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Chasing Corporate Donors

01/07/2010

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 target accordingly

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 both:

·         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 the future.

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 in itself).

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.

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