"The Road Less Travelled" to Sustainability - Tackling Corporate Fundraising

Taking the First Steps in Corporate Fundraising

This month Lynn Kennedy, Fundraising Advice Officer at NICVA, looks at some key points to consider when first thinking about becoming involved in Corporate Fundraising.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not exactly a new concept. The phrase was actually first coined in the 1950s to describe a business ‘doing good’ and charities have long looked at businesses as a potential source of income!  However, with ever-increasing competition for business partnerships, charities may now need to think a little more creatively about how to work with businesses to form meaningful partnerships which go beyond a simple one-off cash donation.  

Before thinking about taking your first steps into the arena of corporate fundraising, it is useful to understand just why both companies and charities might choose to start a partnership in the first place.

Why do companies partner with charities?

Some companies are genuinely keen to support their local community at grassroots level whilst others may simply want to increase their own profile in the local community.  Some may want to boost their corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials whilst others may want to increase staff morale and retention by offering volunteering activities and team-building opportunities. Some companies may also want to increase the sales of a specific product through linking with a charity as part of a cause-related marketing strategy.

Why do charities partner with companies?

The potential financial benefits to charities of a corporate partnership are relatively clear.  Financially, some of the benefits for charities could include sponsorship for an event or activity, cash donations direct from the company, income from becoming a company's Charity of the Year, support from staff in terms of payroll giving or a staff charity fund and potential income from allowing a company to link with them in a cause related marketing exercise. However, it’s not all about the money.  Other benefits of corporate partnerships include the offer of staff time in terms of structured volunteering and/or ad hoc assistance in organising specific events, the potential for strategic advice, profile-raising, introductions to other companies and bodies and gifts in kind (donations of useful products or pro bono services). 

Pros & Cons of Corporate Fundraising

Building strong relationships with corporate partners should directly increase your income and help your organisation’s sustainability. It may even generate increased income from other sources as an indirect result of a boost to your organisation’s profile or credibility and increased awareness of its work.  However, like any relationship, a corporate partnership takes time to build and will also take up precious, finite resources long before showing any kind of return. You need to be prepared for this and see it realistically as a mid or long-term strategy for income generation rather than a “quick fix”.  

Top Tips from Successful Corporate Fundraisers

1) Identify Your Unique Selling Points (USPs)

What is it that you do that no-one else does or that you do in an entirely unique way?  Can you be clear enough about this to turn your USPs into incredibly persuasive reasons for someone to support you? 

2) Identify potential corporate funders 

There are some great examples of corporate and charity partnerships out there – Land Rover & British Red Cross, The Met Office and the RNLI, Cats Protection and Purina, etc. You may not have the same broad appeal as one of these household names but with a little thought, you will probably find that you can still find a corporate partner who is a “great fit”. It is generally worth checking out both the websites and online annual reports and accounts of organisations doing similar work in different geographical areas to get some fresh ideas. It is also always worth asking throughout your organisation to see if you already have some useful contacts for potential corporate partners. 

3)   Once you have identified a potential corporate funder, research them thoroughly

You only get one chance to make a good first impression – so do your research and use it effectively. Look at the news section on their website or perhaps talk to one of their staff to find out how they differentiate themselves from their competitors, what public image they present and where they seek to position themselves in the market. Armed with this information, you can then move on to locate the correct initial contact and get in touch through the right channels. 

4) Think about how you will present yourself and your organisation if you are successful in being invited to meet with them

Present yourself to them professionally and don’t go in with a blank notebook. Not only will it be more nerve-wracking, but also companies want to hear your ideas about how you can work together. Identify two or three compelling opportunities to share with them. Be ready to outline various ways they can get involved, donations, events, mentoring, employee volunteering, etc.  Is there an initial “hook”, perhaps a small event that they might get involved with in a relatively minor way which fits with what they do? Could you both test the water initially with little risk to either of you?  Otherwise, you put the onus on the company to work out how to initially partner with you – extra work for them, coupled with the distinct possibility of your organisation being shoe-horned into something that doesn’t fit with what you want to do.   

Engage them.  Don’t talk to them about money.  Instead, tell them a powerful story about how your organisation has changed someone’s life and then show them how you can change even more lives together. (Knowing your Mission, Vision and your Unique Selling Points will also help greatly with this.)

Demonstrate what your organisation will do for them in return – it is a partnership after all!  For example, can you offer something unique? Don’t make the benefits to them woolly, e.g. “increased profile, branding and volunteering opportunities.” Companies want benefits to be specific, tangible and individually tailored for them. From a discount on a meal at your social enterprise pub for their employees (if appropriate!) to specific volunteering opportunities for their employees to the standard branding of company logos in promotional material for events. Effort put into identifying benefits which could be personalised and would be particularly attractive to them will be time well spent.  

Finally, once your fledgling relationship is underway make sure that you always keep your relationship in the honeymoon period by ensuring that the level of donor care they receive is nothing short of spectacular.   

Good luck!

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