Corporate Relations and COVID-19

April 13th, 2020

During COVID-19

We reached out to NACRO members to gain insight into managing industry relationships during this extraordinary time. Many thanks to those of you who were able to respond with thoughtful answers in a short amount of time. The following summary focuses on philanthropy, university recruitment, communication strategies, student engagement, and more.


Some universities are finding companies are open to unrestricted funding, supporting crisis-related funding, and flexibility with event sponsorships.

Unrestricted Funding

Nearly 600 grantmaking organizations have taken the pledge to support non-profits during the COVID-19 crisis, including loosening grant restrictions and reporting requirements. You may find that your corporate partners are willing to shift to unrestricted funding as well.

Companies are working rapidly to mobilize for their customers, employees, and community partners as we all face new and uncertain financial and personal challenges. Some are redeploying philanthropy budgets to focus 100% of their giving on COVID-19 funding needs in the markets they serve. Companies may also be accelerating their 2020 philanthropy to help address immediate and longer-term needs now. One global company has removed its focus area application grant periods to allow for all assistance requests to be filled ASAP. Check in with your corporate partners and ask if they are willing to make unrestricted or highly-flexible funding available.

Crisis-Related Funding

How is your university focusing on the economic impact of COVID-19 in the short- and long-term? Have you set up a fund to help meet student emergency needs? Companies are open to supporting basic needs for those experiencing the greatest hardship, particularly diverse and historically underserved communities. Emergency funds can assist students with financial challenges, including health, living, and educational expenses. Funds will fulfill short-term needs and help students achieve their long-term educational objectives and build successful careers. This support is awarded via application and a selection committee.

"Miami University had a financial technology company provide a significant gift in support of our Student Emergency Fund. The company chose to support the fund after learning about the hardships some students experience during times of uncertainty. From the lack of quality internet to participate in remote learning, a lack of funds to get home, or food insecurities due to the closing of on-campus dining services this fund supports those most impacted by COVID-19. I have no doubt our students, faculty, and staff will recognize this company as one that stood by us in difficult times." - Ryan R. Elias, Associate Vice President of Corporate and Foundation Relations, Miami University

Flexibility on Event Sponsorships

We are hearing from companies that they are flexible with their sponsorships of planned events that are now cancelled. A global company shared it is honoring existing event sponsorship commitments. “We want to assure you that if you have been forced to cancel or postpone your events, we are open to shifting sponsorship support to general operating funds.”

Regarding student-focused events, companies have different approaches depending on the main purpose of the event. Many events have moved to virtual options so companies and students can still participate. Other companies have opted to apply their sponsorship commitment to the rescheduled event.


As uncertainty strikes fear in most of us, we know we can count on two things: we are all in this together, and this too shall pass. In the meantime, it is important to maintain relationships with corporate partners through thoughtful communication. Here are some of the ways our members are engaging with their corporate contacts during the COVID-19 crisis:

I have been impressed by the efforts of our corporate partners and have reached out to my contacts to express gratitude, and to check-in on their well-being. In some cases this has led to meaningful conversations about the ways in which companies could support the university’s efforts around COVID-19.” – Debbie Meyer, Washington University in St. Louis

At the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, we're offering free webinar content through Executive Education to help leaders navigate this challenging time. Topics include Emotional Intelligence in a Remote World and How the Brain Reacts Under Stress, among others. Additionally, we're providing resources to our alumni impacted by the changing economy, including professional development content and access to job coaching and resume reviews.” – Amy Jacobson, University of Denver

The key has been communication with stakeholders. In sponsored capstones where sponsors have been involved with students, companies have been overall very gracious and understanding. Their teams have moved to virtual communication and they understand the delays to the terms. This has helped faculty and students create a plan to finish the projects well. Unfortunately, our "project presentation day" will be cancelled.

As for career services, we have moved to virtual career fairs and will be rolling out "virtual open houses" as we push through the spring cycle into the summer/fall cycle.” – Dave Ortendahl, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

At Texas A&M, we are making social distancing the new norm. All lab access is banned, buildings have moved to card key access, and employees are working from home. Our deliverables to industry engagements have been adjusted and so far these adjustments have been well-received.” – Stavros Kalafatis, Texas A&M University

At The George Washington University, we are reaching out to our partners to update them on how GW is engaging with students, staff and the broader GW community during the COVID-19 crisis – our current priority. We want to get a better understanding of how our corporate partners are responding to this crisis, and find areas where we can leverage each other’s strengths to fight this challenge.” – Joe Matope, The George Washington University.


One of the best parts of capstone projects is the interaction between the student team and the industry sponsor; however, this has likely changed as a result of COVID-19. If you haven’t already, devise a plan for the path forward for spring semester projects and connect with your industry sponsors to share the options. For example, one university offered the following options to project sponsors: 1) see results now via a video call and consider the project complete; 2) have graduate students finish the project or prototype in the summer; or 3) roll the spring project into a fall project with a new student team. The majority of the sponsors have expressed interest in options 1 and 3 so the university is developing plans to accommodate.


With companies shifting to a work-from-home arrangement to ensure the health and safety of all individuals in their organizations, the structures of internship and co-op programs are also more dynamic. As we are unsure how long this situation will last, many companies are changing their spring and summer internship plans. Some preliminary data at one engineering school suggests that about 55% of programs are continuing and shifting to online methodologies or shifted start dates. Another 45% or so are freezing programs or retracting offers from students.

Mastercard recently communicated to its summer internship hires that the program will occur virtually and, to ensure that it is impactful, will be shortened to four weeks. Though the internships will be shorter, Mastercard is going to pay each intern for the full internship as had been originally offered.

Other programs, such as the one at Boston Scientific, have cancelled for Summer 2020 and even out into Summer/Fall 2020. The company placed an interest in those students for future years saying, “we will prioritize consideration for placement of these students in the 2021 Boston Scientific program, should they still wish to participate.”

NACRO commends companies that maintained communication with students, whether bad news or good news. Some companies are in a position to hire additional talent proactively. Many are still hiring talent and communicating with students to reduce anxiety and share developments. A great example is the communication from Northrop Grumman to all of the students with active offers early on in the COVID-19 crisis in the US. Another example, TD Ameritrade is attempting to expedite intern conversions to full-time employees during this time.


At the point when social distancing comes to an end, our institutions, industry and other sectors will reconvene in a way that will probably look much different than it did before COVID-19. Innovation from the bright minds in our research ecosystems will be what drives us into the new normal.

There are discussions that budgets will suffer into the economic downturn, but we must remind ourselves that academic research serves both a societal need for human and intellectual capital interests for our nation. Investment in academic institutions is an investment in the future of our industry partners' needs. The lights may be dim, but make no mistake that they are on. It is absolutely undeniable that academic curiosity and scientific discovery will play a pivotal role in this defining moment for our nation and its talented young people.” – Cody Noghera, Executive Director, Corporate Research Partnerships, Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California San Diego