5 Best Practices for Cultivating and Sustaining Corporate Relationships
Cultivating and sustaining relationships with corporate partners is a necessary but often difficult task for the nonprofit corporate development officer. This officer is charged with demonstrating to the corporate partner how and why the nonprofit’s mission aligns with the corporate partner’s priorities, as well as ensuring the corporate partner’s continued support of the nonprofit’s mission, even when the partner’s priorities evolve.
Given this tension, nonprofit corporate development officers should periodically review their efforts against the following five best practices.
1. Identify your target market.
The most important component to cultivating and sustaining relationships with corporate partners is the accurate identification of your target market. Because time and resources are limited, the corporate development officer should look for opportunities to partner with entities whose interests generally align with the goals of the nonprofit. The synergies between a nonprofit like Habitat for Humanity and a corporate partner like Home Depot are obvious and tangible. In contrast, the synergies between Home Depot and a nonprofit like Greenpeace are far less obvious. Chasing opportunities where none exist is an inefficient use of time and resources.
2. Develop your pitch.
As the old saying goes, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. Accordingly, corporate development officers should make sure that they and their staff are ready and able to articulate at a moment’s notice how the interests of the corporate partner align with the interests of the nonprofit. You and your staff should have your elevator speech down pat. At minimum, it should include identification of the nonprofit, why its mission is important, how its mission aligns with the general interests of the potential corporate partner, and next steps for discussing how to secure the potential partnership.
3. Confirm your investors.
The corporate development officer also makes sure to periodically review and confirm the identity of his or her investors. A common pitfall for corporate development officers is failure to confirm their investors are truly invested. That is, an officer might pitch a potential corporate partner but fail to secure the buy-in of the decision-makers whose blessings are necessary to confirm and sustain the relationship.
Accordingly, the corporate development officer should work to develop direct access to those decision-makers for the on-going success of the relationship. Moreover, the officer should periodically and personally update these decision-makers on how the relationship remains aligned with the interests of the corporate partner and continues to pay dividends for the corporate partner. Assigning this task to administrative personnel with little or no tangible investment in the outcome is a formula for failure.
4. Publicize wins.
Another best practice often overlooked by corporate development is publicizing wins, both large and small. Too often, corporate development officers are prepared to take internal credit for a big win without stopping to consider whether they have publicized the win adequately, both to the corporate partner and other stakeholders. While taking appropriate credit where earned for a big win is important, it is critical that the officer make sure the corporate partner and other stakeholders understand the win and how it benefits them, and the officer should be generous in sharing credit.
It’s also essential that the officer remember that wins come in all shapes and sizes, and that no win is too small to celebrate. Being a cheerleader inspires confidence in the relationship, and can both expand and secure it.
5. Develop metrics and track progress.
Development and redevelopment of metrics as a way to track partner progress is also important. Many corporate development officers take responsibility for ensuring the corporate partner’s full participation. While this metric is persuasive and tangible, it also amounts to a de facto concession on the part of the corporate development officer as to the limitations of the relationship between the nonprofit and the corporate partner. Conversely, developing and redeveloping metrics designed to measure progress will provide the corporate development officer with a clearer picture of the relationship between the nonprofit and the corporate partner, and the steps necessary to improve that relationship.
While the obvious example of this kind of metric is the yearly measurement of contributions, there are numerous other possible metrics to track. The savvy corporate development officer will remember to utilize metrics that are important to the corporate partner and not just the nonprofit. For example, the raw financial support of an entity like Home Depot might be considered secondary when compared to the number of homes it helps Habitat for Humanity build in a given period or the amount of man-hours it helps contribute.
Tarsha Whitaker Calloway serves as vice president of philanthropy for Tessitura Network. For almost two decades, Tarsha has helped nonprofits develop fundraising, board governance and fundraising strategies to further their mission. Tarsha has directly led efforts to raise more than $50 million for the nonprofit organizations, including the Woodruff Arts Center, Emory University and the American Cancer Society. She frequently presents locally, regionally and nationally on fundraising; organizational and board development; and diversity and philanthropy.
Outside of work, Tarsha has a monthly column in NonProfit PRO magazine and is actively involved in her community, including board of trustees for Destination Imagination, board of directors' executive committee for Leadership DeKalb, board of directors for National HBCU Hall of Fame and former board chair for Atlanta Shakespeare Theater. Tarsha holds a master's of business administration in international business from Mercer University Stetson School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and theater from Texas Southern University. She also holds certificate in current affairs fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and a certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace from South Florida University.
Tarsha resides in Atlanta with her husband and son.