Corporate Fundraising Strategy: 5 Top Tips

Corporate fundraising strategy is so much more than applying to corporate trusts. That can be taken care of by any effective trust fundraiser, leaving the rest of the approaches to companies for your major donor fundraiser to develop. 

Don’t have a major donor fundraiser? What century are you living in? 

Just look where all the wealth has gone and have someone follow the money, even if that someone is you! Ensure you set that person targets and a timetable to reach those targets. In the early days this will be researching a number of appropriate corporates, deciding who to approach, who on your team to make the approach and when it will be made. Bear in mind that sponsors often want to talk to the CEO or the Chair of the Board and be prepared to wheel them out.    

Below, I talk through 5 top tips based on IFC’s experience of corporate fundraising ideas and my own particular experience of corporate fundraising from a variety of organisations. 

Before you start, make sure you have your ‘case for support’ well worked out and supported by facts and figures showing impact, what you need and why you need it. Consider your USP why your charity is the right fit for that company. Get your elevator pitch together because you may actually be in a lift going to the meeting and have to give it! Practice, practice, practice…

 

  • Research possible corporate interest in your cause 

It is important to find corporate links to your cause. Yes, you know why they should support you from your point of view but why should they do that from their point of view? Who have they supported in their corporate funding programme in the past? Is there a tie-up with their product or corporate ethos? Can you benefit their staff through offering volunteer opportunities? Do they have ends of lines that you can use? Remember: in a recession a lot of machinery, facilities and things like van are often idle. 

Maybe its publicity they want, particularly if it’s the marketing budget you are going to try and tap into for sponsorship. Is this national or local and are your supporters a good fit with their customers? 

Obviously, look at their corporate social responsibility. Even the narco cartels have a CSR policy which is often to build support in their home-town and not deliberately kill people that will bring down too much heat on them. Its their HR department you have to watch out for as its encounters errant staff tend to prove fatal…    

A human rights organisation I worked for received a lot of books from Waterstones and the partnership developed into a long standing one with events and even a copy of the declaration of Human Rights illustrated by Ralph Steadman for sale at their tills. The link was that at that time they were promoting themselves as being against censorship and willing to publish challenging books.    

 

  • Treat c-suite execs as good friends, invite them to events, put them on appeal committees etc.

Often your first approach to a company may be to write to them setting out your case for support and plans for the next few years so that they can buy into that – literally. This letter or email should ask for a meeting but do follow it with a phone call. It may take a few attempts before you get an answer so be fairly persistent. When you rock up to that meeting look the part! That is dress like the execs you will be meeting. NB they may not be wearing suits if their corporate culture is dress-down so check that carefully. If in doubt dress up and be prepared to give a very professional presentation. 

Your impressive major donor events with an impressive host at an impressive venue, and hopefully with impressive guests, are just the right sort of thing to which you should invite the affluent execs you are bringing on board.  

Once they have bought into the relationship and understand your goals for the next few years it may be a good idea to invite them to sit on one of your appeal boards. This may be to exploit their wealthy connections for funds or just to have their name in your committee lists as a supporter or because they know people who can open certain doors for you. I have found that execs often know how to open doors I didn’t even know existed, like links to the first nights of new films or private events for their rich friends. 

Listening is the key! They will have ideas about your charity and how they think they can help and tapping into these may be far more productive than trying to persuade a reluctant exec, who is used to getting their own way, to give in the way you want.

At one organisation that helped asylum seekers and refugees I found an exec of the Diesal clothing brand on the database. We met him and joked that instead of corporate funding we would like their ends of lines, and he said that they were moving offices and would like an old office cleared that was stacked with huge boxes of ends of lines etc. So, after a bit of an internal struggle in the charity, which really wanted a fat cheque, we set up a clothing store and shipped huge amounts of clothing into it for the charity’s beneficiaries. For a time, they were the best dressed refugees in the country!             

 

  • Think celebrity – flatter execs but meet corporate goals.

A key factor in making corporate charity events go well is the presence of a celebrity. We may all decry the celebrity culture we live in, but they are impressive and have a very powerful effect on attendance and the people they meet. In deepening the involvement of execs with your charity, celebs can play a key role. 

One tip: if you only have one celebrity patron who is never in the country when you need them, try assiduously for a dozen or more and they will not only react positively with each other but really build both your major donor base and your corporate involvement. That Green Room is the place the events sponsors have the conversations they will dine out on for months, but an invite to the after-show party or meal will seal the deal. 

Of course, some organisations won’t be swayed by any of that and will have a strong corporate policy regarding what kind of charities they support and why. I worked with Anita Roddick, the Body Shop founder, when I was head of fundraising at both Friends of the Earth and later Amnesty. She was clear that her priority was to campaign on issues first and that any monetary advantage we gained was secondary to that. however, we did have to move fast and agree things internally at speed or she would be off implementing stuff in her shops whilst we were still busy consulting people.  

 

  • Think deal! Build complex relationships across both organisations.

It shows professionalism if you have say, three costed ideas for corporate involvement over the next few years. One may be staff involvement, another – sponsorship of your events and a third – a significant donation to the development of your work in a new direction or in scaling up your usual work. Having said that, corporate funding is not often very large, they tend to be one-off gifts which come with a demand for corporate exposure. Indeed, it can look like a company has paid for the whole event when they have only given a relatively small donation.

Once you have a toe-hold in a company reach out and try to create new relationships across the company. These complex relationships can be hugely beneficial. For example, at one charity the Chairman gave a significant gift and an offer of old stock, then when I approached the marketing department they not only felt he had done due diligence on us but that it was a good fit with the company and we secured quite a chunk of their sponsorship budget.     

 

  • Lastly, think locally – act locally.   

A lot of corporate funds are given in the locality where their factories are based. If you can link to a local newspaper, celebrity and a person of standing in the area (MP, Bishop, Lord Lieutenant etc.) then you have the makings of something that a local company would be proud to support and maybe also to have their staff become involved in fundraising or volunteering. The chance to be seen to play a positive role in the community, to meet influential people informally and to say they have met a celebrity can bring a surprising amount of support and goodwill. 

By the way, don’t ask two rival firms to support the same charity  – it doesn’t work like that. If possible, go for one key local company or a diverse mixture so they don’t clash.

In St Albans, where I live, the local lawyers Debenhams Ottaway has taken a half-page advertisement in the free paper ‘The Herts Advertiser’ headlining its three years of sponsorship of the huge Abbey firework display which has raised £750,000 for local and national charities.     

Finally, if one of your corporate fundraising ideas is to be a corporate ‘charity of the year’ as part of your corporate fundraising strategy then take time to develop a programme which will appeal to that corporate’s customers, readers or clients. This is often the key to success against rival charities. These are long-term sponsorships and it is impressive to present a programme which will help to reach those customers repeated during the year. This particularly applies to newspapers’ charity of the year offers and, of course, newspapers love celebrities! 

Good luck

John Baguley, Chair

International Fundraising Consultancy