I’m super excited to welcome a special guest to Blue Sky Philanthropy this week – my friend and colleague Heather Nelson is an expert in corporate partnerships, and she’s here to share practical tips on how corporate fundraising can help you grow your individual major gifts. Take it away, Heather!
After a great corporate meeting Jessica called to debrief. These are my favourite calls – no joke! She told me that she started the meeting with some of the ice breaker get-to-know-you questions I had recommended and that, as a result, Audrey, the key contact and corporate prospect, started talking about how her mom had Alzheimer’s and had needed the services of Jessica’s charity.
Jessica knew in that moment that the discovery meeting, centered around the idea of a $10-25,000 corporate sponsorship had just taken a turn. In the best way! This woman had way more personal wealth than the corporate support that Jessica had been seeking, and she was personally touched by the cause.
Jessica knew it was time to widen the conversation. She skillfully continued to discuss opportunities for corporate support, while keeping the conversation broad in order to learn more about all the options that might be on the table. A true DISCOVERY meeting! Without a presentation that had to be followed, there was a chance to explore different options and present different ideas.
There’s no such thing as a bad conversation.
As a result of Jessica’s quick thinking, a corporate discovery meeting morphed into a hybrid corporate major gift meeting. Good thing Jessica knew the ins and outs of her organization from a prospective donor’s point of view! In her case the advantage of being a small-shop fundraiser.
My favourite thing about this scenario, is that it highlights one of the important fundraising teachings of all time – the importance of listening. When you take the time to ask questions and engage in meaningful conversations, you learn a lot about the person you’re talking to. Whether you walk away having learned something super insightful or come to realize that this prospect is all business, any information you gather will help you build your relationship with the person, and put forward the best proposal, at the right time.
Hearing Jessica speak inspired me to share with you three ways in which corporate fundraising can help grow your major gifts.
1. Making a connection
Too often when fundraisers ask companies for support they do so anonymously. This may be through a grant submission using an online portal, or it may be that they meet the person once and send in a proposal. As a result of not really getting to know them, the end result is still pretty transactional. You must find ways to engage with the person personally! Ask questions and give them the opportunity to share. You might have an individual donor prospect lined up, without even knowing it. Remember, your contact decided your charity was the one they would call, and you won’t know why unless you ask
2. Engagement with the cause
One of the key pillars of corporate fundraising is employee engagement. This will look different from company to company and be as big as company-wide volunteer days or as small as individuals representing a company on an advisory committee or focus group. Regardless, it is an opportunity to bring individual donors closer to your organization. It is also an opportunity to give them a deeper understanding of what you do and why you do it. While there are quite a few steps needed in order to move donors from a group volunteer setting into a position where they’re ready to make a major gift, you have to start somewhere. Remember, the better their experience and the more you connect their experience to the impact of your organization, the more likely you are to begin down that path.
3. Awareness of your organization
Let me start by saying, raising awareness of your organization should rarely be the sole reason for corporate partnership. That being said, corporations generally have larger audiences and larger budgets for sharing messages, so you definitely want to take advantage of your corporate partner’s ability to amplify your charity’s message and reach more people. Be sure to include awareness raising as part of your overall strategy. While it might not lead directly to a major gift, high visibility in combination with other must-haves, helps to position corporate partnerships as a key element in a successful fundraising program. Even better – if you pick the right your corporate partner, it might also serve to increase your credibility.
Back to Jessica. As we wrapped up our debrief, we outlined her next steps in securing corporate support, while, at the same time, identifying ways to bring Audrey closer to becoming a personal donor and advocate. While the meeting opened the door to an opportunity or two, Jessica will have to continue to build the relationship and steward both the company and the individual, in order to move things forward and get the result she (and her charity) needs.
Do you have a situation where you have a corporate and individual ask woven together? What are some tips you have for keeping both of these opportunities flourishing?
Heather Nelson is President and Lead Consultant at BridgeRaise, a corporate fundraising consultancy that helps charities raise more money from companies. Heather loves cheerleading fundraisers on, cuddling her puppy and dreaming about her next vacation. If you want help building a corporate fundraising program at your charity, she shares lots of free resources through her blog – you can sign up at www.bridgeraise.com.