Charities must target the right donors


November 09, 1992|By LESTER A. PICKER

This is the first of three columns about corporate philanthropy.

Listening to John Schisler talk, one immediately senses the value of experience. Recently retired from Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. after 37 years, 23 of them heading up its corporate giving programs, Schisler agreed to give a straight-talking, half-day workshop on soliciting funds from corporations. Everyone with whom I spoke was impressed.

The workshop was one of a series offered by the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, a non-profit, 50-member organization of groups that make significant charitable contributions to non-profits in the region. Aside from strengthening and promoting organized private philanthropy in our area, ABAG, as it is known, also sponsors other activities to help non-profits.

Schisler's down-to-earth review of corporate giving, as well as real world suggestions, gave me an opportunity to conduct my own reality check on how non-profits should prepare for, approach and follow up on requests for corporate support.

As Schisler quickly pointed out, non-profits seeking corporate support must first identify likely targets. This basic process is too often subverted by non-profits desperately seeking funds, who simply shotgun proposals to every company listed in the phone book.

Instead, charities should first check with their board for likely corporate contacts. Often clients or patrons and their family memberswill have access to corporate officers, as will vendors to the organization.

With a list of possible contacts established, the organization needs to check the corporate giving guidelines. As a consultant to corporate giving programs, I can't tell you how many times I have reviewed proposals that run contrary to stated guidelines, before chucking them into the reject pile.

Next, and one of the most overlooked aspects of seeking corporate support, is for the non-profit to look for affinities between itself and the corporate target. Are there ways you can help advance the company's marketing goals without at all compromising your organizational values? This takes a good deal of planning, but it often pays off in larger donations and a longer history of support.

A final note on targeting companies -- non-profits should think both large and small in their strategic mix. Small companies relish the thought of mixing it up with the big boys, especially if thereare potential ways to leverage that association into business opportunities or marketing advantage. Also, cultivating smaller companies pays off in another way. As these rising stars grow, relationships often bear fruit in later years.

With targeting complete, the non-profit must be sure that its own house is in order. Is the annual budget current? Is all licensing in hand? Has the fund-raising committee thought through all areas that might be problematic to the company, such as the fear that the non-profit will become dependent on its gifts? Has every board member contributed to the organization this past year?

Now comes the plan of attack. How are you going to reach the CEO? Will a board member business associate make the call? Who should attend the meeting? What will you need to bring with you to the meeting, which is likely to be very brief? Practice your approach until the message is clear, understandable and deliverable in under 10 minutes.

Don't overlook the advantages of asking for in-kind support, such as corporate volunteers or used furniture and equipment. If you have a well-run organization, this invariably results in cash funding down the road.

In next week's column, we'll look at the solicitation meeting itself.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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