Raising money for your Houston-area nonprofit takes planning, coordination, creativity — and yes, a donation strategy pairing you with nearby corporate partners ready and willing to make an impact. This corporate donor guide for nonprofit organization fundraising in Houston evaluates the ins and outs of Space City sponsorship opportunities. Within it, you’ll find:
- Top corporate sponsors in Houston
- Corporate fundraising types and tactics
- Common corporate sponsorship programs
- And, of course, the all-important how to get corporate sponsorships — plus why they matter more than ever.
Corporate sponsors allow nonprofits the chance to meet and exceed annual fundraising goals. Corporate donations provide one of the most sustainable means for nonprofits to earn funding, generating over $20 billion annually. Nonprofits benefit from corporate donors beyond the balance sheet, though.
- Elevate awareness: Corporate sponsorships can expand the reach and impact of nonprofit fundraisers or special events. Nonprofits have access to a broader network of potential event attendees, volunteers, pro bono expertise and even individual donors, each of which has a personal pull to you via your corporate partner.
- Develop stronger community partnerships: The Houston metropolitan area is home to over 2.3 million people. It’s the largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest in the United States. With a larger community comes a vast impact opportunity. Corporate donors in Houston have an exceptional stage to cultivate change in their backyards, working with nonprofits whose mission and values align with their own.
- Raise more funds: Corporate-nonprofit sponsorships have the potential to double, triple — even quadruple fundraising initiatives. From direct corporate donations to employee gift matching to program sponsorships — and a few others in between — there are so many ways a nonprofit development strategy can amplify your initiatives.
- Impact more target populations: Corporations are well-connected, well-organized and frequently tied to their public images. Nonprofits can leverage corporate connections toward more impactful change, moving the needle and fueling momentum required to help area populations thrive.
- Create sustainable fundraising and revenue models: Nonprofits exist to perpetuate their core missions, yet doing so requires in-depth nonprofit strategic planning, as well as operating revenue and organizational models that continually support their goals. Corporate sponsorships can provide a funding buoy that keeps nonprofits afloat year-round.
What Corporations Are Looking for in Nonprofit Partners
The best corporate-nonprofit partnerships display the following qualities.
- Mission and value alignment: Corporations will gravitate toward nonprofits whose work cultivates change in ways the company values. That could mean nonprofits whose work complements a company’s products, brands or services — e.g., a pet store chain with grants for animal rescues — or a nonprofit targeting similar constituents — e.g., contracting agencies working with a veteran career placement nonprofit.
- Suitable philanthropic image: Consumers are more likely to buy or engage with companies they consider socially responsible. The onus lies on corporations to develop a philanthropic identity that is both authentic and value-adding — on par with its mission statement and its consumer base.
- Meaning: Corporations seek purpose from their philanthropic activities. They target partnerships that are productive and worthwhile, with both tangible and intangible value. Things like impact reports, donor summaries and annual partner presentations relay how a company’s partnership is invaluable to your Houston-area nonprofit, showcasing precisely where corporate donations or sponsorships move the needle.
- Ongoing opportunities: Corporates — like nonprofits — prefer continuing opportunities, not one-and-done gift matching or check writing. Nonprofits that can prove their commitment to ongoing corporate relationships and strategic planning are more likely to draw in heavyweight corporate sponsors and raise more money.
There are dozens of companies with corporate giving programs right here in Houston. We’ve categorized these companies, listed below, by the nonprofit segment their businesses most align with. You’ll also find insights on better donor segmentation, or the key strategies that’ll unlock how to raise more money for your nonprofit:
- The impact alignment companies look for when donating to these segments
- Tips and tricks on segment-specific fundraising events
- Company recognition strategies best for each nonprofit segment
1. Animal Welfare Animal welfare activism benefits the Houston area in several ways. Shelters improve both the safety and health of animals in their care, as well as provide the city’s leading source for pet adoption. Many of this segment’s nonprofits investigate animal cruelty reports, support animal rights legislation and promote overall wildlife conservation, environmentalism and animal education programs.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Brands with a vested interest in promoting the safety and well-being of animals, as well as those whose products or services relate to pet and animal care
- Sponsorship types that work well: Program or event sponsorship, physical in-kind donations, in-kind service donations, pro bono consulting, animal rights and animal welfare grants
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Animal calendars, adoption reports, pictures of animals at the shelter wearing bandanas or apparel with a sponsor’s logo
Companies that make regular contributions to animal welfare organizations in Houston include:
2. Arts The arts, culture and the humanities segment receives about $19.5 billion in charitable giving annually. Programming often centers on increasing access and opportunities to music, dance, creative writing and the fine arts, as well as increasing representation and awareness in each of these segments. Arts and culture nonprofits additionally enrich their communities, as well as generate a sizeable economic footprint.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Corporations that believe thriving communities are those with robust arts-centered venues, events and entertainment
- Sponsorship types that work well: Grants, sponsorships and direct donations
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Custom pieces of art, ribbon-cutting ceremonies at new arts venues, free tickets to shows and concerts
Companies that make regular contributions to arts and humanities nonprofit organizations in Houston:
3. Children, Schools and EducationNonprofits in the education segment do work spanning from early childhood development to special education, sponsor scholarships, college preparation programming and youth mentorship. Other nonprofits in this segment prioritize education system justice and reform, with a particular emphasis on accessibility and schooling effectiveness.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Corporations with youth-centered or education products and services, as well as those with STEM-vested interests
- Sponsorship types that work well: In-kind donations, direct donations, program and event sponsorships, discounts and gift cards
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Pictures and thank-you cards from kids, inclusion in nonprofit newsletters and press releases
Companies that make regular contributions to youth empowerment and education organizations in Houston:
- Cabot Corporation
- The Powell Foundation
- Target Field Trip Grants
- Starbucks Opportunity for Youth
- Kinder Morgan Foundation
4. Disaster Relief and Environment Environmental nonprofits have a wide variety of domains. Local and international environmental causes promote environmental research, awareness, sustainability, conservation and appreciation.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Businesses and corporations with ties to natural land, air or water resources, as well as those in the energy, transportation and agricultural industries
- Sponsorship types that work well: Grants and program funding, event sponsorship, direct donations
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Company logos on event merchandise, as well as displayed online, through web, email and social media campaigns
Companies that make regular contributions to environmental nonprofits in Houston:
5. Human Rights, Health, Hunger Human-services charities provide direct care and quality-of-life services to constituents. In Houston, human services encompass the area’s wide range of food banks, homeless shelters, children’s and family services, crisis centers and cross-needs health and safety services.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Businesses looking to make an impact close to home, directly in their neighborhoods, as well as grow a general philanthropic brand identity
- Sponsorship types that work well: Direct donations, in-kind services, physical in-kind goods and products, pro bono services, sponsorships and grants
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Thank-you notes, artwork and photographs of constituents assisted through sponsorships, company logos on event merchandise, as well as displayed online, through web, email and social media campaigns
Companies that make regular contributions to human services and health organizations in Houston:
6. Local Community Infrastructure and Housing As a branch of human-service charities, nonprofits involved with local community infrastructure commit to providing safe, accessible and affordable long-term solutions to housing shortages and public spaces. These can include everything from crisis shelters to short-term housing assistance to home building and neighborhood revitalization projects.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Brands aiming to widen their local philanthropic footprint and make changes close to home, here in Houston
- Sponsorship types that work well: Pro bono services, direct donations, in-kind goods and services, grants and sponsorships
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Thank-you plaques fashioned from building or construction materials, messages and updates from families or neighborhoods that have benefited from sponsorship meet-and-greets with sponsored individuals or families
Companies that make regular contributions to housing and community infrastructure in Houston:
7. Military Veteran affairs fall under public-social benefits charities and receive roughly 7 percent of all charitable donations. From veteran-only continuing-education scholarships to career placements or skills-development services, there is a wide range of ways businesses can help military nonprofits.
- Ideal sponsor alignment: Veteran-owned businesses, companies with significant veteran employee pools or ties to military services and resources
- Sponsorship types that work well: Program and fundraising sponsorships, pro bono services, direct donations, gift cards and discounts
- Top sponsor recognition strategies: Personalized thank-you notes from impacted individuals, as well as meet-and-greets, case reports and impact surveys shared with sponsors
Companies that make regular contributions to veteran affairs in the greater Houston area:
- Starbucks Veterans & Military Support
- Men’s Warehouse
- Chevron Phillips
- Costco Regional Office Donations and Grants
8. Youth Sports Youth sports provide an ideal way for companies to get more involved in their communities. Sporting jerseys, venues and merchandise are also prime locations to display brand logos and cultivate brand awareness without seeming “salesy.” Likewise, participating in sports provides personal development opportunities for the city’s youth, some of which they wouldn’t experience otherwise.
- Segment’s ideal impact: Businesses aiming to showcase deeper involvement in the community, as well as those with sports-related merchandise, active brands or youth health initiatives
- Sponsorship types that work well: Direct donations, in-kind products like donated jerseys and equipment, sponsoring facility rentals, sporting events and tournaments
- Top recognition strategies: Sports equipment signed by team members, signed thank-you notes, photographs of the team in sponsored apparel distributed to local newspapers, on schools’ or nonprofits’ websites and within promotional merchandise
Companies that make regular contributions to youth sports organizations in Houston:
9. Workplace Readiness Nonprofits dedicated to continuing education and workforce readiness do vital work throughout the Bayou City. By assisting populations without equal access or means to career-development resources, workplace readiness programs have downstream effects that ultimately boost the area’s economic profile and workforce.
- Segment’s ideal impact: Corporations with vested economic ties to the greater Houston metropolitan area, as well as those with a desire to build greater community goodwill
- Sponsorship types that work well: In-kind expertise and pro bono work, direct donations, physical donations, grants, program sponsorships, college scholarships
- Top recognition strategies: Case studies and economic impact whitepapers produced and distributed to sponsors, plus published online, individual success stories, handwritten thank-you notes and personal accounts
Companies that make regular contributions to workplace development initiatives in Houston:
Knowing what to say when asking for corporate donations can be daunting — especially when approaching large corporations. Here are the steps to take to assure your funding asks fall on the right ears.
1. Identify Your Ideal Corporate Sponsor Nonprofits must vet potential corporations as much as corporations vet them. Look for authentic value alignment — brands and businesses with expressed interests and concerns complementary to yours. Check if they have localized philanthropic branches, which many businesses do — this makes pitching your Houston-area nonprofit easier. Push that alignment to the forefront of your pitch. You are looking to convey a mutually beneficial partnership, always.
2. Create a Value Proposition Like a for-profit business’ unique selling proposition, nonprofits have “brands,” too. Your value proposition encompasses that brand, conveying the hyper-specific good you’re doing and problems you’re solving, aka your impact right now in Space City.
3. State Your Mission and Goals These are the meat and potatoes of your donation strategy. Include the following in your corporate sponsorship ask.
- Your specific fundraising intention: State the exact funding goal you’re aiming to reach, and the precise impact reaching that goal will have. Use numbers and data to support your claims.
- Success metrics: What does achieving that funding goal look like? How will you and your corporate sponsor know you’ve met your impact mission? Again, use quantifiable data to outline progress benchmarks.
- Means to secure funds: How do you intend to meet your funding objectives? Outline your exact plans, from social media campaigns, silent auctions, text-to-give competitions, drives, special events and more.
- Ongoing initiatives: Highlight the collaborative intentions of your work by connecting future projects — and future philanthropic impact — to the fundraiser at hand.
- Corporate alignment: How will your nonprofit’s work benefit the sponsoring company? Be specific, doing research ahead of time on their brand values.
4. Write a Personalized Letter Draft individualized letters to all prospective corporate sponsors. If possible, address your emails or letters to a company’s advocacy or corporate giving director, community relations manager, office supervisor or any other relevant head of philanthropic operations. Making a connection with such individuals is the surest way to get your foot in the door.
5. Provide a Written Sponsorship Agreement Written sponsorship agreements document both the company’s and the nonprofit’s obligations, expectations and fundraising deliverables. You don’t need to have the formal written sponsorship agreement on hand with your initial ask. However, finding a way to mention it shows your professionalism and experience procuring corporate sponsorships.
6. Say How You Will Recognize Their Support Select a thank-you or recognition strategy aligned with your segment. You should also consider as many public or consumer-facing thank yous as possible, such as tagging them on your social media, including their logos on your event materials and writing press releases highlighting a company’s donation involvement.
7. Follow Up Wait no more than a week to send a follow-up correspondence. Again, illustrate your desire for this to be a mutually beneficial business partnership generating authentic area impact. Be specific, yet concise, thanking them for their time.
How Not to Request Corporate Donations
There are a few common pitfalls when it comes to obtaining corporate sponsorship opportunities. Ensure your nonprofit never falls prey to the following:
1. Not Following Up Playing coy with potential corporate partners benefits no one. Never be afraid to submit follow-up letters and emails, send further materials about your nonprofit or share past fundraising success stories.
2. Not Writing Personal Requests Corporate philanthropy directors and teams can smell a generalized sponsorship proposal from a mile away. The more you can personalize your inquiries — even finding time to meet with corporate representatives, if possible — the better.
3. Forgetting Corporate Recognition All your talk about a mutually beneficial business partnership disintegrates if you don’t privately and publicly recognize your partners.
4. Leaving out Brand Alignment Discussing how your mutually beneficial partnership will enhance the company’s brand is the surest way to stand out from other sponsorship competition. Make this a focal point in all donation strategy communications.
5. Short-Selling Your Impact A sponsorship request is no time to be bashful about your nonprofit. Highlight the value of your work and the impact you’re making in Houston. Use as many quantitative data points and metrics as possible. Numbers prove you walk the walk and talk the talk to make Houston a thriving community.
6. Focusing Too Broadly The best corporate donation proposals are hyper-specific: on sponsorship type, fundraising purpose, area impact, business alignment, event timelines and future goals. Not tying your request to a particular event or cause turns all your hard research, writing and work on funding proposals shapeless.
There are six main categories of corporate sponsorship, each with opportunities that will help your organization leverage more donations. Included with the six are also rankings. A corporate sponsorship type will rate high, medium or low based on two criteria:
- How easy the gift type is to attain
- The impact the gift will have for both nonprofits and corporate philanthropic image
1. Gift Cards Impact Grade: Low Gift cards make fantastic add-on items for fundraising events. Think silent auctions, event gift baskets, celebrations and similar, ad-hoc events nonprofits put on for both internal and external constituents. Nonprofits can award gift cards to recognize top-performing volunteers, or they can leverage them during fundraising events to generate further funds.
- Pros: Gift cards are relatively easy to acquire from corporate sponsors. Small and large businesses alike will likely have product or service gift cards, coupons or discounts readily available for area partners. Plus, they make a quick and intuitive write-off.
- Cons: While straightforward to give, gift cards offer little higher-level mission or value alignment. They also do not compel other donors to join a nonprofit’s cause, since they rarely translate into long-term impact.
2. In-Kind Donations Impact Grade: Medium In-kind donations are any kind of non-cash gift given by a business. There are four general categories of in-kind donations.
- Physical goods: Clothing, furniture, office equipment, household supplies, laptops, phones, food items or any other consumer product make up physical in-kind donations.
- Services: Free dental checkups, physicals, tax filing, catering services and more constitute service-based in-kind donations. These most often come from companies in relevant service-based industries.
- Expertise: Many nonprofits use pro bono work across legal, accounting, IT, business consulting and general strategic-planning tasks. Such expertise-based donations are an excellent way to establish ties between businesses and nonprofits requiring specialized skills or technical services.
- Cash equivalents: Monetary-based, but not cash, donations in the form of mutual funds, stocks or bonds.
Certain in-kind donations will have a larger impact than others.
- Pros: Depending on the category, certain in-kind donations can have a significantly larger footprint both for the nonprofit and its constituents. In-kind donations intertwine the success of a fundraiser or event with the corporation lending its time, good and services.
- Cons: In-kind donations take a lot of leveraging. Plus, sourcing continual in-kind donations — especially physical goods and expertise — can be laborious and ineffective.
3. Direct Donations Impact Grade: Medium Direct donations are cash contributions made to a nonprofit. They account for over 70 percent of nonprofit funding and remain a vital revenue stream for those making an impact in the Houston area.
- Pros: Direct donations to 501(c)(3) classified organizations are tax write-offs for companies. They are flexible and highly versatile, allowing your nonprofit organization to allocate money where you need it most.
- Cons: Knowing how to ask for direct donations is a daunting task for many nonprofits. Like gift cards, direct donations can be hard to translate into long-term impact or as a meaningful way to draw in other donors.
4. Discounts Impact Grade: Low Corporations offer discounts both to nonprofits themselves and their target demographics. For example, retailers may offer teachers special discounts during the school year to buy supplies for their classrooms. A grocery chain could create a discounted food program for Houston-area food banks. Or a restaurant could give 20 percent of a night’s proceeds to a local youth sports team, allowing them to buy new uniforms.
- Pros: Discounts are one of the easier donation strategies to pitch to area businesses. In-store and online discounts are a great way for local businesses to bolster their philanthropic image and boost their brand.
- Cons: Discounts are situational by nature. They provide little room for long-term growth or scalable, donor-swaying impact.
5. Grants Impact Grade: High Many corporations set up foundations or fellowships in their names, which in turn sponsor nonprofit grants. Grants average around 16 percent of all charitable giving, an amount totaling $66.9 billion every year.
- Pros: Grants are the donation strategy to start a new line of programming, or for a nonprofit to jumpstart a new initiative. Many corporate grant opportunities are localized as well, meaning they seek applicants only from a particular area.
- Cons: Grants are “soft” money, meaning they are not sustainable options to fund operating costs, overhead or general nonprofit upkeep. By their nature, grants are competitive and hard to maintain. Many nonprofits compete for a single grant award under a strict set of parameters. It can take anywhere from six to 16 months to prepare a personalized grant proposal, all without assurance that work will generate results.
6. Sponsorships Impact Grade: High Corporate sponsorship saw its highest contributions in 2018: $24.2 billion. Similar to grants, private corporations set up sponsorship programs that nonprofits apply to. If procured, sponsorships are an invaluable means to secure larger funding streams, typically across more extended periods or in prorated installments.
- Pros: Sponsorships offer the most potential to establish serious, ongoing collaborations with a corporate partner. They nurture nonprofit-business relationships, rather than making fundraising transactional or contingent.
- Cons: Like grants, sponsorships are highly competitive. They are difficult to obtain and require additional work to prove impact and value alignment to the parent corporation, assuring them they sponsored the right Houston-area nonprofit.
Tips to Get Corporate Donations for Silent Auctions
Successful silent auctions revolve around the quality of the items up for bidding. Follow these tips and tricks to get the best corporate sponsors for silent auctions — and the most donations to date.
- Highlight the exposure: Corporations can contribute auction items related to their businesses. Think a yearlong spa package, an all-expenses-paid trip with a cruise line, a new bag of clubs from a golf club manufacturer or a premium cookware set from a local restaurant. The possibilities are endless, as is the relevant exposure for the business — all while you’re gaining auction items people genuinely want.
- Bundle prizes: That restaurant gift card from the four-star Italian restaurant down the street? That would go well in a basket with the three bottles of wine from a local vineyard, which happens to pair perfectly with a cookbook series. Grouping complementary gifts generates buzz and drives up silent auction item values — the exact recipe you’re looking for.
- Mix and match: Balance auction items to represent the full range of corporate sponsorship types, from gift cards to discounts to free services, in-kind product donations, pro bono consultations and more. Mixing and matching your silent auction items ensures there’s something for everyone.
- Don’t go overboard: A good industry rule of thumb is to have one item for every five to six guests. This ratio ensures the auction remains competitive — and no donated items get left behind.
- Highlight your partners: Invite representatives from your corporate sponsors and business donors to your silent auction. Give them a special VIP table and thank-you gifts. After all, they’re the ones who made this special fundraiser possible!
Take Your Houston Fundraising to the Next Level
If this corporate sponsorship guide has inspired you, and you are ready for next steps, schedule a GiveSmart demo to exceed your fundraising goals with corporate sponsorship expertise right here, in your Houston backyard.
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