Nonprofits are in a tough spot when it comes to reaching out to donors, especially corporate donors. Every company is busy, concerned about the future and laser-focused on business continuity. And, many corporations just don’t have the resources to support charitable work in the same way as they did before. However, in a true relationship, this is the exact right time to reach out to corporate sponsors – if only to check in and connect as partners, colleagues and friends. My good friends, Tawnia Wise, of Wise Resource Development, and Jeremy Gregg, of Arabella Advisors, did an excellent webinar on this very topic, which resulted in the must-read piece below filled with hidden gems for maintaining productive relationships with corporate donors.
A corporation’s motivations for giving are different than those of other donors, such as individuals and foundations. Although organizations like Conscious Capitalism and B Lab are leading a movement to transform business into a force for good, many executives and corporate boards maintain that corporations exist principally for the purpose of maximizing shareholder value. That goal informs all of their decisions, including whether or not to fund your sponsorship proposal.
At the same time, these corporations are increasingly aware of the cultural trends that affect their customers’ purchase decisions. For example, according to a 2019 survey conducted by Fortune magazine, “64% of Americans say a company’s primary purpose should be to make the world a better place.” So, it is in a company’s best interest to invest in worthy causes that reflect their customers’ values.
The evidence for this is even more apparent in the wake of the coronavirus. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s March 2020 article, “During Pandemic, Young Adults Trust Nonprofits More Than Government or Corporations”:
- 60% of young adults surveyed trust the nonprofit sector’s response to the pandemic
- 38% trust the corporate sector’s response
This clearly demonstrates that now would be a wise time for companies to align themselves with nonprofits that their customers perceive as making the biggest impact on the community.
Unfortunately, companies tend to be the most fickle donors during an economic downturn. In our workshop, 77% of participants said they had already lost or are anticipating the loss of corporate sponsors due to the pandemic. Interestingly, about 8% expected to have an increase in corporate sponsorship despite the pandemic.
The following are tips on how to keep sponsors and possibly gain new ones during this time.
1. Don’t hibernate and don’t panic
The worst thing you can do now is nothing. Reach out to your corporate sponsors by phone, personalized email and handwritten notes. Ask how they are doing. Remember, companies are made up of human beings; they, too, are worried about the future. Ask them how COVID-19 is impacting their company and its employees. Make sure they know how their sponsorship is helping you to respond to COVID-19, that their continued support matters and that you are committed to promoting their impact to the broader community.
Don’t panic. Some of your donors will pull their funding; now is the time to position yourself as an organization that can adapt and that can continue to make an impact on the community. Remember that corporate sponsors want to jump on a winning bandwagon, not a sinking ship. For more tips on how to message your need now, check out our other blog posts: 10 Tips for Fundraising in the Face of COVID-19and 7 Tips to Tap into CARES Act-Stimulated Charitable Giving.
2. “Ask not what your (donor) can do for you, but what you can do for your (donor)!”
Ask what you can do to support their company, their employees and their customers. You are, after all, a provider of vital services in our community. Is there a way you can use your services and expertise to support your corporate partners now? For example:
- Counseling Center: “Tips for dealing with anxiety”
- Faith-Based Agency: “Scriptures for Stress”
- Poverty-Relief Org: “We are here for you, too”
- Whoever You Are: “How can you we help your team?”
3. Explore funding collaborations
Large nonprofits can get large corporate gifts because they have a significant geographic or population reach, as well as a team that is sophisticated enough to manage a 6- or 7-figure gift. Compared to giving $25,000 to ten charities, giving $250,000 to a single agency can help a corporation to achieve its primary purpose – maximizing shareholder value by doing something big that gets the attention of customers. For small agencies with a limited reach, however, it can be frustrating because they are not perceived as being capable of making the same impact on their sponsors’ brands. Is there a way you can partner with several agencies that do similar work, perhaps in each major market across the state, to collectively approach a corporation for a larger gift to be divided equally among your organizations? Perhaps this could be done via a fiscal sponsor, like a community foundation (which can assemble and report results).
4. Turn Mission: Impossible into Mission: Virtual
Leverage this opportunity to catapult your mission into the modern era by bringing your services online and upgrading your in-person fundraising efforts to digital donor development. Going virtual will teach nonprofits to:
a) expand the reach of your mission to the entire globe, increasing the impact of your donors’ gifts;
b) reach donors online after the quarantine ends, and
c) develop more robust ways to recognize sponsors outside of events, improving the nonprofit’s ability to secure general/program sponsorships.
The big question on everyone’s minds right now is: What do we with our special event?!?
If you have an event coming up, consider the three P’s:
- POLL – Ask your sponsors what they think of turning your event into a virtual one. Give them some ideas about how you can possibly meet their sponsor benefits in a different way. Get their suggestions as well.
- PIVOT – Instead of canceling, consider implementing a virtual event, a collaborative marketing event or a non-event (stay home and give).
- POSTPONE – We recommend canceling as a last resort. Postpone your event to give yourself more time to plan if needed but consider how you might be able to pivot to an online format, so that you can raise as much money as possible toward your budgeted goal.
We suggest going virtual with your event. The longer the pandemic continues, the greater the financial impact on your organization and your donors. Many nonprofits have postponed their events to the fall. Already a major event season, it will now be packed with even more options during a time when donors may have giving fatigue and greater financial concerns due to the pandemic.
Again, don’t panic; focus on the positive aspects of a virtual event. You have the potential for an unlimited audience, and it is an easy opportunity for key stakeholders and VIPs to share. Virtual events can be cheaper and possibly provide a greater return. Consider ways to be creative, such as having an online auction or wine pull, or a private concert with a guest artist whom you might not have otherwise been able to afford for an in-person show. Can you ship goodie bags to guests that they might actually use – a COVID-19 survival kit that includes hand sanitizer with your sponsors’ logos on it?
If you choose to conduct a virtual event, one thing is certain: you need to plan ahead for potential issues. Record speeches ahead of time, practice and maintain a tight run of show and provide very clear instructions for guests to access all aspects of the event.
5. Ask your sponsors to help you solve problems
Above all, know that your sponsors want to help you. They still believe in your mission. Imagine how excited they might be if, instead of having to turn you down, they themselves could pivot and make an impact on your mission in a way that other corporations can’t?
If you treat your sponsors as your trusted advisors, you can explore ways to creatively solve your shared problem of how to navigate these challenging circumstances.
- Could they remove restrictions on their last gift so that you can use it for general operations?
- Could they shift from being an event sponsor to a program sponsor, potentially making a greater impact on your mission while also giving them a more unique branding opportunity?
- If they are not able to fund you this year, could they give you notice so that you can plan ahead?
- Could they introduce you to other funders who are doing better right now and who may be able to help fill the gap?
- In lieu of cash, could they give you access to their talent to help you with converting an in-person event to an online one?
Thanks to Tawnia and Jeremy for an action-packed piece on how to not only connect, but also strengthen your relationship with your corporate partners. We are all in this together, and they demonstrate the importance of a two-way relationship built on trust and reciprocity. If you have other ideas for how you are working collaboratively with corporations during COVID-19, please pass them along for the benefit of all our TrendSpotters.