Monday, 8 July 2013

Working with Corporates – learning on the job

Now I am a one man band, I’m responsible for all areas of fundraising – including the previously unknown area of corporates.

So I've been learning on the job and thought I’d share my thinking to date.

Work out why they’d want to work with you?

Companies tend to have a different agenda to your regular donors. Some donate philanthropically to fulfil their ‘corporate social responsibility’ but most are looking for membership benefits, the PR that goes with being associated with you or exposure to your donors/members.

This is ok, (unless of course they are a company of dubious moral standing – in which case steer well clear) and the outcome is the same  - your charity gets more money to do its excellent work – but it’s good to realise there is a difference.

If you’re offering brand association – be clear to understand why this would benefit them, and if you’re comfortable with this. Are you selling your brand ‘too cheaply’ for the positive press it will bring them?

Are the membership benefits you offer what companies are looking for? Do they want invites to events, or would they rather their logo was attached to your latest appeal? Ask them what they are looking to gain from working with you, and then tailor your proposal accordingly.

It’s ok to say no

A brand wants to work with you and you feel it compromises your charity? (see above about moral standing and steering well clear.) It is absolutely fine to say you don’t want to enter into a partnership with them. In fact, it’s your duty as a brand ambassador for your charity.

Likewise, if you’re working with a company and they’re asking for benefits or access that your gut tells you isn’t right – say no. Although this is different from an organisation that has never worked with corporates before and is finding the whole thing a bit too ‘commercial.’ Feel confident to know the difference.

Get it in writing

If you are a small organisation you probably don’t have contracts in place for working with companies. If you think this will become a bigger area of work for you, it’s worth investing in getting these drawn up.

If not, or in the meantime, simply writing up everything you have agreed and sending a signed printed copy to them in the post is a good starting point. Check they have received it and are happy that this is what you have agreed. This gives you a document to refer to if any questions do arise in the future.

Do the maths

What is it costing you to work with corporate partners? And by this I mean – is it worth it?

So, let’s say you decide to offer a Corporate Membership Scheme. It will cost companies 1k a year to be a member and for this they get benefits x y and z.

What is the cost of x y and z and crucially – what is it costing you in time to deliver these benefits? If the total cost of delivery is £850 – then in actual terms you are only receiving £150 of support. You either need to increase the cost of your membership package, or reduce the benefits. Make sure partnerships have value for both parties.

Research goes a long way

If you’re trying to engage a company then do a little research about them first. As an example – you’re a museum trying to engage a lifestyle brand as a sponsor. You think your adult visitors are the exact match for the brand and the sponsorship will raise awareness among their key demographic. You pitch to the company and they say that they’re sorry but they've changed the demographic they’re targeting to young people for the coming 24 months.

A bit of research might have highlighted this change in strategy and you could have changed your approach.

Get online and see if they've released any press statements or an annual report in the recent months. It could help enormously in getting them to say yes.


So there we go. That's what I've learnt over the past few months. I'd love to hear your ideas for working with companies. Comment below if you've got a top tip.




  1. Nice post Rachel. I agree that if they want the sun, moon and stars it's okay for you to say, "no", not unless you're giving us the equivalent. It's a value-for-value exchange, after all. The other thing I'd add is this:

    Remember that corporations are people too. You're dealing with people. Cultivate them and steward them just as you would your individual donors. You've got to build the relationship. Once they like you, you're in!

  2. Very good advice Rachel - and Claire! I think it's also worth of thinking of companies as more than the sum of their parts. Companies are potential corporate donors but they are also a source of community fundraisers, volunteers, payroll giving, people to market - an army of allies in other words. Which comes back to Claire's point - it's all about the people :-)

  3. thanks for your thoughts guys

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  5. The best advice for anyone considering a corporate partnership is to learn how to see, hear and feel the world from the other side of the corporate's desk. What is it that the company executive is paid to achieve and what have you got to offer that will help her achieve it?

    The next best advice is know its value and don't under price it!

  6. Good advice in any situation John!