We hosted a webinar with our friends at Parkes Philanthropy in July about Securing and Enhancing Corporate Partnerships in July as part of our Nonprofit Thought Leadership Series. The Parkes team took a look into how nonprofit organizations approached corporate support pre-COVID-19, how COVID-19 has changed corporate partnerships, and how to adapt your programming and strategies to maintain relationships in a post-pandemic world.
You can watch the webinar recording here. Read some of the Q&A’s from the session with presenters Brandon Parkes, Erin Holstein and Caitlin Kawaguchi:
Q: What’s the best way for smaller nonprofits to find and source corporations for corporate sponsorship?
BP: I advise smaller nonprofits to start with corporations within their network. Whether it is companies that your board members, volunteers or staff are affiliated with, identifying funding opportunities from vendors or identifying corporations in your geographical area and community are all solid avenues to source initial corporations.
EH: I advise that smaller nonprofits focus less on the size of their organization and more on their value add to a corporation. Researching companies that are like-minded and have similar values and goals is a great place to start. For example, if your nonprofit works in the juvenile diabetes space, perhaps you can connect with food and beverage companies or businesses in the agriculture sector. It’s important to find strong alignments and demonstrate to any potential corporate partner how the relationship will benefit them and what the value add will be to their brand. If a smaller nonprofit is not yet ready to approach a larger or more established company, then I recommend they approach smaller/newer/younger companies who might understand where they are in their growth and might have less stringent specifications around the types of nonprofits they support/fund.
CK: Look for areas of alignment to find companies whose impact priorities are a fit for your work (a good place to look is at a company’s CSR page or mission statement). For instance, if your focus is on youth empowerment, identifying a company that has previously done youth mentorship programs or supports local schools could be a natural partner. When doing the initial outreach out to companies, be proactive in suggesting ideas for the partnership, and let them know how it could be mutually beneficial. Even if you haven’t done corporate partnerships before, laying out a vision for how the partnership could work helps the company understand how you could be a strategic partner.
Q: What if you don’t already have partnerships? We have not had corporate partners in the past, but I have been thinking about asking for small donations in order to initiate a relationship. Is that a bad strategy?
EH: As I mentioned during the webinar, I advise that a nonprofit that is new to corporate partnerships focus first and foremost on establishing strong relationships. The funding will come, but it’s vital to first build a strong rapport with potential corporate partners and establish a trust and bond that will hopefully lead to a more sustained and more fruitful partnership. If you ask for small donations up-front, you could be preventing yourself from receiving more substantial funding. Also, if you make the ask right away, it might be more difficult to make additional asks later on as there is no relationship foundation that has been established. Be thoughtful and take your time to build strong relationships, and never undersell yourself. If you ask for a small donation, a company might only give you that amount, even if they are actually able to give more.
CK: As Erin mentions, building that relationship with corporate partners takes time and trust. Rather than leading with a small donation ask, take the time to communicate with the partner so you can both understand each other’s needs and how you can support one another. When doing initial outreach, you should show you’ve taken the time to research the company and be able to articulate why you’re a fit for their impact priorities. If you genuinely have the need for a small donation that is in the company’s wheelhouse, it doesn’t hurt to mention that when you reach out, but otherwise don’t sell yourself short — there’s other tactics to initiate and build relationships!
Q: How would you suggest pivoting your approach to companies who have typically sponsored your events, but those events have been canceled/made virtual? Is it still appropriate to ask them to support other areas of your programming, or to ask for a commitment of future support?
EH: I think it’s important to first be transparent with these event sponsors and explain to those companies how your work/events have been affected by COVID. Also, make sure you understand how their work has been affected by COVID and take this into consideration when approaching them for support. I believe it’s appropriate to discuss future support/engagements, but it doesn’t hurt to make a nearer-term ask as well. Demonstrate to your corporate supporters how your programming has been affected by COVID and how your priorities (and funding needs) have shifted. Demonstrate how they could help to fill the gap in your more immediate funding, and if you feel that it resonates with the company, don’t hesitate to make an ask (monetary or otherwise) that might look different from what you would request in a pre-COVID world.
CK: Companies are also experiencing a lot of changes right now, so they’ll likely understand that your fundraising efforts may look different during this time. Let them know how you’re planning to adjust and how they can still be involved — for instance, I’ve seen non-profits pivoting to offer sponsorships for virtual events, such as selling space for a company logo to be shown on a slide deck during a presentation instead of displaying it on a stage as they would for an in-person event. Companies are also figuring out how to reach audiences during this time, and virtual sponsorship offerings can still help companies meet their goals of brand awareness, positive association with an impact organization, etc.
If your funding needs have changed during COVID, let companies know, and if asking them to support another area of your programming, make sure to ‘onboard’ them to that area of programming so they’re excited about supporting it. Let them know why their support is so critical to the success of the program right now, and the impact you could have together.
Q: Are you seeing larger corporate COVID gifts going more to larger national/regional organizations vs. a local/smaller organization?
BP: Corporations are always looking for ways to amplify their impact and create a large yet impactful reach. From my personal experience, I’ve seen a trend in corporations supporting national/regional organizations much more than local/smaller organizations to align with this mentality. However, that doesn’t diminish the critical need and impact of supporting local/smaller organizations. It’s all about identifying your niche, reflecting your impact/differentiation factor, and emphasizing how additional support can help these local/smaller organizations amplify their impact as well.
CK: It varies by corporation — for instance, I’ve still seen corporations that operate in different cities making local donations in those cities where they have established relationships with local organizations doing on the ground COVID response work. For companies, being able to point to a specific initiative in a city during a challenging time like this can be powerful for employee and community engagement. If you’re a smaller organization hoping to secure funds from a larger corporation for COVID relief, look for companies who have previously demonstrated an interest in uplifting local organizations. Share with them how your work aligns with their mission and be specific with how their gift will make an impact, so they’re equipped to make the case to their teams.
Q: What’s your best advice for event fundraising (specifically corporate sponsorships) for a future event when there is no guarantee it will occur depending on COVID restrictions?
EH: I advise that you are as open and transparent as possible with potential corporate supporters. Explain how nothing is certain right now, but that your organization is still planning for an event down the road. Have a plan in place for what will happen to any funds contributed by corporate partners should the event not take place. Ensure that your corporate partners are in agreement so that everyone is on the same page in advance. Then, plan as though the event is going to happen, with contingencies and back-up plans in place. It’s out of your control whether the event will occur or not, so just be sure to keep your corporate sponsors updated regularly on your plans and how their funds are being utilized.