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8 Ways Nonprofits Can Get Started Finding Corporate Donors

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Do you feel like companies are always overlooking your worthwhile nonprofit? Does it seem like the ‘big guys’ and those ‘easy’ causes get all the good sponsors? Don’t know where to start?

One of the first exercises I’ll do when I sit down with a small/medium charity is to work meticulously through their network to identify corporate prospects. This research is a big task, and a good bit of work before we even consider a proposal! But it’s so important: who you’re asking can be more important than what you’re asking for.

Rather than spending valuable time ‘cold calling’ businesses for support, you will want to start building your list of potential corporate partners and approaching those most likely to respond favorably to you. The more relevant and connected to your organization they are, the greater the likelihood that they will consider a proposal.

Begin by working through your organizations network to identify potential contacts. The rough order I like to work through them, from hot to cold, are:

1. Personal Connections

You might feel you have already exhausted the goodwill of friends and family, but speaking to them about how their employer might help (at no cost to your contact) can be a much easier ask. Consider where your contacts work and explore if they would be willing to introduce you to the decision maker. Likewise, continually aim to build your own personal network through relevant events and online groups so that you might approach these connections later.

2. Staff & Board Member Connections

Repeat the exercise with your Board Members and appropriate staff members. Again, this is an opportunity for them to help without necessarily making any financial contribution themselves. Many companies have CSR policies and host fundraising events and happily welcome suggestions from their own staff.

3. Mailing List Subscribers & Social Media Followers

If you have a mailing list or social media accounts consider asking for corporate partner suggestions directly. Some of your subscribers may use their work e-mail addresses or identify their employer on their social media. This can help determine which of your supporters is worth contacting with a more tailored and specific suggestion.

4. Service Users

Where appropriate, your service users can be some of your most loyal and generous supporters. By explaining to them that you are looking for corporate supporters you will find some individuals who are more than willing to take action for you. Sure, if you’re dealing with vulnerable people this might not work. But don’t patronise them but assuming they don’t want to help. An introduction is a free way to help. On the other hand, if you’re rehoming puppies then the families who have used your services are fantastic people to talk to.

5. Suppliers/Vendors

Consider if it is appropriate to contact any company that has supplied you with goods or services in the past several years. They know you…they trust you…they’ve made money off you. One of the corporate partners I brought on-board in one charity started with me chatting to our photocopier repair guy.

6. Relevant Areas of Work

While our approaches are now beginning to get colder, it is still worth remembering that a company who works in a relevant space to your cause is much more likely to support you than one that is irrelevant. Consider which companies’ customers would overlap with your own service users.

7. Supporters of Similar Charities

Look at the annual reports and press releases of similar charities to your own, as they will often detail which companies have supported them. You are not looking to ‘poach’, but many companies will change which charity they support annually or may be willing to offer additional support.

8. Local Businesses

Look for businesses in your building, on your street and in surrounding areas who may well want to support a local charity. Find these using online tools such as Google Maps or local directories.

The more of the above boxes a company ticks, the more likely you’re going to get a meeting and get support. Think of it like a scorecard. I’d rather spend my time approaching a small, local company with a staff member in my network, than the world’s biggest company cold.

Remember, the companies that are going to agree to support you might not be the ones that first come to mind. The companies you often see in the news are not necessarily the most generous, but might be the loudest and best at marketing.

Instead, look for organizations that are most connected to you in as many of the above areas as possible. If you have never heard of the company before, even better – it means they are probably never approached by other nonprofits.

What other sources have led to new corporate donors for your organization? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Simon Scriver

    Absolutely Richard! Chambers of Commerce,, business network meetings...lots of free opportunities to continually build our networks and meet people who are looking for ways to market their own organisation (which we can help with!). I've found great successes networking at my Toastmasters meetings.
  • Richard Freedlund

    Simon, you gave some good advice, but I would like to offer another. Check with local chambers of commerce and see if they have a weekly or monthly networking event. Most chambers do have events, and they are good opportunities for starting the relationships you wish to create. Ask questions of the other attendees, listen carefully, and don't oversell your organization on the first meeting. Relationships take time to develop, but if done correctly, you can build lasting partnerships in the long run.
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