Principal Perspectives: Suited and Booted

Sarah Gray

In the first of our monthly blog series,  Principal Perspectives, IFC senior consultant, Sarah Gray explores the concept of corporate fundraising and why stepping into the corporate world has never been more challenging. 

As the UK appears to crawl its way forward on the path of economic recovery, the emphasis on corporate fundraising has significantly increased. And the rewards are there for those fundraisers who are tenacious and persevere in this complex and challenging global arena.

As an ex City of London employee the vastly different culture that the corporate world operates in never ceases to amaze me each time I walk through the glass, finger-printless doors of a big FTSE 100 company to pitch for support. As Marcus Aurelius said ‘The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing’ and nowhere is this more apparent than the bustling meeting rooms in the City of London. Understanding the culture and work ethos of the decision makers behind a sponsorship bid or proposal for a grant application is one part of achieving a successful outcome to a bid. I once sat in a meeting with a senior partner at Deloittes when one of his managers arrived late. There were 6 people in the room, on a variable scale of daily rates. The partner quoted a figure of around £1,500 in lost revenue due to the opportunity cost of the other people sitting waiting in the meeting. Gulp! I doubt he has ever been late again (I certainly never am); the corporate world is a very different machine from the halls of the charity world.

The most successful corporate partnerships I have been involved in are those where a real relationship is established between one or two individuals at the charity and the corporate’s philanthropic team or sponsorship team. As we in the charity world have our hunters and farmers, the corporate world has their decision maker and then the account manager, the person who you really need to get to know. It is the account manager who will attend the exhibition opening, who will pay your invoice and who holds the keys to the longevity of the relationship. Keeping this relationship fresh and interesting should not be overlooked. As we all know, raising funds from an existing supporter is so much more straightforward than the long chase after a new relationship.

My last thought is around aspiration. As a favourite author of mine said ‘If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them’. I have had the greatest returns from relationships that have been established with big brand, global and in most cases FTSE 100 companies. They are hard to catch and the journey is often a long one but the rewards are there is terms of the scale and longevity of the relationship.

So, to wrestle or to dance. I myself like to think there is an approach somewhere in the middle that maybe involves a long distance run. I only wish I was Mo Farah!