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Chasing Corporate Donors
If the number of current job adverts for corporate fundraisers is any
indicator, many charities are increasingly looking to larger donations to
help meet income shortfalls caused by the recession. But, according to
an article in Third Sector magazine, charities just aren’t sophisticated
enough in terms of their approach.
At the recent Labour Party Conference, Royal Mail’s Kay Allen said that
too many charities send generalised requests for funding without taking
into account a firm’s outlook and funding priorities. This is a pretty poor
effort by fundraisers given that Royal Mail has actually published their
“social action strategy” which outlines how it wants to focus on
unemployed 16-19 year olds for the next four years!
In my experience, to successfully secure corporate donations fundraisers
need to consider a basic truism of all communications activity -
“know your audience”. I would personally add to this, “and communicate
with them in a way that appeals to their wants and needs”.
I worked for many years in the commercial sector and I know firsthand
what motivates companies. They are not altruistic by nature. Most
businesses exist to make a profit to return to investors or owners. CSR
policies are usually a means to this end. They generate positive publicity
for the company and improve the morale of the staff, both of which are
linked to the company’s success. That’s it.
With this in mind, it’s vital that fundraisers have a commercial awareness
of the pressures faced by and aims of any companies being targeted for
support. Enter the focused ‘case for support’.
Among others, The Institute of Fundraising has lots of free advice on how
to create a case for support but I appreciate it’s not always possible to
create a formal and glossy case when budgets and time are tight.
Bringing all these points together, I thought I would suggest a few key
steps which fundraisers need to consider in order to successfully target
and attract business donors. Experience suggests that time invested on
these points, prior to the creation of any formal documents or campaign
materials, will pay dividends:
1. Map out who your target audience should be.
This is more than just names and addresses (although finding the right
person to contact is hugely important and can significantly increase your
chance of success). Things to look for include:
• Obvious links to what you do (like supporting communities for
supermarkets or medical research for pharmaceutical companies)
• Whether they have supported you or your competitors in the past
• Financial performance; are they growing or struggling? You’re
looking for growth ambitions or at least stable profits
• Could they use some positive publicity?
• Size of the organisation – huge businesses tend to support larger
charities centrally but will often support smaller charities locally so
2. Research and map out their wants and needs
This is hugely important as your ‘ask’ will fail if it does not positively
answer the ‘what’s in it for them’ question. If you don’t know with some
degree of confidence what motivates your target audience, find out. Don’t
assume as you can damage your charity’s future credibility with a
corporate audience if you get it wrong.
It’s often useful to think about the needs of the business as well as those
of the individual / team you will be targeting as you will have to appeal to
• What do they want as a business generally and from you in return
for their support? Positive publicity, improvements in staff morale
and engagement, for a charity partner to do all the administration
and make it really easy for them to donate, short-term or long-term
relationships, a charity to support their CSR specifically (like Royal
Mail above), a non-political partner etc?
• What does the person you will be contacting want? An easy process,
for you to do much of the set-up work, no ongoing admin, for your
brand to reflect well on them, career progression etc?
3. Map out how your charity meets these needs.
What do you have to offer that meets both the business and individual
needs? Be very honest at this stage and don’t delude yourselves. If you
don’t have anything they need right now, put them to one side for
consideration when their needs or your offering might be better aligned in
You will end up reducing the number of target businesses at this point. If
you don’t, you’re probably not being discerning enough in matching what
you have to offer that businesses should care about.
4. Find real-world evidence to back up your claims.
Business decision-makers are just like any other; they like to see
something tangible and relevant to back up your proposals. You should
therefore include any evidence which outlines the positive outcomes for
them first (linked to their wants and needs) and then for the charity.
Examples might include:
• Outcomes from previous partnerships
• The experience of key personnel involved in any projects insofar as
this helps to meet their needs
• Any independent reviews or audit reports which highlight success
• Press clippings and news coverage
• Facts and figures from other corporate donors illustrating the
corporate benefits as they perceive them to add value
5. Why you as opposed to another charity.
Tie this evidence together with your experience to clearly show why your
charity is the best option for the business as opposed to any other. For
example, do they want specific local coverage which you can provide? Is
there an award-winning element of your service that only you can bring?
6. Will your ‘ask’ work?
However you choose to put your case together and communicate it, test it
before taking the plunge. Put yourselves in the shoes of the recipient, and
ask ‘so what’? It should be completely obvious that you understand their
wants and needs and have matched what your charity can offer to them.
Alternatively, ask a relevant third party what they think. There are a
number of third sector networks out there willing to share ideas.
7. Communicate your case and follow it up (subject for several blogs
Learn from your successes and rejections and tailor your approach
accordingly. Sometimes this might be looking again at your interpretation
of the target companies’ wants and needs and revisiting how your charity
can meet them. On other occasions it might be down to timing or your
choice of communications media. Whatever the feedback is, collect it and
use it to improve your ask next time round.
Overall, I think the rule of thumb is simple; help solve their issues and
achieve their objectives and you are much more likely to illicit a positive
response. Have I missed anything? Please feel free to add your thoughts.
Founder, Bottom Line Ideas