Nonprofits are always looking for the “right” individuals, companies and foundations to support their organization’s mission and vision to ensure that they are fulfilled. Corporations are looking for ways to bring corporate social responsibility and giving into their business because it works—it’s just good business. Similar to those looking for a career with a company they believe has a great brand, corporate culture and has the best product and service, many people have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause they care about or have an emotional connection to.
Businesses in turn want to give back to communities, individuals and organizations for a variety of reasons, and your nonprofit could be exactly what they’re looking for. Some reasons companies give back is because it’s part of their culture, others have some regulatory reasons to give back, such as banks and financial institutions and must invest in certain communities and people as part of their diversity initiatives. An effective partnership is critical in building momentum for funding and brand awareness, for both the nonprofit and the corporation, but similar to finding the perfect job, you need to find a corporate partner that is the perfect match for your organization for a long-term partnership.
The Task of Finding the Perfect Corporate Partner
Have you ever seen a corporation whose mission and vision were perfectly aligned with your organization, was incredibly successful, and had all this money to donate to support YOUR cause? Unfortunately, that kind of “insta-partner” rarely exists without some investment on your end. Just because you see certain corporations giving to similar organizations to yours does NOT mean that they are a perfect match for you or even will be interested in your organization—they might be supporting them for a variety of reasons that you do not know, so NEVER assume. In order to find your true match you need to start by building a list of 20 to 40 companies, local and national, large and small, that you believe you would like to work with. Just like with job searching, choose companies that have a similar vision of how to be innovative in the world as you do, that are serving a similar population(s), located in the same city/state/country, appear to support the things your organization does and that you can get access to.
Once you have your “potential partner” list, do your research. Check out each company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) statement. Not every corporation has one, if they don’t have one, you MUST do your research and see what qualities the company values based on their corporate culture, advertising, employees, etc. Research the company’s nonprofit support history—who have they given to, what kind of support, how much support and what kinds of organizations? Which causes and nonprofits have they supported in the past? Are they supporting education, women, health, new initiatives, multi-year grants, product only, etc.?
The BEST thing to do is to find out the philanthropic habits of their founder, CEO, and their top executives on their leadership team. See if you can find what causes they support outside of the company because often they might be connected to your organization’s mission and can be the person(s) you focus on getting as your point of contact into the company you want as your partner. You might even sit on a nonprofit board or volunteer with a nonprofit organization that this corporation or their leadership is involved with—which is the best way to get your organization plugged in.
Strategy is Key to Making the First Move
Now that you have a list of corporations who would make a perfect match for your nonprofit, it’s time to reach out for your first meeting, conference call (if not in the same city, state or country), breakfast, lunch or drinks. Even though you’ll be researching the entire corporation, you’ll want to start with anyone who can get you in the door. This is your first point of entry into the company and you must think of your first point of contact as your connector. This person will help you navigate the various departments, people and leaders within the company and assist you in finding a perfect match.
This does NOT happen overnight and depending on the corporation, it can take months or years to develop a viable connection and turn it into a partnership. Keep it simple and light. In the beginning you will have to make time to support the corporation’s initiatives, events and other organizations to get on their radar and then meet a worthy connector(s). Share with your connector what you’re working on and why her company would be a good fit to sponsor your campaign and partner with your nonprofit. Woo her.
If your corporate connector is interested and she/he gets what you are trying to do and how your organization and their corporation could partner, ask her/him for an introduction to the decision makers at the company and set up a formal meeting. If your connector is truly passionate about your idea, is at the appropriate level of leadership invite her/him to be a part of this meeting as an advocate for the partnership. If not, you will still need them to advocate for you in your pursuits—so you still must continue to communicate with her/him.
Making the BEST Pitch
Making your actual pitch is the final stage of your strategy. Depending on your organization, the corporation and your connector, this can be a quick process and others may take more time—PLEASE manage your expectations. When it comes to building a relationship with a corporate partner, don’t leave any doubts that you’re the right fit and make sure that they believe that they are the ONLY corporation for you. This is where you’ll learn if it’s meant to be or not, and so will they.
For your potential partner pitch, you need to outline exactly what you’re looking for in your partnership. By now, they should know about your organization via your connector/advocate(s) so you only need to briefly introduce your organization and your mission, then get right into the important parts about the specific campaign, event, program or cause marketing opportunity you need sponsorship for. Detail what you’re asking of the corporation, including funding, promotion, employee participation, branding opportunities, joint media outreach, etc. If you are truly going after a partnership, you should be able to share a big picture and vision and ask for multi-year funding to support it.
Take a look at what many corporations have been doing with PENCIL.org. In this partnership, the corporations donate their money, specific resources from their company, and volunteer hours from their employees who participate. If you are looking for a corporate partner to go beyond cutting you a check, make sure you let them know that and make your ask as specific as possible. It is not that professional individuals cannot participate and support PENCIL, but for their model to work best, for monetary and human capital, they need large volumes of people and financial support, so corporations make sense.
Most importantly—you need to tell the corporation what youwill bring to the table. What is your EVA (Extra Value Added) to them, why are you unique, how your organization matches the corporation’s mission and vice versa. Outline success metrics that align with the partner’s business goals. Speak their language and illustrate how you will calculate the ROI of their philanthropic dollars and how that will make an impact on your campaign and your work. The purpose of this meeting is to put it all on the line and ask for exactly what you want. This way you can both decide if this partnership is a perfect match or not. It’s also important to listen and take counter offers into consideration, but never accept less than you need. There is a LOT of power in the word no. If the relationship is not “right,” it’s okay to walk away and often the BEST thing you can do for your organization and the corporation. Remember there are many other corporate funding sources out there that you are a better match for. You might not get a partner every time, but a “NO” today is just a “not right now, until you can better explain to me why we need to do this” and eventually can become a “yes” when you can better connect the dots between your organization and the corporation.
Jodi Brockington directs the fundraising and business development for www.100UrbanEntrepreneurs.org, a nonprofit that is cultivating the next generation of urban entrepreneurs. She also blogs for www.awakenyourcareerpreneur.com and www.nvmagazine.com