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Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Corporate Partnerships: It’s About the Relationship

By Aaron Smith SVP Fall 2014 Program Intern, with Lisa McAlister

SVP was happy to host the final KNOCKOUT INVESTEE series session of 2014 on strategic corporate partnerships October 22nd at Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center (photo above). The session was facilitated by Lisa McAlister of With Good Cause, a boutique marketing firm whose mission is creating meaningful relationships between for-profits and non-profits. Lisa approaches strategic partnership from a focus on connections.

Attendees described their challenges around corporate sponsorship as including diversifying fundraising, board involvement, and the staff time required to form and successfully maintain these inter-organizational partnerships. Lisa shared that businesses reported not giving to nonprofits for four main reasons: (1) they didn’t see an organizational mission fit, (2) the nonprofit’s audience was not a fit, (3) the request came at the wrong time of year, or, (4) proposals weren’t customized with their company in mind.

The group discussed how these are all things non-profits can better manage by strategically approaching the relationship; the first step? Making sure the non-profit has clear expectations and well defined values. For example, putting in writing what they hope to achieve. Potential corporate donors want to know exactly what they are investing in and how success will be measured. Lisa also highlighted how critical clearly defined values are in forming a successful relationship. Taking the time to research potential partners for alignment is critical. While it might not always be easy to figure out what a corporate sponsor’s values are, non-profits should be sure their own values are well-defined.

The discussion included the idea of a diversified donor portfolio, and not being afraid of trying for smaller wins. If there’s a fundraising goal of $10,000, asking multiple sources for $500 can help get you there. Keeping a portfolio of donor profiles not only documents the relationship, but it also gives nonprofits a sketch of who they are (relevant for both a business, and at the individual level; e.g. do they like to ski, are they family oriented, etc.). This helps to ensure that the relationship is on track, gives other staff members valuable background information when they interact with the prospect, and makes the ‘ask’ easier when the time comes.

One final reflection from the session was the discussion around potential donor points of entry. Lisa described how the more interactions donors – corporate or individual – have with an organization, in person or otherwise, the more opportunities for partnership in the future. Lisa presented participants with a tool to help formulate regular check in’s, often without a monetary “ask”, with potential partners. She suggested going beyond the typical donor appreciation events, and looking at how to best leverage board or volunteer relationships, social media connections, and personal contact. Maintaining a flow of communication helps potential partners feel connected to the organization, and primes the relationship for better success when the ask finally does come.

We invite you to join us for the final session in our BOARDS WITH BRAINS series on November 14th, a nonprofit board governance 101 session for anyone wanting to brush up on the fundamentals. And, stay tuned for our 2015 professional development programming, schedule to be announced in late December!

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