An insider's guide to funding afterschool: The business of corporate fundraising

by Ed Spitzberg

Thanks for tuning in to our blog series, “An insider’s guide to funding afterschool.”  This series has been popular, and I want to make sure we’re answering questions you have.  To that end, if you have questions you want answered, send ‘em my way at espitzberg@afterschoolalliance.org.  I’ll pick some of them to answer in a blog later this year.

So now that you’ve connected your prospects to your mission, leveraged your resources, and done your prospect research, it’s time to break down the types of funders you may have and start looking at how best to convert them to donors.

In general, there are two categories of donors: individual donors (private individuals, whether giving $5 online or $5 million to endow a new building) and institutional donors (government, foundation and corporate donors).  Today we’re going to delve into corporate fundraising.

Corporations, like other types of donors, give out of philanthropic desire to improve their community, their region and the world. But unlike other types of donors, corporations also have an additional, very important motivation: serving their business interests. Therefore, as a fundraiser, it’s vital to always think like a business and understand their business interests when talking to corporations.*

While there are many different ways that corporations support afterschool programs (and more ways than I can cover in one blog entry, as corporate social responsibility is a complex and evolving area), we’ll focus on two main ways corporations can become partners.

Corporate marketing vs corporate foundations

Most corporations have part of their budget set aside for marketing, and that marketing can take the shape of advancing your organization if you are giving the corporation a way to reach a larger or newer (or larger and newer) audience. To tap into this corporate marketing budget, you must not only develop relationships with the marketing staff, but you also must develop a specific idea and have a very good understanding of what you have to offer as a nonprofit:  access to your students, access to your families, access into the community, alignment with your wonderful work and brand… You need to understand all that—with numbers—so that you can make sure they understand it, too. So whether you want to partner with the local dry cleaner or a national grocery store chain, know your offerings, your reach and your impact.

Corporate foundations, on the other hand, while also focusing on the parent company’s business needs, often take a more high-level view of their mission.  While often less concerned with eyeballs (though not necessarily unconcerned), they may care more about addressing broader societal challenges that also impact their work and future—e.g. filling their employment pipeline with a skilled workforce, or encouraging healthy eating for a manufacturer of healthy snacks.  As with other private foundations, know their guidelines in advance to make sure your organization or your project fits. Also make sure to understand the business needs that are driving their priorities, so that you can communicate how your project strategically and effectively fits their goals.

We’ll talk more about crafting foundation proposals and cultivating individual relationships later in this series, so stay tuned – both skills are important for corporate fundraising as well. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the following tips.

A cheat sheet for cultivating corporate donors

  • Research them so you know their business priorities, the right people to talk to, and what connects these people and the business to your mission.
  • Before reaching out, understand how the corporation works. Do they have a corporate foundation? Do they support nonprofits through marketing? Both?  Understand what they do, and which side (or sides) of the fence you are talking to when you set up a call.
  • Know what you bring—what your reach is (social media, print, conferences, etc.), what your brand is, and what you have to offer the corporation.
  • Develop a pitch that brings everything together—their business needs with what you can bring.

Secret bonus tip: sometimes you don’t have to choose between the marketing and corporate foundation budgets, since they are often run by different wings in the company, occasionally you can double dip!**

Remember, you are doing a lot for the corporation’s community—for their employees that live there, for the kids that will be their workforce, and for the safety, health and happiness of the residents.  Corporations know that being good for the community is good for business, too.

* Don’t take “talking to corporations” literally  You are talking to people at corporations.  So relationships nurtured through cultivation and stewardship, are just as important for corporations as they are for individuals.  We’ll talk more about developing and managing personal relationships in a later blog post

** Oops, now that I’ve put that in this blog, I guess it’s just a “bonus tip,” and no longer a “secret bonus tip.” Oh well—anything to help afterschool programs gain security through fundraising success!



© 2013 Afterschool Alliance