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6 Secrets to Unlocking Corporate Philanthropy—Part I

by | Apr 4, 2019

Becky Schieber is a freelance writer, editor and communication strategist. She spent more than a decade in the trenches of the country’s biggest newsrooms as a TV news producer before building a career in healthcare fundraising and corporate social responsibility. Here, she lets you in on the most important things she learned from running a global corporate foundation that she wishes she’d known when she was soliciting major gifts.

Secret 1: Get to Know What You Don’t Know

 Companies, especially big ones, have layers. And layers equal hurdles, not only for you, but for your internal contact who can help (or hurt) your chances of success. Whether it’s getting requests for money approved, finding people to fill tables at a gala or completing the 72 forms necessary to request the appropriate logo for your program adcorporate philanthropy professionals often have to navigate a maze of processes to get even the simplest things done.

That’s not always easy to understand from your perch at a lean and nimble nonprofit…

But if you take the time to understand the barriers your liaison has in her way you can hone your strategy and communications to make your working relationship as seamless as possible.

 Understanding builds trust, which can only help to grow the relationship between your organizations.

Secret 2: Play the Long Game

There’s a reason I named my bi-monthly coffee klatch with my corporate foundation peers “The Naysayers Club.” We all had to say no, and we did it all the time. At times it feels like the opposite of why any of us got into philanthropy in the first place. But with limited budgets, increasingly focused giving strategies and thousands of requests, it’s simply the reality of the job. It’s not fun.  

That’s why we really appreciate those fundraisers who accept a declination graciously and seek to understand the reason behind it.

It’s also okay for you to ask if the answer is “no,” vs. “not this year.” Budgets change, philanthropic priorities shift, and you never know when your organization might be the perfect fit for the company that turned you down five years ago.

I know playing the long game is tough for the many nonprofits who operate with shoestring staffs and rely on the constant churn of events to keep the lights on, but preserving the relationship over the long term can eventually pay off.

Secret 3: Consistency is Key

Let’s face it: from the outside looking in, the nonprofit world can sometimes feel like a revolving door of well-meaning but short-lived talent. And in an industry whose success depends on building relationships, consistency is absolutely critical. Foundation directors value continuity of communication, not only because it’s more efficient, but it also adds to your organization’s reputation.

When three different development directors from an organization called on me in less than three years’ time, I seriously questioned why there was so much turnover and wondered if the organization may not be a great investment for us.

When possible, it’s wise for the executive director or a key board member to maintain some sort of corporate relationship to cut down on the negative perception that comes with frequent turnover.

Also important here is to learn what communication style your corporate liaison prefers. Is it email or text? Not sure? If she responds to your voicemails via email most of the time, she’s telling you she’s not a phone person. (It’s 2019 – is anyone a phone person anymore?!)

Stay tuned for Part II…coming next week.

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