Top Tips for Opening Corporate Doors

Corporations have three doors that non-profits can enter when seeking support.

DOOR #1: This first door is called The Membership Door . It’s a very small door located just around the side of corporate headquarters. Behind this door is the money the corporation uses to join and support chambers of commerce, trade associations, and civic groups.

DOOR #2: The second door is located more toward the front of the building and is called The Philanthropic Entrance . This is the traditional door used by the majority of non- profit organizations. Behind this door, corporations award small grants to non-profits.

DOOR #3: The third door, which is located right at the front of the building, is called The Marketing Gateway . Corporations spend billions of dollars every year to market their goods and services. If your non-profit can assist the company in enhancing its image, reaching potential customers, or reinforcing existing customer relationships, they will want to work with you. It’s also good business for corporations to tax shelter their marketing dollars through your organization.

With these three doors in mind, here are some tips for entering the right one at the right time.

  1. Always allow enough lead- time for the corporation to make a decision. It’s best to approach the corporation at least six months prior to your event.
  2. Whenever possible, try to meet with the marketing director rather than the community affairs or public relations people. The marketing department has a budget that can be spread out throughout the year and the dollars they have to give out to sponsor and underwrite activities is significantly greater than the company’s philanthropic dollars. Generally, most corporations give about 1 percent of PRE- TAX dollars (prior to depreciation) to philanthropy, whereas marketing dollars can be 20 percent+ of the total corporate budget.
  3. Think PARTNERSHIPS rather than RELATIONSHIPS. In every other aspect of fundraising relationship is key. In corporate work, partnership is key. Think about the difference between a relationship and a partnership like this: If you have a relationship with your spouse and NOT a partnership, the chances are good that the relationship will not last because the level of respect is not apparent. In a partnership both sides benefit and both sides have to be willing to negotiate points of disagreement and commit to working together. A partnership gives the company benefits or values that last all year long, rather than for just a one time special event. Negotiations can include: links on your website, advertisements in your newsletter, an opportunity to meet with your board of directors, etc.
  4. When approaching a company make sure it is the RIGHT COMPANY. Make sure that you align the company’s products and/or services with your constituency. If you are working with poor people, don’t go to a Saks Fifth Avenue, but do go to Target or Wal- Mart.
  5. Develop a gift acceptance policy. If you plan to do a lot of corporate partnership fundraising, make sure you have an ethical “screen” in place so you maintain credibility with yourself, your organization, and your constituency. We call this “screen” a gift acceptance policy. A gift acceptance policy is a series of guidelines that explain the conditions for which your organization will take certain kinds of money. It might say you won’t accept funds from cigarette companies or liquor distributors, etc. It should also spell out which deals need to come before the board and which ones can be decided by the executive director.
  6. When researching the companies pay close attention to the following:
    • Are the markets that the company wants to sell their products to aligned with your people?
    • What is the image of the company? Are they credible? What is their reputation in your area? Are they viewed as a good corporate citizen in your community?
    • What are the strengths of the partnership? Will you be able to leverage this relationship? Can the company help with opening up doors?
    • What are the weaknesses of the company? Are they financially secure? Do you think they will use you?
    • Who are the key people? Are the company’s leaders also leaders in your community? Can you gain access to them? Do you already do business with the company?
  7. And don’t forget the following bits of advice on corporate/non-profit relations:
    • Corporations are looking for an on-going presence rather than a one time event.
    • Corporations can’t say how great they are as well as you can.
    • Some corporations are looking for an exclusive agreement, ASK.
    • Relationship is key, BUT it only opens the door.
    • Don’t offer solutions in search of a problem, be clear about what you are doing and what you seek to change.
    • Become a customer first, whenever possible. It’s better to have a business relationship with a business than a charitable relationship.

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