Last week I had a great call with Jenny. She told me all about corporate fundraising at her charity. Her story involved a lot of …well I tried this but it didn’t feel very strategic…and I received a small cheque from this bank but we don’t have a relationship like you recommend…and I really don’t know where to go next, but throwing spaghetti at the wall isn’t fun.

I get it. Starting from scratch? Throwing spaghetti? Been there!

When I was the Director of Development at Food Banks Canada, we were just starting to fundraise from companies and together we launched what gradually became a very successful corporate partnership program. Read gradually – success didn’t come overnight. I started corporate fundraising with a memo and some internal champions. Corporate fundraising was one of many things that I had to do. I spent a lot of time growing partnerships and learning a lot along the way.  

I’ve learned firsthand that process and plans are fundamental to successful and sustainable corporate fundraising, and I’m a big fan of taking it one step at a time and building as you go.  So let’s get started!

Building Blocks of Success: what corporate partners want.

Figuring out what corporate sponsors want is all about listening. In the early days I listened to the corporate contacts and partners who provided feedback about what mattered to them. The same values kept coming back to me – transparency and collaboration.  In a nutshell, the companies I worked with wanted us to be clear and open with each other about what was involved with our partnership, and to work together on making it happen.

Putting these values into practice, and learning a lot about best practices in the sector along the way, I’ve developed the steps that are essential for a successful corporate fundraising program… and I am happy to share them with you!  

Start with the Why

There are a couple of must-ask questions you need to consider before starting down the path of corporate partnerships.  These are: Is corporate support the right thing for my organization? And, if yes, then why would a company give money to us?

For the first question, you’ll need to consider how capably your organization can respond to what a corporate donor is looking for.  Meeting expectations of corporate donors requires at least a basic degree of reporting and recognition. It requires at least a few hours each month dedicated to stewarding and building relationships. Before really getting into corporate fundraising, make sure that you know that your charity can actually meaningfully engage with companies.

Really this is an exercise in and of itself, and assuming you’re committed to corporate fundraising in a significant enough way to make it worthwhile, you’re ready to ask (and answer!) question #2 – Why would a company give money to us?

For this one, your answer should be specific and clear. You may have more than one, in fact, it is best if you have more than one. You answer to this question can be:

  1. My charity and the company have a clear alignment and I can describe it and demonstrate it.
  2. My charity is going to help the company with employee retention through an employee engagement strategy.
  3. Their core business can respond to a critical social problem that my charity is addressing and together we can make a valuable difference in society and share that story.
  4. My charity regularly speaks to their target audience and this new program/initiative/event that I have available for sponsorship will help them reach that audience.

Thoughtfulness at this stage is important and informs what comes next, so make sure you have a really good reason for the company to give to you, and ideally supported by something more impactful than my charity does really good work.

Figure out What (they can support) and Where (you’ll access funds)

Since support is available across different budgets at companies, diving deeper into what you bring to the table as a charitable partner will help determine where to access funding.

For example, are you seeking a grant or philanthropic donation?  Then you’ll want to position the offer as the chance to create social change and impact. Are you looking to access marketing dollars?  If so, you’re offering is marketing, audience access and perhaps the unique chance to sponsor an incredible event.

This is your chance to get creative and view your programs, activities and events from different perspectives – and most importantly, from a corporate donor’s lens.  Strive for opportunities that hit the sweet spot of tapping into a few areas for them to support. For example, an event sponsorship that provides them with great visibility with their target group and requires employee engagement on their end.  Win-win!

Tool time: Developing the basics

After all this great thinking and planning it’s time draft some baseline documents to support your program.  The priority here is a basic policy or guideline combined with an asset or recognition framework. Don’t be intimidated!  You can keep it simple. Basic considerations for these docs include guidelines about the type of companies you’re comfortable accepting money from and some assets and benefits for stewarding them as you move forward.  While these can be a bit tedious to pull together, they will keep you on course and true to your charitable values and mission.

You also need to start developing some key messages and materials.  Work with what you’ve got and adapt to reiterate compelling reasons to support your organization, based on the great thinking you did in the Why, What and Where sections.  Be sure to make your messaging corporate-donor focus.  As you build momentum with your corporate fundraising efforts you’ll be glad you have these guidelines in place.  It will allow you to respond to opportunities quickly and consistently, and most importantly with confidence!

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry!  You can do this. It doesn’t take much to get started. And to help with the steps you need to take check out my Basic Building Blocks of Corporate Fundraising Checklist. You can download it here.  It provides some high-level steps to making all this happen. Follow them and you’ll be on your way to establishing a solid Corporate Partner Program!

You’ve got this!

P.S. If you have questions, or one step would be made ALOT easier if you just talked to me, then let’s! Reach out at  [email protected] and let’s talk it through.