What can corporate partnerships professionals learn from major donor fundraising?

We know real, human relationships are at the heart of successful fundraising, particularly when it comes to high-net-worth individuals gifting large amounts. And we know that companies and charities are more than just organisations – they are a collection of people.

Yet often we categorise someone in technical terms as a major donor relationship, or as a corporate partnership, sometimes before we’ve even met the person. In reality there is a significant crossover/link and people can’t always be pigeon-holed. Most major donors have after all made their wealth through business, and when we initially speak to a company leader we often don’t know whether they’ll become more involved and support our charity  in a personal capacity or through their company.

COVID-19 has thrown considerable professional hurdles at fundraisers and partnerships professionals (never mind the personal ones!) These include not being able to hold face to face events which might attract new major donor supporters, and the challenge of securing meetings with companies when they might be in survival mode.So it’s vitally important that corporate and major donor approaches are joined up. When they are you will raise more large gifts, and create more ambitious partnerships.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary approach! Some charities are joined up and see the benefits. But in others divisions are strong between corporate partnerships and major donor fundraising,  embedded historically in the fundraising team structure or in the charity’s culture.

Surely now is the time to start doing things differently!

Does it matter which budget line it’s coded to?

A CEO I was coaching submitted a £600k proposal to a City firm during the first wave of Coronavirus. He was introduced to the company founder through a long-standing major donor. At the first (virtual) meeting with the company founder, it turned out he knew about the charity’s services for rough sleepers in the City and really wanted to help them do more through their company.

 I found myself thinking of the discussions this would provoke at some charities:
Whose ‘target’ should this donation go towards?
When the money comes in how should it be coded?

Will there be soft-crediting?
Should the company founder be managed as a ‘corporate partnership’ or as a ‘major donor.’?

One way to avoid this and focus on the person, the supporter, is to have a joint corporate and major donor target. If objections come up because “we’ve always done it like that” or “the trustees like to see the separate return on investment of each fundraising team” let’s remind everyone that this is 2020!  Get together with your colleagues and remind leadership why this is important. List the benefits of having that joint target and build a culture where you’re led by relationships not by an income line. (There are just too many benefits for fundraisers and supporters to list here – but the main one is it unites you around the opportunities for your charity with the external contacts you meet, regardless of whether those opportunities end up with a personal major gift or a corporate partnership.  

Are you really listening?

A Director of Fundraising and I were convinced that a venture capitalist would give a large financial gift. He had a close, personal connection to the cause through his father, he was time poor, very wealthy and had shown a real desire to do more at a recent event. We’d developed the relationship to a point where we were planning on asking in a face to face meeting.

Did he give a large gift?

Well no, not then. Were we disappointed?

No. Because instead he offered to introduce us to the Chairs of some key FTSE 100 companies that were a priority for the charity. In our meeting it transpired he had high-level contacts at nearly all of the FTSE 100. I’d argue that this was just as valuable – if not more valuable in the long run – than a financial gift.  We listened to how he wanted to be involved, and saw the value in his offer for the whole charity, not just viewing it through a major donor lens.

And he did then go on later that year to make a five figure personal donation (through his company! Another example of how intertwined things can be!). I’m fairly sure if we hadn’t listened to him and had asked for a personal gift at that meeting regardless, he not only wouldn’t have given, but he would have been more reluctant to make the introductions he was so keen to focus on.  

If we keep an open mind between corporate partnerships and major donor fundraising, and focus on people we will build better partnerships, and raise more money for our charities to make an incredible difference.  And surely that’s what matters most.

Louise Morris is Founder of Summit Fundraising. She’s a major donor fundraising specialist who’s worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts and is an ex-corporate fundraiser. You can join the Summit Fortnightly Newsletter here, to get free hits, tips and training to help you raise more large gifts with confidence.
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