First and Foremost
Many nonprofits and pre-nonprofits (projects) want to raise money from businesses and corporations, but forget a few important things that later get in their way:
- Your distaste will not serve you. If you are skeptical of capitalism or (like me) beyond skeptical and convinced it is a shell game, do not swallow your disgust and try to raise money with that stuck in your craw. It might work for a short time, but I would never help you do it and you will hate everything even more than you already do, with the addition of hating yourself. If you are fine with capitalism, no worries and keep reading. If you are not–there is another way. Keep reading.
- Notice that whenever you fundraise, you create a relationship. Relationships are the through-lines along which money flows. So please only create relationships you want. (Don’t pretend you aren’t creating a relationship. See #1.)
- You can give up capitalism without giving up money and the need for money. This is where I am at. I’m interested in alternative currencies and gift economies, but I am also right here working in the money fields. See where you are with money. If you need it but don’t want it, you have a problem. (Don’t pretend you don’t have a problem. See #1 and #2.) Resolve your problem (moneycoaching helps) in order to make enough peace within yourself and your organization/project/core group to allow you raise money (= ask for + receive + in gratitude) successfully.
- Decide whom you want to build relationships with in the business world and the corporate world. I’m using “business” to mean small, often locally-owned businesses. (You decide if a franchise is a locally-owned business. This is about how you feel, not me; I’m just here to help you discern how you actually feel.) I’m using “corporation” and “corporate” to mean large, nationally owned and often multinationally operating businesses.
- This means you need to know not only what you want, but who is out there and what they do that they advertise, and what they do that they don’t advertise. Are they proud of every aspect of their own operations? Find out! If they are local, you may already know most about them. If they are national, they may have a lot more money to give away.
- No one is willing to be taken for granted. If you set about building a relationship with a business, remember you are building a relationship with people you know or whom you are just a couple of degrees of separation away from knowing. They are people. Don’t take them for granted; how do you want to be related to?: care, patience, research. If you set about building a relationship with a corporation, they are still people: care, patience, research are still called for.
- What’s in it for them? Ask yourself. What do you offer them? Get very clear. And let them know what you offer them. Hint: a business will value relating to you more for its own sake; a corporation will want more because relating to you personally is only so important to them. They are thinking in bigger terms about their markets and the demographics (group characteristics) of the people who form their markets. They want to know how you will build their markets. Believe me, you can and you will if you relate to them; they will get a lot of mileage out of the giving they do to you. So be sure you want that relationship.
The Fine Detail
The example below shares more detail I gave our soul-colleague and client I mention at the top of this post. (No detail is given that identifies either the business or our client. That’s to protect both of them, but also to make it clear that this strategy works with anyone for anyone prepared to think deeply in this way about building relationships with businesses.)
- How far away from the relationship you want are you? Another way to ask this: How many degrees of separation are you? Do you know the owner? Someone who works there and thus works for the owner? (0 degrees is I know you; 1 degree is I know someone who knows you.)
- How can you close up the gap so you are building a relationship as directly as you can to the owner of the business?
- Most appropriate first contact is probably not by phone but email or letter. You want your mail opened, so spend some time on A and B.
- You want a larger gift, of course. You want a loyal gift that you don’t have to work so hard every time to raise. So think that this is a long-term relationship you are cultivating.
- Message of the letter: you’ve probably heard about [us–your project or organization]. We want to meet with you to tell you more about us and why it would be excellent for your business to support us. Think: how is it excellent for them to support us? Include this in the message. Put yourself in their place. See #7 above.
- Figure out what you want: money? an in-kind gift? of what? why? where does it fit into your budget? how does it help you? This is your ask during your meeting. All of it–how much you want, what for, how it builds your organization. Try not to ask until you get a chance to meet.
- When you meet, and after you’ve answered their questions and built a bond, ask for what you want, and be quiet. Let them think. If they say yes, great. Work out the details of how they want to give the money and when (this should work for your time-frame as well as theirs). If they say no, ask: what would it take for you to give what we ask? It’s ok to be that direct, businesses are comfortable with money. If they push you to accept an in-kind gift when you really need money, let them know you are happy to accept an in-kind gift later, but now you need the money for x reason. If you know a friend of theirs has given, let them know their friend company has given: they and their friend are connected. There’s already a relationship there. That helps them trust you. (Yes, they need to trust you, too.)
Seek a Brand Match
Next, my client and I clarified the brand of the business the nonprofit wants to build a relationship with. A way to think about this is to ask: what adjectives do we associate with this business?:
- Attention to detail
- Simple and beautiful.
We were struck that these adjectives also describe our client, the nonprofit. We could honestly say that giving to this nonprofit is good for this business: it is completely consistent with their brand in a specific way; association with the nonprofit is of value to you, the business person; we will publicize your gift to our donors. (If there is a brand match, chances are good your donors are their customers.) Notice we could be happy we were going to help them sell more of their stuff. If you cannot honestly say this, go back to #1.
- If you’re local, offer them a “factory tour” if you have a physical location.
- Let go of “should.” As in, they should give to you because they have a lot of money. No one owes us a gift, ever.
There is something edgy and wonderful and frankly crazy about nonprofits; they should be impossible to keep going,like hummingbirds who (according to physics) are too heavy to fly. But nonprofits do fly! Why? Because of persistent, inexplicable kindness and solidarity on the part of humans who are not directly involved in the work, as well as those who are.