Corporate fundraising isn’t easy. In fact, many people underestimate all of the research, precision and communication that goes into making a corporate partnership successful. But when you get that mixture right, it’s a huge win for your charity and makes a life-changing difference to what you’re able to achieve.

When you’ve got a small team but big targets to meet, you need to be sure that everyone in the corporate fundraising department is working together as effectively as possible. That means spending some time figuring out your team’s approach to securing corporate partners.

If you haven’t planned out your corporate fundraising team’s activities for the year, now is the time to sit down and get started. To help you out, we’ve broken the process down into three stages and a step-by-step guide. Read on to start nailing your strategy and securing corporate partners.

Stage One: Research, relate, reach out

1. Spend time assessing your options for potential partners

Researching the right corporate partner for your charity should be an in-depth process. Get together as a team for some blue-sky thinking time. Identify some corporates who you would love to work with, but recognise what is idealistic and what’s realistic. Once you’ve got a list of company names, split the list up into manageable sections and assign different sections to your team members for them to investigate further. You shouldn’t reach out to any of the companies at this early stage. Simply gather some information on what their company is all about. Find out what their big projects are, how many employees they have, what their aims are for the next five years, and whether they currently run a corporate social responsibility programme.

How to get corporate fundraising partners    

2. Identify a corporate partner that is the right ‘fit’

Once you’ve researched some potential partners, you need to identify the right companies to get in touch with. Ultimately, you’ll know if a corporate partner will work well with your charity if you can relate to them in some way. Look for corporations who share the same values as your charity and are a similar size. If you’re a local charity with a small budget, you don’t want to approach a global corporation as a potential partner, because you just won’t have the resources to deal with them. At this stage, the right partner should jump out at you when you look at your research. If it doesn’t, you might want to reassess your initial list.

3. Know how and when to reach out

Reaching out to prospective corporate partners is an exciting time. Look up how the corporation wants you to reach out to them; some will have online forms to fill in, others will want you to email them. Make sure that you fill in the forms correctly and don’t have any mistakes in your email, as you’ll only get one shot at a first impression. Once you’ve reached out, you need to prepare to play the long game. Building relationships can often take months, or even years, before you see any financial benefit. If your charity is under significant strain to create revenue, corporate fundraising is not the way to go about it. You should remind anyone of that fact if they are pressuring you to get results too early.

“Choice, connection to the cause, and being able to see where your money is going are three ways to encourage people in an organisation to support and fundraise for a charity.” – Maryanne Matthews, Chief Executive of the EY Foundation

Stage Two: Prepare, pitch, provide

4. Identify how both parties will benefit from the relationship

Once you’ve reached out to the corporation, you’ll hopefully be asked to meet with them and give a pitch about why they should support your charity. If you’ve put all of the above time and effort into assessing which corporate partner is right for your charity, you definitely don’t want it to fall apart when you meet with them. It’s common to want to talk a lot about your charity and what corporate support would help you to achieve. However, remember to show mutual benefit as well. The corporation wants to know how the partnership will benefit them (e.g. by increasing sales, enhancing brand image, reaching new customers etc.) and they’ll need some statistics from you to evidence that. Be aware of what the corporation is looking for from your partnership and your pitch will be a lot stronger.

How to get corporate fundraising partners

5. Practice and perfect your pitch

The day that you go to pitch to your potential corporate partner can feel super nerve-wracking, but being fully prepared will make you feel a lot better. Presenting yourselves well is important for the company to have a good impression of your charity on the whole; remember that you are acting as ambassadors for your whole organisation. Practice what you’ll be saying, who will be saying it, and think about how you’ll answer any questions the board might have. Some of the questions might be tricky, so keep focused on your goal and answer them with lots of helpful information. Don’t back yourselves into a corner and start agreeing to contract terms in the pitch, they’ll be time for that later.

6. Provide a dedicated contact and get ready for follow-up questions

After you’ve pitched, give the corporation the contact details for one of your team members who can take the lead on speaking with them from the point onwards (this person will be the account manager for the relationship). The corporation will likely have some follow-up questions for you before they fully commit. You’ll probably also have a few questions for them, so make sure they’ve given you a contact at the company who you can get in touch with too. During this time, you need to stay on top of your emails and respond to the contact quickly. Don’t leave them waiting on answers from you when they’re so close to becoming a partner.

“Stay aware of what your partner has planned and don’t be afraid to suggest ways that you could get involved. Even if your original proposal doesn’t work you may well plant the seed for other opportunities.” – Robin Toal, Head of Public Fundraising at APOPO

Stage Three: Contracts, communicate, continue!

7. Be clued up on contracts

Once you’ve had confirmation from the company that they’d like to partner up, you need to make it official. It’s a legal requirement for charities to have a contract with any business they’re partnering with. If your charity has a legal advisor, this is when they can take the lead. You might enter negotiations with the corporation about what to expect on both sides of the relationship. Don’t be disheartened if they aren’t willing to offer the amount of money you wanted, as corporate partnerships are about a lot more than just finances. Think about other areas where the corporation could help you. For example, staff payroll giving, volunteering of time and skills, good PR, gifts in kind – and make sure to include these in your contract.

8. Communication is key

Consistent communication with your contact at the corporation is absolutely critical to maintaining a healthy, fruitful relationship. Ask to see a plan of what the company is working on this year and look for ways your charity could get involved. Make sure that you meet regularly with your contact to discuss plans and don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings, even if the travel and cost is inconvenient. A happy contact will be a lot more useful to your charity than an unhappy one!

9. Keep up the good work

It’s likely that your charity can’t survive on just one corporate relationship. Therefore, you’ll need to repeat this process several times over with different companies. Be clear on any exclusivity clauses in your contracts and don’t work with companies who are direct competitors, as they would be unhappy about you doing so. It’s a good idea to have a Customer Relationship Management system so that you can stay on top of all of the different relationships. You don’t want for one member of staff to email a prospective company when they were already emailed by you yesterday, it will look unprofessional. There are free tools available, like Trello, that you can use to record your data.

Following this step-by-step guide should lead to corporate fundraising relationships that are successful, long-lasting and mutually beneficially. Though initially it might seem tempting to skip over some of the research and legwork, every experienced corporate fundraiser knows that it pays to act like the Scouts when you’re building relationships – always be prepared!

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