7 Keys to a Successful Major Gift Program – Key #6: Treat Corporations and Foundations Just Like Individuals
“Corporations, businesses, and foundations are an entirely different animal.”
The Development Director said this with solid conviction and no room for discussion. There was no way I was going to convince him of a different point of view. I had tried to make the point that corporations, businesses, foundations, and other organizations (places of worship, other NGOs, service orgs, etc.) were really no different than an individual major donor. But he wouldn’t hear it.
So let me give you my case for this point of view and convince you why Key #6 of the ideal major gift organization must be a significant effort to these important segments of the upper end of your active donor file. And why Treating Corporations and Foundations Just Like Individuals is the right thing to do.
Many major gift people look at organizations (my catch-all word for corporations, businesses, foundations, and other orgs) as these mysterious, impenetrable, impersonal structures that are difficult to talk to and deal with.
I’ve always looked at them as people, pure and simple – just people. Think about it. An organization is nothing more than a group of individuals. It has a personality, a set of values, and a way of doing things – just like a person.
We tend to focus on the grant-making rules of an organization, rather than focusing on the fact that behind those rules and processes are a group of individuals that have blood running through their veins. They have feelings in their hearts, and thoughts and values in their heads – just like every one of the major donors on your caseload.
Let’s look at this more closely:

  • A corporation has a set of values, other than profit, that drive its need to give some of its money away. There’s a growing trend among progressive businesses to be more socially responsible. Leaders realize there’s a connection between their charitable interests and activities and their reputation and profit. Bottom line: a set of values drives charitable giving – just like an individual!
  • A foundation was founded by either an individual or a business to fund a set of interests and passions – just like an individual.
  • An organization, whether it’s a place of worship, a social club, another non-profit, etc. was organized to pursue a set of interests and values – just like an individual.
  • A set of organizations should be on a caseload and managed by a MGO using the same metrics, moves management approaches, performance reporting, etc. as the MGO managing a caseload of individuals.

Jeff and I have been saying, repeatedly, that an effective major gift program starts with the MGO identifying, then serving the passions and interests of an individual. It’s no different from an organization!
The ONLY thing that is different is the process of securing the funds. Everything else is the same – including reporting requirements.
On this point of reporting requirements, it’s so interesting to me that non-profit fundraisers will agree that they need to report back to organizational funders with discipline, accuracy, and timeliness. But those same people will not set up reporting-back systems for individual donors, thinking they don’t need to. And then they wonder why thousands of donors go away, and millions of dollars are lost each year!
So the key thing with an organization is to find out what those passions and interests are – and then figure out how to serve them. (Note that there may be a different set of passions and interests for various divisions, departments, or offices of the organization.)
Here are the steps you should take to develop or improve this area of your major gift program:

  1. First, make sure that organizational fundraisers are part of the major gift team. They should not be isolated from the individual MGOs or managed by a different department. They should be an integral part of the major gift team.
  2. Get rid of the notion that you have to get stuffy and intellectual when you talk to organization representatives. They will indeed require more process, proof of outcomes, budgets, stats, and other numbers and facts. But don’t get away from the fact that you, through your organization, are changing lives and/or the environment – and that’s the most important thing the two of you can be doing together. This also means that your communication, in addition to the business and process content requirement, should have emotional content as well. The point here is that you need to find that common ground of shared values, passions, and interests and then talk about those shared interests, passions, and values using stories of changed lives to make your point.
  3. Find and connect to the decision-maker in the organization. This may require matching up your CEO or program head with that person.
  4. Discover the match between your program objectives and the organization’s interests and values. You really can’t move forward without this critical information. The essential question to answer is this: what objective is the organization trying to achieve through their charitable giving?
  5. Prepare a proposal that shows how their interests and values match your program objectives and be sure to meet the proposal, documentation, and due diligence requirements they have.
  6. Be sure to include how lives (or the environment) will be changed because of their giving and how their objectives will be met.

While fundraising from organizations can be complicated, the process boils down to these simple points. Follow them together with the requirements of the funding organization, and you’ll be successful IF you can show the match of values and the achievement of their objectives.
And remember this – there are plenty of funds to be had from this important source. One client of ours raises over $10 million a year through the efforts of two MGOs dealing with a relatively short list of organizations! These folks have figured out the code, which I’m revealing here.
You can secure funds from organizations. Commit to manage and relate to all the organizations on your file the same way you’ve organized yourself to deal with your major donors. (Tweet it!)
And don’t forget that an organization has a heart and face. Look for it!
Read the whole series, 7 Keys to a Successful Major Gift Program:

Key #1: Attributes of the Ideal Major Gift Organization
Key #2: Make Sure You Have the Facts!
Key #3: Do You Have the Right Moves?
Key #4: Develop Offers that Donors Want
Key #5: Turn Planned Giving into Strategic Giving
Key #6: Treat Corporations and Foundations Just Like Individuals (This post)
Key #7: What You Get Done Matters!