Partners, Sponsors or Donors?

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

How to Think About Corporate Fundraising

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with large companies to solicit their philanthropic support for educational initiatives and events.

Since nonprofits ask corporations for different gifts such as event sponsorships, gifts in kind or cash donations, they often struggle with how to categorize the relationship: Are corporations partners, sponsors or donors?

Fundamentally, it comes down to motivation and relationship. Here are seven reasons why corporations give and three important lessons that I have learned from fundraising for the public policy world.

7 Reasons Why a Corporation Gives

  1. Enhance its reputation or image in the community to generate goodwill.
  2. Advance its mission or to complement its corporate philosophy.
  3. Respond to the interests of employees, board members or shareholders who may provide input regarding corporate giving decisions.
  4. Serve the company’s strategic business goals such as influencing legislation to create a more favorable business environment.
  5. Promote a social good in the local community.
  6. Market its products by partnering with a nonprofit on a high-profile campaign (e.g., breast cancer) and sharing the profits.
  7. Counter bad publicity due to mismanagement or legal troubles.

In order to build a long-term philanthropic relationship with a corporation, you need to understand the motivations behind the gift.

3 Important Lessons

  1. Relationships matter. It takes time to build relationships with corporate representatives. Don’t expect to get a donation or a sponsorship without doing the legwork.
  2. Stand on principle. Corporations have agendas. If their agenda matches your mission and priorities, great. If not, try to educate them on how the partnership should work.
  3. Policy over money. Be ready to walk away if a company expects you to lobby or promote an agenda that is contrary to your mission.

Corporate fundraising is not the right strategy for every nonprofit. If you embark on corporate fundraising, consider the corporation’s motivation, the benefits (tangible and intangible) you plan to offer and how you will keep the corporate representatives engaged.

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