Guest Specialist: Heather Nelson, BridgeRaise
We are excited to share a guest publication on nonprofit corporate sponsorship from Heather Nelson of BRIDGERAISE! For those who want a deeper dive into her insights, catch her exclusive interview on our YouTube channel. A true masterclass in maximizing partnerships!
For most nonprofits, corporate partnership is an important part of their sustainable revenue. If done well, these partnerships have value well beyond the revenue that comes to the organization. They can:
Raise the profile of your nonprofit.
Bring Volunteer Leadership through board participation.
Build your nonprofit credibility through brand association.
Individual donors can be solicited from the company.
Employee volunteer programs can support your work.
With all of these benefits possible, corporate support is an opportunity to be leveraged as a part of your fundraising mix. Doing so, with best practice in mind, will ensure you maximize revenue and positive interactions between companies and your organization.
To be successful, nonprofits must start with understanding what makes up a nonprofit corporate partnership.
What is a nonprofit corporate partnership?
Corporate grants and corporate sponsorship are terms that have been in the sector for a long time.
Corporate grants are funding that comes from companies to nonprofits either through a corporate foundation usually for support of a specific program or initiative.
Corporate sponsorship is funding that is invested in a nonprofit for purely marketing purposes. The amount of money should be directly reflected in the marketing benefits received by the company. Most often this funding comes related to a specific event.
Over the last few years, most companies who support nonprofits have begun to have marketing expectations as part of their grants. They have also had program impact expectations as part of their sponsorships. Further still, many agreements have had multiple components including volunteerism and value-in-kind.
The term nonprofit-corporate partnership has emerged from this reality to cover these hybrid approaches.
It is great to see more of these types of partnerships as Corporate Partnership involves mutual benefit between nonprofit and their corporate partner.
Most often, this includes a financial investment. It can be from a corporate foundation, marketing
budget, or CEO budget. Partnership prioritizes values or expectation alignment between the two entities.
To summarize, Corporate Partnerships are mutually beneficial, include a financial component but may also include some marketing requirements, employee volunteerism and value in-kind. If meeting best practice, the nonprofit will be reporting on both impact of the investment on the mission as well as marketing benefits agreed to as part of the partnership.
What are the steps to get started?
Before you get started, it is really important that as an organization you have the resources in place to build a successful corporate partnership program. Corporate partnerships are not a quick revenue source. They take time and intention to build successfully and grow sustainably. It is always a good first step to include corporate fundraising in your organizational strategy and budget.
Once that is in place there are some steps you can take to get started:
Building Blocks Phase
Step 1: Create acceptance guidelines for your organization. These guidelines should cover your values for partnership, what companies and sectors you will and won’t take money from, and how much money you are seeking for different benefits.
Step 2: Define what opportunities there are for companies to support your organization that benefit both the company and your organization. Establish what financial investment from the company you require for these benefits.
Step 3: Build a draft pitch deck that can be easily edited based on conversations.
It should include:
1. a brief description of who you are
2. the impact you have
3. the opportunity you want them to be involved with
4. how you are unique and how the opportunity is special
It should not include financial levels or detailed benefits by gold, silver and bronze. It’s meant to start a dialogue not provide all the answers.
Step 4: Build your list of companies and do research to figure out how they align with your opportunities.
Connect and Cultivate Phase
Step 5: Outreach to the companies with a short email meant to secure a brief meeting.
Step 6: Follow up consistently until you get a meeting, or until you can engage them in an email exchange. Some interaction should be a minimal requirement before proceeding.
Step 7: In your brief meeting find out what is important to them by asking lots of questions.
Step 8: Put forth a proposal for them that responds to the information you have gathered through your research and meeting.
Stewardship and Fulfillment Phase
Step 9: Once you’ve secured the partnership, stay in regular contact and fulfill promises. Build more ways they can support you in the future.
With those steps sketched out, you have a sense of the pathway to success!
What tips would you offer to a nonprofit organization that is looking to build and sustain successful corporate partnerships for the first time?
I’m not exaggerating when I say I could give tips forever! In fact, once a week I send out a newsletter to my community that provides tips and strategies. You can sign up for that here.
In the meantime, here are 4 tips that you must know!
Do your research to find various ways you align with the company and can provide value to them. For example, do they like employee volunteering? Respond with your employee volunteer program. Have they listed their priority funding areas? Respond with the unique way you fulfill that funding area.
Start with a few companies. It is better to have meaningful conversations and establish bigger partnerships with a few companies that you can build than having a big long list and no strategic approach!
Send less. The goal is to build a relationship over time. Initially that means providing them with enough information to get the conversation started. The complexity of your organization and all you do can be shared over time.
The company benefit is important. They do want to have an impact, and being able to communicate your impact simply is important, but they also need to understand what the opportunity is that you are offering them. Position your offer using their language and to be clear on the benefit.
In order to demonstrate the benefit to the company a compelling partnership package is a critical piece. It should be built based on understanding the business need that you are meeting and you should include a clear value proposition for the company.
Remember, this document is all about them and how your organization, program or event meets their needs.
If you are writing a lot about your organization and providing a lot of detail, step back and ask yourself what they truly need to know to determine if your organization gives the impact they are seeking.
It does not need to be fancy!
It is more important that you can modify your proposal easily and edit information to respond to the comments and ideas provided by the corporate representative than you have something fancy.
Beyond not being fancy, the most important thing you need to include is how your organization or the opportunity you are offering is unique and aligned to what they are looking for. The more interesting your opportunity and clear you can make what you are looking for the greater your likelihood of success.
Remember, it's crucial to approach potential sponsors with a mindset of creating a mutually beneficial partnership. This is all about partnership afterall! By understanding their needs, demonstrating your value, and providing unique opportunities, you can create compelling partnership packages that appeal to corporations and build long-lasting relationships.
Tips on how to build a long-term relationship
Long lasting partnerships are your priority, don’t worry, they are mine too! However, it doesn’t just happen, it takes intention and planning.
Stay in touch throughout the year with your partner. Make them feel connected to your organization and your mission
Create “sticky” partnerships. These means make sure you get to know multiple people at the company and connect them in different ways to your organization and your mission.
Always be thinking of additional offers and opportunities you can make to the company to augment your relationship with them.
Report back on your partnership in a timely fashion. Include both impact data and marketing data related to your partnership. A picture goes a long way so if you don’t have a lot of data use screen grabs of your thank you posts and event materials.
With all of these tips, a clear understanding of what you are seeking to build between your charity and your corporate partner, I hope you establish the kind of partnership that is game changing for your cause.
Any questions, you can find me on LinkedIn and send me a DM, I’d love to hear from you, and join my newsletter for regular tips and templates that will help you advance your corporate partnerships: You can sign up for that here.
You’ve got this!
TL;DR: For most nonprofits, corporate partnership is an important part of their sustainable revenue that adds value well beyond the revenue that comes to the organization. To be successful, nonprofits must start with understanding what makes up a nonprofit corporate partnership, create a solid foundation with guidelines and resources, and continually connect and cultivate with their corporate prospects. Once a partnership is secured, stay in regular contact and fulfill promises. Build more ways they can support you in the future.
If you are looking for additional tips and strategies to create successful non profit corporate partnerships I send out a newsletter to my community. You can sign up for that here.
About the Author: Heather Nelson, MBA, CFRE
Founder and President at boutique fundraising consultancy, BridgeRaise, Heather and her team help non-profits raise more money from companies by prioritizing aligned values. Heather is a 20+ year fundraiser, corporate partnership expert, mentor, teacher, tree person, and a dog and hockey mom!
She’s very active on LinkedIn and would love to connect with you there: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nelsonheather/