a corporation AND separately to that corporation’s independent charitable foundation? I can see there might be an issue with the optics of this situation, but also know companies set up foundations to advance initiatives and work they align with and care about.

– Too Greedy?

Dear Too Greedy,

First, stop worrying that you’re being greedy. This comes from the “tin cup” model of fundraising, where we come from a place of begging. You’re not a beggar! Rather, you’re seeking critical investment in work that will make your community and world a better place.

Aligning Corporate Values with Social Responsibility

The goal is to find alignment between the values you enact and the values the corporation espouses and shares. Some, but not all, businesses buy into the notion of corporate social responsibility. They understand the research showing consumers/people will buy more products, or even switch brands, if a brand supports a cause they care about. Those values are the basis for what companies today aim to integrate into their cultures and across their business channels. “Doing well by doing good” is not only good for a company’s reputation; it’s also good for business.

As you suggest, generally there is more than one place to look to within any business. That’s because, while values dominate corporate decision-making, decision-makers are also saddled with short-term initiatives and directives. At one point in time, enacting their value to address homelessness in your area may translate to grants to homeless shelters. At another point in time, it may translate to work development programs. At yet another juncture, it may translate to mental health programs. So, you need to do your research!

Different departments within a business will have different objectives. For example:

  • The Foundation has grant guidelines. These change over time, and cover:
    • Grant category (e.g., operating; specific projects; capital; endowment; capacity-building; challenge grant; sponsorship, etc.).
    • Types of organizations to which they’ll give.
    • Purpose of the grant (e.g., emergency response; prevention; early intervention; research; seed funding, and so forth).
    • Grant size, which may be an average or a range.
  • The Marketing or Community Relations Department has business and branding objectives. 
    • They may be seeking inroads into a particular market, and perhaps your constituents represent that market. 
    • They may wish to build good will with their employees, clients, or the general public. 
    • They may need to whitewash their reputation, especially if they’ve recently received negative press. 
  • The Human Resources Department has different business objectives. 
    • They may be looking for employee education and enrichment options with which your staff may offer expertise.
    • They may seek volunteer opportunities your organization can offer. 
    • They may be pursuing affiliation with values they believe will attract new staff.

Consider the value you have to offer. For example, if pitching a sponsorship, what are your constituent demographics? How many people are on your mailing lists? What’s your geographic reach. What type of media opportunities can you offer?

Bottom Line

1.  Submitting a foundation proposal is straightforward. You can generally discern the foundation priorities doing online research; if not, you can call foundation personnel and have a conversation to assess how you fit.

2.  Pitching a request for a sponsorship or business partnership requires understanding a particular corporation’s challenges, and how you can help address them. Sometimes you can figure this out from the news, social media, or even the business’s own website. Or perhaps you know some people who work there, and they’ve given you a clue. And, of course, there’s plenty you can infer just from the nature of the business. For example, you might anticipate:

  • Gymboree would be receptive to donating clothing, money, and time to local and national organizations that support children and families.
  • Union Bank would be interested in attracting investors ranging from high-net-worth individuals to small and large businesses, and promoting economic development in the communities it serves. 

I’m just guessing at all of the above, but you can certainly confirm your guesses by doing an internet search to find out what types of philanthropic, marketing, advertising, and volunteer initiatives these businesses have engaged in. I gave this a try for Gymboree, and found this and this. For Union Bank I found this (on their own website) and this. Now you not only have ideas to pitch to these particular corporations, but also know what you might pitch to a local organization that serves similar clients. 

3. Back to your worry about “optics.” All you need is transparency. Let the foundation know you are also in conversation with marketing regarding event sponsorship or with human resources regarding volunteer opportunities. And let these departments know you’ve also submitted a foundation proposal. Sometimes the departments will even work together on your behalf!

4. Remember: all philanthropy is a value-for-value exchange. Communicate a strong value proposition to corporate partners, clarifying how working together will both bring positive social impact, and improve their bottom line.

Hope this win/win strategy helps you move forward!

– Charity Clairity

Have a question for our Fundraising Coach?
Please submit your question here. Remember, there are no stupid questions! If you need an answer, it’s likely someone else does too. So help your colleagues by asking away. Please use a pseudonym, like “Too Greedy” did, if you prefer to be anonymous.

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  • Terry Knox Ramseur

    Claire, thank you for this discussion. I am a grant and development specialist and my supervisor was skittish about seeking a sponsorship AND a grant from a corporate entity in our area. I said pretty much what you outlined to her but she was still very hesitant. I always do my homework and felt that since we already had a relationship on the business side, as long as we informed them of our intent and the alignments in both requests, we'd be ok. When I saw your article I felt vindicated! Thanks! A fan and fellow development professional (still learning every day), Terry.
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