When it comes to getting donations for your nonprofit, there’s a big difference between asking individuals and asking corporations. With corporations, you can’t just sit down to a few lunches, form an amicable relationship, and ask for funding over coffee.
During my years working in nonprofits as a communications director, my role included writing donation request letters, overseeing social media, writing grants, and creating feel-good events that provided the executive team an opportunity to strengthen relationships. If you’re in the nonprofit industry, you probably know what it’s like to work so many jobs at once.
While the development director would spend months cultivating individual donors, I would bring in millions in grants and corporate donations. How? The process is more clear-cut than you may think, but you must be strategic to successfully obtain donations from companies. Here are the steps to follow.
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1. Know why you’re asking for funding
You need money to run your organization. But that’s not going to convince a corporation to donate. Before you approach companies, you need to gather the information they’re likely going to ask anyway. Including:
- Your nonprofit’s mission statement
- Studies and statistics that demonstrate the need for your programs
- Demographics of who you serve
- Quantifiable measurements that show your impact on the community
- Signed collaborative agreements with other nonprofits to demonstrate support
- Detailed descriptions of specific programs or campaigns that need funding
- Financial statements showing less than 10% of funding goes towards administrative work
- A list of all board members with their corporate connections
Notice that this list doesn’t include success stories that tug at donors’ heartstrings. While emotions can sometimes play a role in corporate executives’ grant review process, you should save these tales for when you meet with individuals.
Corporate giving programs may be couched in language about caring for the community, but it’s a calculated process designed to facilitate a company’s marketing plan. You must present exactly what they request, and nothing more, to be successful.
2. Do your research
Once you’re prepared with the information most corporations request during the grant process, it’s time to search for companies interested in providing donations to nonprofits like yours.
Start at the public library
Many libraries offer free databases of thousands of corporations and foundations with specific causes. You can search by area of interest related to your cause.
Look to your community
If your community is home to any corporate headquarters, go on their website and search for community support programs. Most corporations with grants or other volunteer opportunities fully explain their specific process online, often with a link to the forms they use. Every company is different.
If it seems like the corporate giving focus could support your mission, check in with your fellow executives and board members to see if there is a personal connection you can utilize to strengthen your position in front of grant reviewers.
Here’s an important tip: Don’t waste your time with corporate giving programs that don’t have an obvious connection with your mission. If there isn’t a direct link between the work you do and the goals of the company, it’s doubtful you’ll succeed.
3. Look up the contact person
For many large corporations with formalized grant programs, finding a human behind the online forms isn’t as easy as it seems. Put in the extra effort. This may require cold-calling the company and asking for the person responsible for corporate social responsibility programs.
While this may seem like an unnecessary step, it isn’t. You know that relationships play an important role in receiving donations from individuals. Remember, decisions about corporate grants are ultimately made by individuals.
Once you’ve found your point of contact, look over the grant opportunities and ask them specific questions about how you can be more competitive. Invite them to visit your agency. And find out what they expect in return for their support.
4. Understand the different types of corporate giving programs
Corporate giving isn’t as straightforward as individual, private donations. Companies often have various programs that support the community in different ways.
Corporate grants usually have a deadline once per year or once per quarter. To apply, you’ll need to complete a specific form and submit the required paperwork. Sometimes these forms are online-only, so be careful! You can’t always save your work, so it’s best to complete your answers in word processing software first, then paste them into the application.
Some corporations prefer to provide free products as a donation. For example, I applied successfully for a new computer lab in a rural community. The company representatives arrived with a technician to install eight new computers, which we announced with a press conference with state legislators in attendance for added attention.
Sometimes, you’ll have to show additional community support to receive funding from a corporate sponsor. This is an opportunity for you to fundraise through social media and other online marketing and outreach forms. People will be more likely to donate if they know their donations will have double the impact.
Employee volunteer grants
Another type of corporate giving program is one based on human resources rather than money. Employees can apply on behalf of nonprofits for a day of volunteerism. In these cases, the employee-volunteers are paid for their time, as if they worked a normal workday.
Consider these programs when you need to do a project that requires a lot of help, like building a playground, painting a building, or planting a community garden.
5. Prepare yourself for the ask
If the corporate giving program you’re approaching is funneled through a grant application, asking for a donation is simply a matter of submitting the necessary paperwork. However, you may need to prepare yourself for a more formal, in-person ask. That’s why it’s so important to find the right contact person.
Tips for a successful ask include:
- Know the process. Do they want a one-page letter, or are they open to an in-person meeting?
- Have a compelling reason why they should choose you. Have statistics that demonstrate your impact.
- Think about what’s in it for them. Be prepared to offer their logo on a banner, references in your annual report, press releases announcing your partnership, or other incentives.
6. Cultivate relationships
Once you’ve made the ask, it’s the same as a job interview — you need to follow up. Plan on making a phone call, sending an email, or writing a letter to reiterate the critical points of your request. Thank them for their time and consideration, and invite them again to visit your facility and meet your programs’ recipients.
Even if you’re not successful the first time, corporate giving programs can serve as an entry point to cultivate a stronger relationship with a company. Invite them to be part of future events, even if it’s a virtual fundraising effort. This may result in even bigger gifts and better partnerships for your organization in the future.