Organizations are either for-profit or not-for-profit; it’s hard to be both. That leaves most organizations with a dilemma – NGOs are usually short of cash (unless they are big and well-known or sit on an endowment). Companies, meanwhile, are expected not only to make money, but also to be responsible corporate citizens. There are lots of synergies here. Yet there are surprisingly few successful partnerships between NGOs and corporations.
I know this because for over a decade I worked for the Centre for European Reform, an independent think tank that takes no government money. During that time, I have made every conceivable fundraising mistake. Here are my lessons.
1. Speak in the company’s interest
If you work for a charity or other NGO, you are rightly proud of what you do. When you have finally managed to get an appointment with an executive or corporate affairs manager of a big company, you will spend most of your allotted hour telling them how your organization is changing the world. However, your counterpart is not paid to change the world. It’s their job to further the interests of the company. Therefore, do your homework about the company, its sector and its strategy. Use your first meeting to ask further questions about the company’s strategy and needs. Then spend 10 minutes at the end telling your counterpart exactly how your organization can help achieve its objective. Then ask for another meeting soon.
2. Know your targets
Smaller NGOs do not usually have dedicated fundraisers, which means they often waste time looking for cash in the wrong places. Talk to other NGOs in your country and area of work (the Forum is a great place to meet your peers) to share experience. For example, in the US you can raise money from rich individuals, but in Europe that is much harder. Corporate affairs budgets (where charity donations often come from) differ across sectors and companies. An oil company will have more money for CSR than a chain of supermarkets. Be clear about your targets and the compromises you are prepared to make.
3. Do not take no for an answer
Large corporations are complex. You cannot know what your counterpart’s incentives and constraints are at any given point in time. They might not have a budget for your charity right now, but they might have one six months later. You might have to find another person in the same company who has better access to resources. The company’s NGO policy might change. So if you do not succeed the first time round, stay in touch and ask again a year later.
4. Make your board work
NGO boards are full of great and often underutilized people. Don’t ask your board members to “help” with fundraising. Give them clear tasks and deadlines. For example, tell each board member to find two potential target companies over the next years or to introduce you to two useful contacts. Keep book and follow up.
5. Be creative
Companies that write cheques want something in return, even if that something does not contribute directly to their bottom line. Help the company, its executives and employees feel good about their donations. But do not inundate them with e-mails. Invite your key funders to clubby dinners where they can meet other executives who do good. Enable employees to “adopt” specific projects that you are implementing.
6. Build networks within the company
You will usually have one key supporter within the company. Try to meet as many people in the company as possible. That will not only help your main contact to make the case for you, but it will also protect your funding if your key contact moves on.
Author: Katinka Barysch was Deputy Director of the Centre for European Reform in London until July 2013. She is now Director of Political Relations at Allianz SE. She is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
The views expressed here are her own.
Image: Piggy banks filled with money are piled up in Seoul REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak.