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Nonprofits Need a Targeted Approach to Attracting Corporate Support
Lisa Rodman

August, 2016

For many nonprofits, gaining corporate support is critical for survival and success. A strong corporate partner can bring needed funds, visibility, an army of volunteers and donated goods or services to the immediate benefit of your nonprofit. And with so many different causes competing for corporate donations, it is important to approach this playing field with an effective strategy for bringing potential partners to the table.

As with most endeavors, however, there is a way to do things – and then there is a better way. Many nonprofits still employ traditional, “one-size-fits all” methods in their efforts to attract corporate support. But nonprofits must remember that corporations are a lot like individual donors: the personal, tailored ask is always more effective than a generic, mass-marketed approach. Like individual donors, every corporate entity is different, and each appeal should be tailored to the prospective donor based on a number of factors.

Despite this reality, mass mailing (or emailing) and cold calling are still among the methods of choice for many nonprofits. There are several reasons for this, including the ease of locating and buying contact lists, and the time and cost savings of creating marketing materials that can be used time and time again. Perhaps the most compelling reason is that the idea of mass outreach fulfills a desire to “cast a wide net” with the hopes of landing a big fish, or several of them.

With this in mind, the typical nonprofit creates finely crafted marketing materials that include a compelling story (the “hook” designed to grab the reader’s interest); the nonprofit’s mission and vision; and the different ways a corporation can make a difference for the good of everyone involved. For cold-calling, a script is created that more or less covers this same ground. An article in the July 14 edition of this newsletter, “Should You Cold Call Potential Donors?” by Karen Eber Davis, examines the prevalence of cold calling among nonprofits and why it ultimately fails in getting the desired results:

“The success rate of cold calls (actually making a sale) runs less than 5 percent based on 2,000 calls per month. (One study of experienced sales people reported a .3 percent success rate.)”

The problem with both cold calling and mass mailing is that a huge piece of the story is missing: Where does the corporation itself fit into your vision? How are they uniquely situated to mesh with your organization? The “wide net” generic approach is not positioned to answer these questions for each potential partner, and is unlikely to generate their interest and support.

As a nonprofit, you have a much better chance of attracting corporate support by thoughtfully identifying a handful of companies that naturally align with the nonprofit mission, and then crafting individual communication for each of them.

As a nonprofit looking for a corporate partner, consider the following:

·       Who is your audience – to whom does your mission matter most?

·       Who is in your circle of influence – for example, are they musicians? Parents? Environmentalists?

·       Where do you deliver your programs – locally, regionally or globally? If we are being honest, does a large international corporation really need a partnership with a regional nonprofit? It is important to show any potential corporate suitor how your nonprofit is a good match to the company in size, scale and audience.

After you have identified a corporation that serves (or exists within) your circle, consider ways to illustrate to the company how your mission is relevant to their market and their customers.  As part of your research prior to pitching your nonprofit to a target corporation, here are some other important questions to address:

·       Can you support their business model in return – are there services the nonprofit can provide to the company's customers or employees?

·       Can you introduce the business to a new audience or deepen its relationship with a constituency that is valuable to them?

·       Do you have analytics that quantify the nonprofit’s reach through social media, the press and newsletters?  Remember, if you are approaching the marketing department, any potential donation to your nonprofit will be evaluated against more traditional media buys. Be prepared to quantify your social media following and the number of recipients – and open rate – for your email list.

It is also helpful to think about natural tie-ins between a corporation and your nonprofit. For example, a nonprofit that provides services for the elderly might approach a large accounting firm with a proposal for the firm to provide pro bono tax help, estate planning and other needed assistance for the nonprofit’s beneficiaries. If done successfully, that program will serve as a door-opener to event sponsorships, fundraising and other assistance from the firm as the relationship develops.

Always remember that a partnership should be fun. It’s not just about asking for money: you are looking to engage a corporation’s employees, their families, and their customers. From developing a creative event to offering exclusive volunteering opportunities, any good partnership is a win-win relationship that keeps the company wanting to come back year after year.  Do your research and present opportunities for partnerships across the nonprofit. Does the company have the expertise to help the program improve its supply chain or to expand into a new market?

Your goal is to build a meaningful, long-term and genuine relationship between the nonprofit and the company. Given that, doesn’t it make sense to carefully choose your potential partners, just as you would in any relationship? By taking a smart, targeted approach – and tailoring your message accordingly – your nonprofit will see better results and stand a greater chance of landing that lasting, successful partnership that the wide net approach may not bring in.


Lisa Rodman is a 20 year veteran of the nonprofit arena and the founder of Austin-based Rodman & Associates, where she advises and supports individuals, businesses, and foundations on philanthropic initiatives and partnerships. Email her at


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