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Joanne Oppelt

About Joanne

How to Build Donor Relationships with Corporations

In the first installment of this six-part series, I explain why successful nonprofit fundraising is NOT about the money. In Part 2, we explore how to build donor relationships with individuals. In Part 3, we explore how to build donor relationships with foundations. In this Part 4, we explore how to build donor relationships with corporations and other business entities.

Corporate Motivation for Giving

Like individuals and foundations, relationships with corporate giving partners are not about you or your organization. They’re about them and their needs, wants, and preferences. And it’s still about impact. Only this time, it’s not only mission impact. It’s also about financial and market impact.

Unlike individuals and foundations, corporations are not obligated to give away money. Corporations are accountable to stockholders who demand they make money. Never forget, no matter how charitable they may be, corporate giving partners have skin in the game because they believe their relationship with you will result in higher profits.

So, how does a mission-oriented, socially accountable nonprofit help a for-profit business increase profits?

Tapping into Corporate Contributions

Well, the first and most easy way to increase your corporate giving partners’ profits is by exposing corporate donors to new customers. If you have access to a large pool of people, be it staff, volunteers, clients, or individual donors who have some of the same characteristics as their typical customer, the corporate giving community may be interested in supporting you. They want the awareness and exposure. Think of a corporate fundraising strategy where the companies can be exposed to a large audience of potential customers — exposure through a fundraising event, newsletter, press release, website, social media post, or volunteer of staff training, to name a few.

In addition to new customers, corporate giving partners are interested in increasing customer loyalty. They want people to buy their product or service again and again. They also want their customers to say good things about them and recommend them. They are keenly interested in their reputations in the community. This is where your mission comes in. By partnering with you, the company can be seen as doing good in the community. Which increases customer loyalty. Which ultimately helps sales, a for-profit’s primary objective. To capitalize on this motivation, think in terms of repeating opportunities for them and ways for you to craft your message in terms of community value, just like you would do with your individual donors. Remember, it’s an exchange relationship. You’re going to get a lot of PR and exposure to a new, potential donor base.

Corporate giving partners are also interested in decreasing their costs as much as they can. And not just the advertising costs associated with creating awareness and increasing exposure. Personnel costs probably take a big chunk of the budget. Recent studies have shown that in addition to customer loyalty, doing good in the community leads to lower employee recruitment and retention costs. This is why corporate donations include employee matching-gift programs, employee volunteer opportunities, and employee donor-advised funds. Employee volunteer opportunities are also a good way to reduce a company’s employee training costs. Employees can learn and practice many soft skills through volunteering. To get more out of your corporate giving relationships, think in terms of offering monthly giving programs, matching-gift opportunities, and meaningful volunteer experiences.

Companies may also be looking for opportunities to access to legislators and governmental regulatory agency staff. What connections do you have with legislators and government officials? Who do you invite to your events? Who comes? What other networking opportunities does your nonprofit put on that will offer business executives access to the regulators they want to influence?

Establishing Credibility with Corporate Donors

You gain credibility with individual donors mainly through your website and word-of-mouth. According to the Blackbaud Institute, 64 percent of individual donors research an organization through the organization’s website. Foundations conduct their research mainly through the attachments you send them, usually an audit, 990, board list, IRS determination letter, and maybe some marketing materials. Foundations want to make sure that the organization they are giving to will be around for a while and has the capacity to administer their contribution. Nothing besides a basic knowledge and understanding of any of the financial statements is really needed to get donations from individuals and foundations.

Not true when working with corporate donors. Your corporate fundraising strategy must be different than other donor groups. For-profits are keenly interested in your agency’s financial performance. As a fundraiser, you need to intimately know your agency’s financial performance in order to get the most from the corporate giving relationship. Being able to speak to your agency’s financial health puts you heads and shoulders above the rest. You need to be able to talk about assets and liabilities, return on investment, profit margin, debt ratio, and growth trends, financially as well as programmatically. If you don’t know how to read and interpret your agency’s financials, find out how. Read a book. Find a webinar. Go to a training. Anything that will help you be able to talk in terms of both financial as well as mission performance will pay off. My book, Succeed in Your Nonprofit Funding Relationships, may be helpful.

Another area of performance corporate giving partners are keenly interested in, and typical fundraising staff usually have limited knowledge of, is agency market performance. What is your reputation, or brand value, in the community? How do you know? Do you have evidence to back up your claims? What markets, other than clients, do you serve? Think staff, donors, advocates, and collaborators in addition to clients. What services and benefits do you provide to each of those markets? What is your market position in each group? What is your reach? How do you know? What evidence do you have? Who are your competitors? How do you differentiate from them? What makes you unique? What is your case for support?

These are the kinds of questions that corporate giving partners are going to be interested in. The good news is that if you’re doing research on, and getting feedback from, your individual donors, you’re halfway there. Human resources may conduct employee surveys and have other employees-as-a-group information. Your executive director or chief operations manager may have information on agency collaborative partnerships. Or you may already have it for grant narratives. You may also have a case for support from previous fundraising campaigns. Leverage what you’re already doing.

In the next installment I will talk about building donor relationships with government funders (Part 5). Then I'll bring it all together (Part 6).


Copyright © 1992-2021 Author Brick Road, a Project of CharityChannel LLC.


1 Comment

  1. Sophie Penney on October 2, 2019 at 11:22 am

    This is an excellent article.

    That said I am not sure that I fully agree with this statement "Nothing besides a basic knowledge and understanding of any of the financial statements is really needed to get donations from individuals and foundations." In my experience, which includes stints as a director of corporate and foundation relations for two different colleges/universities, we needed to know much more about foundation beyond reading the financials. Knowing who is who, meeting program officers, developing a deeper understanding about what the foundation is looking for in a grantee (we one learns from others who have been funded and those who have not), and other factors played a significant role in our success.

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