We were sitting in a room discussing how to approach various businesses and corporations in the community.  The DOD and several MGOs were having quite a debate about the subject, with the prevailing argument being that we should lead with a compelling need the business would be interested in.
I was sitting there listening to the whole discussion and was agreeing that leading with need was a good idea, that having a contact who cared about the organization was a good idea, that having one of the organization’s executives present the case was smart, and that the overall direction of the discussion seemed to fit all we had learned over the years as relates major gifts and institutional fundraising.
In fact, in the discussion, we took a side trip on the topic of foundations and how important it was to find out some of their specific interests in order to tailor the proposal to them.  All pretty basic stuff – stuff you already know about.
Then it dawned on me that we had it all wrong – that the approach we were designing was missing two very important values that most businesses have.  And that if we kept going down the track we were on we would totally fail in our approach to most businesses and corporations we were targeting.
Let me explain.
When you step back and think about why a business exists, you likely come up with several points, as follows:

  1. A business exists to provide a needed service or product.  It is filling a need.  And when it does this well it sells a lot of products and services. When there is a mismatch between a need and the product or service attributes, then the sales do not occur and the business fails.
  2. A business exists to earn revenue for its owners/stakeholders.  There is definitely a profit motive in every good business.  But wise business owners know that the pursuit of profit is best done by meeting needs with a good product or service vs. just pursuing profit as an end in itself. In fact, when a business owner sets out to just pursue the money, the money itself tends to elude him.  Profit is a result of good business, not a sole objective.
  3. A business exists to contribute to the social good.  This means being a good citizen, providing meaningful employment, building up the community, creating economic and social health, etc.

I’m sure there are a lot of other reasons a business exists, but these three stood out in my mind as I was processing the points in the “how should we approach businesses” conversation.
And then I went to what I believe are the two primary values a business exhibits when they consider relating to a non-profit:

  1. They want to enhance their brand and reputation with their various publics.
  2. They want to be seen as contributing to the social good.

And these were the two values that were missing in our discussion on how to approach a business for funding.
I used to think that businesses should act like individuals when they give money.  Individuals are interested in doing good, therefore they give money to do so, and in the process get a tax write off and feel fulfilled by helping others.
The business transaction is a little different.
While Jeff and I believe that an institution has a personality, just as an individual does, there are these other motivational drivers operating as well.
If the institution can enhance its public image by aligning with a non-profit – if it can demonstrate to its customers and other valued publics that it has charitable/social good purpose and not just economic purpose – then it can be seen more favorably and kindly by its customers, and that helps business.  I mean, who doesn’t feel better about a company that has a heart – a real heart?
And if a business can be seen to actually care about – not just talk about – but actually care about the social well being of the community it is in and/or where it serves, and if it can be seen taking actual steps toward DOING social good by giving money, providing expertise, etc., then it stands to reason that a customer will feel better about them.  And all of this is good for business.
So, all of these thoughts were rolling around in my head and I shared them with the group.  And that’s when we set about designing a whole different approach.  Here is what we did:

  1. First, we changed our objective with the business from trying to get their money to trying to help them pursue their brand and social responsibility objectives.  This was a big shift and a bit counter-intuitive.  In fact, in the meeting there was some concern expressed that if we didn’t go for the money we wouldn’t get it.  Hmmm. This is logical and easy to understand.  But we persisted in keeping our focus on serving the business vs. serving ourselves.
  2. Then we designed  a program, including promotional material and a proposal, that did two things:  It offered practical help on how they could enhance their brand by working with us and it suggested a process they could go through to tailor a program that would implement a social responsibility program through our organization that would be exclusively theirs.  In essence, we turned ourselves into their corporate social responsibility department.

Now, all of this may seem complicated to you and, in some respects, it is.  There is a lot of detail on process and approach that I have not been able to cover in the limited space we have here.
But here is the point.
Jeff and I believe that the healthy and helpful understanding you should have about businesses and corporations as relates your fundraising agenda is one that seeks to help them achieve their objectives vs. getting their money.  If you think about it this way and then figure out how to approach those business targets on your list with a strategy that is consistent with this belief, you will be further ahead and more successful in your corporate and business fundraising.
Remember, businesses have personalities too.  In many ways they are just like individuals. But the differences I have outlined in this post must be addressed if you are to be successful in your fundraising with them.