Corporations Are People, Too

People give to people, even when you’re raising money from a corporation. “Corporations are made up of individuals; individuals work at corporations. It’s a circle,” said Gregory Boroff, executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park, based in New York City. “You need to say, ‘What are the things we can do together?’ They’re trying to show the people who work for them and the people who buy their goods and services that they’re good stewards of their communities.”

Boroff and fellow corporate philanthropy veterans spoke to attendees of Fundraising Day in New York, sponsored by the New York City chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals at a panel called, “Which Way Do I Go? Navigating the Labyrinth of Corporate Philanthropy.”

The first step is targeting a potential corporate partner. Debbie Kellogg, Vice President for external relations at Re:Gender, based in New York City, suggested looking to the competition. Kellogg used to work for Dress For Success, a nonprofit focused on getting women back in the workforce. Her targets were corporations with female customers.

“What other organizations are targeting women to support them? Breast cancer organizations,” said Kellogg. “That’s an expensive niche. Dress for Success was more affordable.” Women’s apparel brand Playtex was a big supporter of breast cancer, so Kellogg was able to secure a partnership with a boutique French brand that wanted a foothold in the U.S.

When you’re heading to a meeting with a potential corporate funder, you need to know your audience. “It’s always a peer to peer situation,” said fundraising consultant Jonathan Sandville. “You might not want to bring your CEO if you’re talking to corporate foundation staff. CEOs like to talk to other CEOs. Foundation officers will want to hear about your programs.”

Weigh what materials to bring to a meeting carefully. Kellogg said she always brings a PowerPoint presentation, which she leaves behind rather than opens up in the meeting. “The worst thing you can do is bring materials bent at the edges, materials with typos, materials with stains on them,” said Boroff. “Whatever you bring, it represents you and your organization. (Corporations) have to feel like they can trust you with their money.”

Following up after a meeting is an art. “First, thank whomever you met with,” said Sandville. “It’s also helpful to follow up with some basic materials to remind them of what you have to offer.” Kellogg said never to leave the meeting without knowing your next step. “How soon is too soon? It depends on the meeting,” said Boroff. “If there person said all their money is gone and they make decisions in October, make sure you have a note in your donor management system to follow up then.”

Even if the corporation says, “Not right now,” continue to engage it. Make sure they’re getting newsletters, event invitations and articles about your organization to keep yourself top-of-mind. “Until they say it’s not going to happen, we still try to engage,” said Boroff. “No is never no until it’s actually no.”