The foundation giving process is complex, time consuming, and more-often than not, yields limited grant dollars. But take it from a former corporate donor, businesses are increasingly the lifeblood of NGOs, for good reason - not just because of the unrestricted nature of the funding. They can materialize more quickly and often include more than just funds (volunteers, visibility, etc.). Corporations also value the relationships because consumers increasingly expect brands to align with their values or to at least be active practitioners of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Numbers don 't lie.

The benefit for corporations is real:

  • Studies vary, but 80-90 percent of consumers would switch brands because of one's association with a cause or issue
  • More than 60 percent of consumers would test out a new brand because of its affiliation with an issue or cause
  • More than half of consumers would pay more for a comparable product because of its charitable work and reputation

Ready to get started? Here are the keys to developing and deploying a giving platform that drives connectivity to corporate charitable and sponsor dollars.

Step 1: Get to Know the Future Donor

Funders need to become champions, and that rarely happens overnight or with a simple phone call or email. Build a relationship, which requires getting to know the company or individual as well as they come to know you.

  • Start with research. What companies have a track record of charitable giving or sponsorship of NGOs in your space? Build a list, do some homework about the company and find an entry point - who do you know at the company, or who can introduce you to someone at the company?
  • Arrange a call or meeting. The first inclination is to inundate the company contact with information about the organization - packets, videos, etc. That's not how this works. You need to build a relationship; don't make a sales call. These folks are busy, smart, and interact with nonprofits all the time.
  • Be prepared. You must crisply describe the organization, how they can help, and why getting involved has merit at the very first meeting. But remember, this is a relationship. So ask about them, their company (not basic questions, do your homework), and find out pain points - and be prepared to explain how your organization can help alleviate some of those tensions.
  • Then, and only then should you provide "a package." Develop a standard foundation to tell your story, and describe the giving levels and accompanying ROI. However, no two target donors or sponsors are alike, so include a cover letter that shows how an existing set of offerings can be tailored to meet the specific needs they identified in the initial conversation.

Step 2: Build the Case over Time

Now we know how to get a meeting, the approach to building a good conversational foundation, and detailed follow-up next steps. But you still have to make a compelling case for why the person or company should give.

  • Connections drive action. People participate when they feel a connection to something - period. The only difference here is that the giver and recipient have a co-dependent relationship - you both want and need something. You need the funds, volunteer muscle, visibility, or credibility that a donor can provide. And the donor needs the positive public relations and or access to your network of loyal supporters and online followers. There is nothing wrong or dirty about that shared need for something from the other. The key to success is maximizing the connectivity, demonstrating ROI, and keeping in touch.
  • Drive brand value/visibility. No matter the donors commitment and passion to you or the cause, remember that this is a transaction for them. They are given a limited budget to go forth and build visible partnerships that drive brand ID and affinity. And of course it should do good, too! But budgets change, personnel changes, and so it is imperative to identify what success looks like for the donor right out of the gate. Then commit to a plan (in writing) of return for the partnership and investment. Make sure expectations are clear on both sides of the equation.
  • Show the love. As Cuba Gooding Jr. famously said in Jerry McGuire, "SHOW. ME. THE. MONEEEEEEY." He wanted to be recognized by the team for his contributions on the field. And donors are no different. Make sure to recognize their contributions across multiple platforms, with frequency and as part of a detailed package jointly agreed to at the beginning of the partnership.
  • Get them involved. Make sure that the donor (and people within the company) feels like a partner in the building of their sponsorship package - get their thoughts on logo placement, give them the option of participating in planning meetings, and get feedback on details related to their participation in events, distributed materials, etc. However, do not ask them to do your job. Give them the opportunity to weigh-in, to object, or to redirect efforts. But do the legwork.
  • Demonstrate results. Feeling good about writing a check doesn't last too long in the world of corporate philanthropy no matter what your budding partner says. They have bosses, and their bosses have bosses (and/or shareholders) who want to know that their money is being well spent. And that means moving the needle on their bottom line! So tell the donor what they get for their contribution; report how it is going; and demonstrate who heard, saw, or learned about their support of the cause.

Step 3: Regularly Communicate

The single biggest way to kill a partnership is what nonprofits actually do all the time when it comes to staying in touch: nothing. They worry about bothering the donor with another phone call, email, or report; these are busy people as we already established. Or they are so busy pulling off an amazing volunteer event with limited resources that the nonprofit doesn't have time to send a photo, write a thank you note, or drop an email with a brief recap of results.

No matter the reason, that is an #epicfail and the surest way to ensure that this new partnership is a dead partnership. It doesn't take much to keep the donor informed or engaged - share the annual report, send an email to say you shopped at their store over the weekend and bought a cool new shirt - say anything, say something (preferably informative and meaningful).

Keys to the Kingdom

Building successful partnerships is not rocket science, just make sure to: set clear expectations; drive positive brand value and visibility; show donors the love; get them involved; prove results; and stay in touch.

Keep these keys to the kingdom handy and many new gates will open before you!

Michael Mills is Managing Partner of VALEO, an Atlanta-based PR firm. As a former corporate donor for America's largest corporate foundation, Michael now advises clients on how to give their support to NGOs or for NGOs to build rewarding relationships with corporate and individual donors.

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