Example 1: The importance of developing relationships
Don Murray is founder, president and CEO of a small agency, only 18 months old, which is in the pre-construction phase of building a 20-acre campus for the care and treatment of abused and neglected children. Don is the only full-time paid employee, and is assisted by his wife and a half-time administrative assistant. In the last year, Don has developed relationships with corporate givers very successfully: donations include furniture, copiers, postage and other supplies, as well as several donations in the six-figure range, and is in the final stages of negotiating a gift of 20 acres of land worth nearly a half million dollars. He is clearly well qualified to contribute to our discussion of corporate giving!
The key to getting a piece of the corporate giving pie is in developing relationships. Although many major and some smaller corporations have adopted policies to "give" so many dollars back to their communities, the hard part is to be on the receiving end of this policy. How do we maximize our opportunities to develop relationships which will increase the number of corporate gifts we receive?
Knowing that corporate America maintains vast resources of man-hours, office equipment, supplies, management expertise, and hard cash, it seems logical to come up with a plan to encourage the transfer of this "stuff" to nonprofit organizations... it feels a lot like Robin Hood, but his tactics probably won't work!
Generosity is a funny thing. In addition to a "warm fuzzy", most people feel better about giving when they get something in return. Public TV uses that idea when they give away premiums with pledged contributions, and it works. What kind of "premium" does corporate America want? Well, the obvious answer is... money! Corporate America wants money, and how do they get it? They conduct more business, engage more clients, sell more widgets, etc. So, if our organizations can assist business in their quest for money, we place ourselves in a good position among other nonprofits looking for donations. How do we scratch corporate backs so they're willing to scratch ours?
My organization developed a Professional Business Networking Group. Each month, 125-140 mid- and top-level business owners and executives meet at a local upscale restaurant at a function which we host. (The first one hosted 30 people.) They pay about $15-20 at the door, and spend two hours "networking" and relaxing. This forum permits me to meet those executives and managers who may be able to support us in some way. I attend each function, along with our volunteer "ambassadors" and board members; we work the crowd, finding out about each person's business. New members fill out our applications, which tell me about their business and how to contact them, as well as personal interests (golf, tennis, etc.).
I typically meet from thirty to fifty new execs at each monthly meeting. Regular members get in for free by bringing two guests with them. Incidentally, this function costs our organization NOTHING... the restaurant is thrilled to host this function for us. They provide two free beverages for each guest as well as a heavy munchie buffet. After the two drinks are consumed, guests dip freely into pockets, and it isn't unusual for the restaurant to pick up eight to ten dinner tables after our functions, which are held on Tuesday or Wednesday, traditionally slow nights for restaurants anyway.
It is important to remember that the point of this function is for the guests to conduct their business networking in a relaxed atmosphere; unless pressed, I do not spend much time talking about our organization. I have info to contact these people later, and assuredly will do so. But, I try to find out as much as possible about their businesses, and try to connect them with people there whom they might wish to meet. For example, I may introduce a corporate CEO or CFO who may be bored in their current position to the President of an executive search firm; or introduce a land developer to a general contractor. You get the point.
This is not the time to pitch your charity, but for your guests to see you as a friendly business associate who is interested in their business and their success. This is crucial... if they see this meeting as a time when they're going to be dunned for money for your charity, they won't come. If they come and make some great contacts for their business, they'll return and bring friends next month.