Preparation can pay off in meeting with top brass


November 16, 1992|By LESTER A. PICKER

Last week, I wrote about the hard work it takes to win corporate donations. Many of the suggestions were similar to those offered by John Schisler, former head of corporate giving for C & P Telephone, as part of a workshop sponsored by the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.

So, after six phone calls and a confirmation letter, you've finally landed a 15-minute appointment with the chief executive officer. Have you brought the right people with you? I strongly advise organizations to bring a knowledgeable board volunteer along, which strengthens the non-profit's case.

In presenting the organization's case, it helps to have at least one other firm commitment of money already in hand. No one likes to be the first to go out on a limb, especially for new and innovative programs, the very ones most likely to need support. Even evidence of non-cash support, such as volunteers or used equipment, from another company is helpful.

Are there any connections to the company to which the non-profit can point? Do you provide supportive services to a good number of employees? Is one of your major board members a corporate employee? Detail these for the corporate contact.

Remember the thoughtful pre-meeting planning mentioned last week? Here is where it pays off. Detail for the corporate exec just what you are able to give in return for their money. Even those companies that are not seeking a marketing return on their investment will need to be sure that their philanthropic goals will be advanced.

Will you provide recognition for the company's contribution? If so, how and where? Can you offer discounts to employees? Even cash-starved service organizations can do so on the short term. This will lead to more corporate involvement, which directly leads to cash and in-kind support in the near future. If the company has a history of supporting a specific cause, can you demonstrate how their support of your work will advance that commitment?

In terms of the actual meeting, it is best to limit the number of

items you bring in support of your request. If you wish to show statistical verification of your programs, use simple, effective graphics, not tables and columns of figures. Use large-type bullet charts to highlight major points, then embellish by talking to each point.

Although some may disagree, I find it most effective if you do not bring a final written proposal with you. Instead, ask questions. Identify red flags that may hinder your proposal, as well as phrasing or approaches that will enhance it. Above all, listen, then incorporate significant suggestions into your final proposal. particular, find out what supporting documentation, specifically, will help your request.

Since larger gifts are usually based on relationships, I find it a good idea to find another opportunity to meet with your corporate source.

Next, be sure that you agree to actionable, date-specific items. What are you expected to send to the CEO? By when? Is there a best time for approaching a corporate source?

Yes, according to Schisler. A good time is in the third quarter, when most corporate giving budgets are being formulated for the next year.

It is important to recognize that your request may not be acted upon for months. Often, there is a lengthy approval process, especially if the gift request is relatively large.

Finally, send a follow-up note after the meeting, preferably not a platitudinous, word-processed salvo. Refer to specifics of your meeting and end by restating the specific actionable items and dates that were agreed to at the meeting.

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

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