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Unpacking and Influencing the Consequences of Corporate Support for Charities 

By Katy Adams 

After graduating I trained and worked as a lawyer and became a member of my firm’s Charity Committee, helping to organise fundraising events in support of the ‘Charity of the Year’. The charities appeared grateful, and we felt good, hoping positive things were being done with our money. It was only later, when I was working in the voluntary sector and saw these relationships from the other side, that I really became aware of the link between the shape and nature of these alliances and their results. I realised, for example, the positive difference it made when a corporate took the time to find out about how the charity ran on a daily basis before offering its help, and how important it was that the two organisations worked in a manner which played to both their strengths if they wanted to ensure a long-lasting relationship.  

I began to understand that my experience in both the corporate and voluntary sectors meant I was ideally placed to investigate the dynamics of this relationship further and so, almost three years ago, I began my PhD research at Heidelberg University.  

I found that the considerable research which had been done into corporates showed how getting involved with charities could generally lead to more motivated, committed and skilled employees, a better public image and, ultimately, increased profits. The research regarding the benefits to recipient charities and therefore their beneficiaries was, however, less clear. It had been shown that a relationship with a corporate (a ‘corporate philanthropy relationship’ or CPR) could offer help from a business perspective: it could, for example, increase charities’ innovation and provide them with access to new networks. However, its impact on the charity employees had not been properly questioned. I wanted to change this.   

My PhD uses knowledge and arguments from a wide range of disciplines, including business and management, philosophy and psychology, supported by empirical evidence from numerous sources to discuss the multiple influences, drivers and levers within a CPR. It builds on concepts of value systems, narrative, power and learning within the frameworks of critical realism and pragmatic sociology to create a model highlighting how the outcome of a CPR can be steered through the approaches of the parties involved. It comments in particular on specific aspects of the relationship such as the opportunity the charity is given to introduce itself and its wishes, the practical manner in which the relationship between the parties is structured, and the internal communication within the charity.  

My research discusses in particular how the combined effect of these approaches affects the social identification of the charity employees (the bond between them and their employer, and the resulting normalisation of their attitudes and values in line with those of the charity). It also shows how, since these factors are fluid, this aspect of a charity’s internal stability is constantly changing both during a CPR and, in charities with certain values and capabilities, over the longer-term. It acknowledges the considerable variation, fluidity and nuance within corporates, charities and matchmakers (the intermediaries which bring corporates and charities together), especially on a pan-European level, and provides a base from which more research can be undertaken and practical advice can be given. 

Although I set out to focus on the charity within a CPR, the real value of this research has turned out to be how it shows the mutual benefits which can arise from a CPR when it is structured in a certain manner and driven by specific values. By seeking social impact in a specific way, a CPR can strengthen a charity’s internal stability and enable it to better achieve its mission. It can also help the corporate meet its CSR/ESG goals in a way which is more positive over the longer-term for not just the ultimate beneficiaries but also, critically, the corporate’s own business strategies.  

By demonstrating how the consequences of CPRs for charities are not fixed, but shaped by multiple, constantly changing variables, my research contends it cannot be taken for granted that a CPR’s impact on a charity will be positive. As a result, through its arguments around the ability of the organisations involved to shape the relationship’s outcomes, I hope I can encourage corporates, charities and intermediaries alike to question their assumptions surrounding CPR, and to critically assess existing and new approaches towards them.   


Katy Adams holds MAs from the University of Kent (Philanthropic Studies) and the University of Cambridge (Modern Languages). She has spent ten years in leadership roles in the voluntary sector in the UK and the USA, worked previously in the City of London and is currently a PhD candidate at Heidelberg University in Germany and a Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University in England