It often seems like a fundraising holy grail: a long-term corporate partnership for your charity. But seasoned corporate alliance professionals will counsel that preparing for a corporate partnership is even more important than landing one.
Here are top tips to set yourself up for corporate alliance success.
Conduct an asset inventory
Sit down with your core team and list out all the assets your nonprofit organization has to offer your corporate partners, such as:
- Reputation and goodwill
- Technical expertise and specific knowledge
- Compelling stories
- Digital content such as photos, videos, etc.
- A facility that shows your mission in action
- Active community of supporters, advocates, volunteers, etc.
- A well-trafficked website
- Outstanding social media presence and community
- Credibility among a specific target group
- Existing relationships with influential individuals such as politicians, celebrities, bloggers, community members, etc.
Develop internal policies
Before you go into the marketplace seeking out corporate partners, be sure that your senior management is on board with your cause alliance development strategy. Get clear on what your organization will do and what it won’t do.
In addition, make sure that you are organized internally to determine how you will service corporate alliance partners. All the hard work that went into developing a corporate relationship will be squandered if your organization can not deliver on what it has promised to accomplish.
Identify potential partners
Identify businesses that make sense for your mission. Ideas include businesses:
- That sell a product you use
- Whose missions align with your cause
- Whose culture aligns with your cause
- With a stated philanthropic preference for your cause category
- That share a similar geographic reach (e.g. local, regional, national)
- With whom you have some sort of existing relationship (board member association, geographic neighbor)
Do the research
Understand what the target company's unique selling proposition is and what products or services they offer. Know their mission and values statement. Take a look at what their competitors are doing. Research what causes the business has supported in the past, whether they have an existing cause marketing or philanthropic program and corporate social responsibility office, and what their employee volunteer program looks like.
Places to research your target businesses:
- Internal press releases
- Annual reports
- Corporate or brand website and social media outposts
- Internet search for business name and “employee volunteer” or “community involvement” or “philanthropy” or “giving” or “corporate social responsibility”
Consider the approach
Now that you know what you have to offer and have narrowed down your target list with research, it’s time to start the recruitment process. Most cause marketing partnership experts will tell you to approach a business first for information-gathering purposes only. However, you need to demonstrate that you’ve done your research to get a foot in the door.
A few tips on approaching businesses for initial meetings:
- Network to see if you can get a “warm” introduction to the business. Even front-line employee introductions are better than a pure cold call.
- Develop a compelling pitch that demonstrates that you’ve done your research and arouses curiosity on the part of the business.
- Ask for a brief meeting with the sole purpose of understanding the company's goals and philosophy more completely.
Conduct an initial meeting
The goal of your first meeting should be to learn about your potential partners' needs and give them a feel for what your organization is about and what you can “bring to the party.” When you get together, respect time limits and be prepared to:
- Give a high-level overview of your mission and goals.
- Provide basic statistics about the benefits of nonprofit partnership for businesses.
- Show that you’ve done your research on the business and probe to learn what their needs are.
- Describe some of the assets and capabilities your organization could bring to a corporate alliance.
- Talk at a high-level about what a potential partnership might entail and how your organizations might work together.
- Send a written thank-you note after the meeting.
Submit a proposal
It may take several meetings to determine if the time is right for your organizations to work together. When an opportunity emerges, it’s time to develop a formal proposal.
- Why your organization and the business are a good fit
- A specific business goal that your organization is uniquely positioned to help the company accomplish
- What your organization will contribute to the partnership, including key team members
- What the business will contribute to the partnership, including desired team members
- A tactical plan for what the partnership will accomplish in what timeframe
- How outcomes will be measured
Rarely will a proposal be accepted exactly as presented. Make sure you’re prepared to negotiate on key points and be clear on what potential deal-breakers might be for your organization. Understand the impact of changes to your proposal and be prepared to explain the potential impacts.
Done right, corporate alliances can be a huge support for your cause. Above all, know that these relationships take significant time to develop, as do actual partnership agreements. Set the expectations internally and with your board of directors that corporate partnerships take months to years to cultivate and develop. Using the above steps as your guide will help the process start off on the right foot down what will hopefully be a long and fruitful path for your charity.
David Hessekiel is the Founder and President of Companies & Causes Canada and Peer to Peer Fundraising Canada, both with upcoming Toronto-based conferences in November.