It was an absolutely killer meeting.

I had met with their corporate social responsibility rep and we’d been on the same wavelength. The ideas were flowing, the win-win was there! It was going to be a big campaign for my organization and a game-changer for my cause – I could feel it.

After the meeting, I came back to the office and started rehashing my victory at the coffee machine. I was so excited, face red, eyes bright. Let’s be honest, I was proud of myself! I had begun to build a partnership that was going to be huge, or so I thought.

The letdown started when one of the program staff asked me who the company was, and when she heard my answer, she was anything but excited. In fact, her first comment was: we can’t work with them. At that point the social media lead chimed in, echoing the sentiments of the program manager. Her comment was: they are hated in social: we are going to get embarrassed.

I retreated to my office and called a few fellow fundraisers to commiserate. I was deflated. Why wasn’t the rest of my team on-side with my huge win?

Creating Ground Rules for Value Alignment

Having worked in corporate fundraising for many years since then, I know now that this happens all the time. For reasons that range from ethical concerns to conflict of interests, some companies just won’t meet the profile of corporate partners that are the right fit for your charity. It’s like a defence company sponsoring a peace parade. It just doesn’t quite fit, does it? The key is to establish ground rules before you waste your time (and everybody else’s).

With that in mind, here are some tips for building internal buy-in for corporate fundraising:

1. Land a clear endorsement of corporate fundraising from your CEO and/or Board of Directors.

Having the endorsement of senior team members means that corporate fundraising won’t be buried within annual fundraising or within sponsorship revenue for an event. Rather, ensure there’s a budget that supports your corporate fundraising strategy and includes outreach and stewardship of corporate partners. With this in place, it is much more likely that your organization will provide the expected fulfillment for the investment. More on how to get the Board on your side coming soon – stay tuned!

2. Set clear guidelines around what types of companies you are going to engage, and how you are going to engage them.

Establish parameters around which companies you can and cannot work with. Some corporate fundraisers will attempt to develop the criteria and then consult with others while others will host brainstorming workshops to discuss value alignment with potential partners. How you go about creating those ground rules is up to you. Just remember that success in corporate fundraising most often requires that other team members participate in the execution, so making sure everyone is onside with the types of companies you hope to engage and how you hope to engage them is a necessary early step. From there, create a set of jointly developed corporate partnership guidelines and stick to them.

3. Bring others into the meetings with corporate representatives.

I know that you know what happens in a meeting with a corporate representative, and so do I, but if you don’t want to get stalled by members of other departments, invite them to sit-in. Lack of knowledge and/or experience leads to a lot of uncertainties that can hold things up. Including program staff or leadership into a meeting or two, will demystify the conversation, clarify expectations and (potentially) speed up agreement on the next steps. Bonus? By diversifying the relationship across multiple touch-points, you’re setting your organization up for long-term success.

Need help with building the guidelines? Or would a question and answer session with a corporate fundraising person who has been there, help your team? Send me an email and let’s chat.

You’ve got this!

Heather Nelson