Understanding how corporations give
Corporate sponsorships are financial contributions from companies. Medium to large-size companies often have a budget for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to give back to the communities where they work. CSR practices vary, ranging from a simple process that matches employee donations, to large philanthropic arms that accept formal applications for funds based on predetermined priorities and criteria, and with whom outreach will resemble what you do for foundation fundraising. Corporations like to see something of value, so fundraising with corporate donors should focus on demonstrating your added value to their work.
Finding a corporate connection
Mining your network
The common wisdom among nonprofits is that cold-calling companies is rarely successful. For success with corporations, nonprofits traditionally mine the relationships their employees already have.
This does not mean you need to be directly connected with a company or a senior corporate employee. Think creatively: Do you know someone who has a friend or relative working at a company? Would he be willing to introduce you to their CSR department? Do your supporters know someone, or know someone who knows someone? If you have connected with a corporation in the past, even briefly, consider whether it would be possible to ask them for an introduction. For example, have you ever had a student job at a company? Is your uncle a frequent flyer on a specific airline? Look at your LinkedIn network. Is there anyone relevant who is a friend of a friend? Can the friend make an introduction?
Consider your natural allies
Given the nature of Asylum Access’s work, it has found law firms to be its natural allies. They share common beliefs in appreciating the value of legal aid. With many lawyers among Asylum Access staff and volunteers, the collective network of friends also includes many connections to law firms. Peers from law school are often willing to champion Asylum Access to their firms, or to connect its staff with pro bono departments that make annual donations. This helps you start a relationship that could grow over time.
(Note: In the US, medium to large law firms often make donations to nonprofits they have provided pro bono assistance to. This may be different in your country).
Consider how a non-financial contribution could provide resources
While money to pay the office rent and utilities might be most valuable, consider how other resources might help with your core needs. For example, would a law firm be willing to offer 20 hours of a staff immigration lawyer’s time per week, while covering their wages? Would a company be willing to offer donated office space a few days a week to host client consultations?
Engaging a corporation
A few best practices:
• Come prepared. Understand their priorities and how your work is relevant. Have an idea of what’s realistic to ask for, and be clear about the impact of those funds. For example, “$1,000 would enable us to rent an office for six months, and see an estimated 50 clients”.
• Your goal in a first meeting is to get the other person excited about your work. A request for donations at the end will be easier once you have accomplished this. Even if they are unable to donate, they will remember you and might help in other ways: ask if they know of individuals or companies willing to donate, or if they would be willing to host a fundraising event at their office. A company’s staff might make individual donations, even if the company can’t commit funds. Think about how you can build a long-term partnership. This is similar to working with foundations, where you may not secure a donation immediately.
•Excite a corporation with a narrative. Where does the story begin? Not at your office, but with the system or with a marginalized refugee population. What can you accomplish with the funds you’re asking for? Show them in concrete terms the difference they can make by investing in you. They want to feel that they are a part of something good, no matter how small the donation. What recognition or reward might they receive? Remember that not every corporation or corporate decision maker cares about the same things. Where possible, leave them with something to ponder over, such as a brochure or a simple sheet from your printer about your work and a client story.
• Listen to their thoughts and concerns, and respond to them. Corporations have official priorities, but decisions are often made by individuals with specific interests of their own. Do they work on human rights issues, but care more about children? Are they having trouble seeing the connection between your work and their priorities? If you lack the information you need, send a follow-up email later. Be prepared, but be flexible with what you highlight in the conversation.
• Show gratitude and keep them feeling involved in your work through updates and meetings to help them feel a part of something important.