Corporate partnerships can have a big impact on a nonprofit organization’s fundraising efforts, In fact, NonProfit PRO’s “2023 Nonprofit Leadership Impact Study” found 22% of respondents cited their top priority for 2023 as “engaging in more corporate partnerships” — the top priority in the survey.
At the Classy Collaborative yesterday, nonprofits and a corporate partner shared the stage to provide their thoughts on corporate giving in the session, “Exploring Innovative Approaches to Corporate GIving Programs for Lasting Impact, ” which was moderated by Thomas Butch, head of strategy at Classy.
Here are four keys to develop and grow your corporate giving program.
1. Do Your Homework to Learn About the Organization
A corporation, like Southwest Airlines, receives hundreds, if not thousands, of requests annually from nonprofits, Laura Nieto, director of community outreach at Southwest Airlines said. So, it’s important to stand out by understanding the company’s pillars of giving, values and product.
Southwest Airlines receives poorly constructed requests that mention variations of its name — and even other airlines’ names — so it’s crucial to include accurate information. Some research and effort on your organization’s part can prevent many of those mistakes.
“We have also had folks who have asked us for support for first-class travel for maybe some speakers going to events,” Nieto said. “While at Southwest Airlines we like to say every seat on Southwest is a first-class seat due to our hospitality, we don’t have that product, so sometimes it’s just the little things, the details make a difference.”
2. Build Authentic Relationships
When you first connect to a potential corporate partner, be prepared to have a conversation in order to get to know each other and discover if a partnership is a good fit.
“There’s not a lot of cold calls happening, but when they do, and you come to us and we have a conversation, it’s going to be about learning from one another,” Nieto said. “What’s important to you? What are your goals? What’s your mission? What are you offering to your communities? And the same with us, so when we decide to engage, we have mutually beneficial relationships, and we’re able to partner together to make true impact in the communities.”
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia tapped into a corporate partner for a capital campaign to build a pediatric children’s center, Neil Batiancila, who now serves as the chief development officer at the Philadelphia Zoo said. “The nonprofit celebrated the gift and invited the company to the hospital for a check-signing, but found a way for the company to further fulfill its interest in assisting children staying at the hospital.
“Disney was brought to the kids of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” he said. “It was the first time Mickey Mouse had ever been there. And so it’s just a simple way of not only optimizing the grant or the gift but actually taking the brand of Disney and bringing it to uplift the children and families who are staying at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.”
However, the answer is not always “Yes.” Just with individual donors, a “No” can turn into a “Yes” in time. On the other hand, the corporate partner might provide nominal support, which Southwest Airlines considers “a gesture of goodwill,” Nieto said.
“When we’re ready to invest and go deep, we will likely go back to those organizations where we created a relationship with a nominal investment,” she said. “And we’ll go back and say, ‘You know what? I think we’re ready to go deep.’ They’ve shown us their work. We’ve been watching them. Let’s go see how we can turn this amount into this amount.”
3. Set Up Your Team for Success
Not all nonprofits will be able to have multiple staffers dedicated to corporate partnerships. But for First Book, balancing the cultivation of current relationships and the acquisition of new corporate partners has been successful by dividing staff into two teams.
This way, the new partnership team can focus on developing relationships since that cycle can take six to eight months. Meanwhile, the team for existing corporate partners can ensure there are no missed opportunities to strengthen the relationship by offering new and creative ways current partners can support the organization, Dana Bond, senior vice president of strategic alliances at First Book said.
“For us, I really focus on getting our team [to be] thoughtful every year about who’s that partner that you can grow 10%, 15%, 20% that can really move the needle and give you enough time as that new business team is cultivating and trying to get that first date with the big funder that you want to bring in that next six-figure, seven-figure deal, but you have to make sure that your bench is already strong and growing from what you already have in the door,” she said.
4. Measure and Share Impact
When City Year started in 1988, the organization asked Timberland for a grant. The company declined and instead provided an in-kind gift of 50 boots. Those boots, along with a red City Year jacket that the company also provided, became the symbol of City Year, Batiancila said.
“Those 50 boots literally turned into like tens of thousands of boots," he said. “As Timberland actually entered certain cities with City Year, you could actually see … the boot sales would go up.”
But helping the company's bottom line isn’t the only impact a corporation is seeking. Corporate partners will also want to know the nonprofit’s impact and share success stories with its customers, Nieto said. Though you may know your organization’s impact, it’s important to have continuous conversations with your partners to ensure you’re tracking what they’re seeking, Bond said.
“There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of the year and they’re asking for all of these things that you weren’t tracking or you didn’t know was important to them,” she said.