How To Get Corporate Support Without “Selling Out”

Rachel Muir, CFREJune 03, 2021

corporate support

A lot of nonprofit professionals think businesses have deep pockets. Some do. But many are struggling with the same set of problems that nonprofits have.

Many nonprofits also believe corporations should support them to be good corporate citizens and give back to their community. That’s a noble aspiration, but nonprofits aren’t entitled to anything. Businesses, unlike foundations, aren’t in the business of giving away money. They’re in the business of making money. Regardless of their size, the end goal is profit, not altruism.

You must know what they want out of the relationship. The question isn’t why they should support you. The question is how does supporting you help them? Be clear on your case for support and why they should support you (and not someone else).

Before you get started

To be successful in your efforts, you have to get clear on goals and boundaries. It may feel tempting to “marry for money,” but those deep pockets can come with lots of strings attached. Imagine getting a new $100,000 sponsor and finding out the next day they expect access to your membership and mailing list.

How can you avoid a nightmare like that?

Setting clear goals and boundaries

Ask yourself:

  • What can they gain from supporting you? Media exposure? Exposure to their target customer? Economic benefit? Employee benefit? Community benefit?
  • What can your nonprofit give them that they can’t buy elsewhere?
  • What other types of nonprofits do they sponsor?
  • What motivates them?
  • Are you able to advance their goals?

Ask them:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What do you consider the most important benefits in a sponsorship package?

Finding the right fit

The good news is that there are many ways corporations could support your nonprofit, including:

  • Event sponsorship
  • Program sponsorship
  • Corporate foundation grants
  • Matching gifts
  • Employee workplace giving
  • In-kind gifts
  • Matching employee gifts

And even though corporate giving as a percentage of giving overall has been stuck at 5% for at least the past 10 years, those dollars are nothing to sneeze at! According to Giving USA’s latest report, that amount totaled 21 billion dollars.

How to get corporate support

Step one: Do great cultivation and discovery.

You need to know the business community and learn as much as you can about a prospect’s funding priorities before you approach them.

To build a pipeline of corporate prospects, you can:

  • Read and subscribe to your local business journal and their book of lists, especially the top employers in your area.
  • Look at the member listing for your local chamber of commerce.
  • Consider joining your local chamber, their leadership program, or professional clubs (such as a business leader breakfast club).
  • Ask your board members who they do business with and brainstorm contacts.
  • Look at the donor lists for other nonprofits.
  • Hang out where they hang out.
  • Invite prospects to tour your organization.

As you cultivate these relationships, find out what matters most to those companies.
You might find business leaders and their employees are tapped out with events. Instead of trying to get them to spend their free time at your run-walk-ride event, ask them to sponsor a program and see the impact of their gifts in a different way.

Step two: Get it in writing.

Gift acceptance policies can save you from unwieldy or unwanted donations, be it dinosaur computers, cars that don’t run, lead-based paint, a vacation timeshare in a flood zone, and more! The Council of Nonprofits boasts a treasure trove of free sample gift acceptance policies.

You should also develop your own sponsorship agreement that details promotional guidelines. I once worked with a community relations manager from a high-tech company who felt her $5,000 donation entitled her to accompany me on every media interview I did. My stomach churns just remembering it. I also had a venture capitalist sponsor who sponsored our computer lab and wanted to hang a huge plastic banner with his logo. Luckily, his marketing director and I talked him into a much more tasteful visual (a mobile, believe it or not!).

Present a compelling offer with attractive benefits that are meaningful to your sponsor. Be prepared to establish healthy boundaries and negotiate with transparency and respect.

Remember: You’re agreeing to more than the donation itself when you partner with a corporate sponsor. The more prepared you are going into that arrangement, the better it will be for all parties in the end.

Schedule a live demo with our partner Bloomerang, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.

Filed Under:   Fundraising