If You Want Business Support For Your Organization, Meet People in Business

I have talked to a lot of organizations over the past few years.  I have had informational interviews, job interviews, and some general conversations about organizational fundraising.  Topics of conversation generally centered around things like grant writing, major gifts, and special events because most of the organizations centered their development plans on those three things.  Those organizations tended to struggle to meet their annual budgetary needs.

I often brought up the subject of increasing business support.  The first response I usually got was, “You mean getting more sponsors for our event?”  Yes, sponsorships are one form of business support, but they are not the only form of getting support.  Businesses, large and small, can be generous with technological support, providing volunteers for projects, as well as supporting your organization financially.  The key to building business support is the same as with individuals:  You have to create relationships.

Surprisingly, many of these organizations had no idea where to start, so let me offer a few basic ideas to get you on the road to success.

My first suggestion is to attend networking functions with your local chamber of commerce.  Business owners and executives often can be found mingling at early morning coffee events or happy hours.  Take the time to meet people, shake hands, ask questions about the businesses, and share information about yourself and your organization  Some of these events are free or are low cost, although some do put a limit on the number of events you can attend without joining the chamber.  Still, the cost of joining the chamber is usually pretty reasonable and worth the expense when it comes to the potential rewards you can reap for your organization.  I have been surprised by the fact that, of the dozens of such events I have attended, I have only run into nonprofit executives less than a handful of times.


Another opportunity to meet people in the management level of the business community is to attend a Rotary meeting.  Rotary is an international club with the purpose of bringing the business community together to do good locally and around the world.  You would have to find a member willing to invite you, but often you will have a friend or board member who is involved with the group, and they can take you as a guest.  Once again, it is an opportunity to meet the business people in your community so you can tell your story.  Since Rotary is a service organization, the club itself may choose to support your nonprofit.

Yet another opportunity you can consider is Toastmasters.  Toastmasters is a group that is designed to improve your public speaking skills, and its members often consist of community and business leaders.  It provides a great opportunity to network, and it can improve your public speaking skills, something that most of us in the nonprofit sector can use.

The thing that you must remember is that you want to create and cultivate these relationships well before you start asking for money or any other kind of support.  Get to know the people you meet, connect with them on Linked In, then ask if you can meet with them one on one to find what their personal and business priorities and discuss your organization in more detail.  The odds are good that you can create business partnerships successfully, if you keep this in mind.


About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email greatergoodfundraising@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter.com @ggfundraise
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3 Responses to If You Want Business Support For Your Organization, Meet People in Business

  1. Sheena says:

    Great post! I tended to approach businesses as individuals – what starts as a simple sponsorship (a donation of cash or a door prize for an event) can be fostered into something much more powerful. The relationship is mutually beneficial, and I find it’s a pretty easy sell if there’s cause connection. As corporate social responsibility continues to grow in importance to businesses (and their customers/employees) these relationships will be all about stewardship, rather than solicitation. Be transparent, be realistic, be charming, and take good care of those in your fold!

    • Sheena, I absolutely agree. While serving as a Board member for an organization, I worked to increase business support annually. Whether the businesses were large or small, the more you meet and engage them, the better off your organization will be.

  2. I have three frustrations with the way in which nonprofit organizations seek support from the business community:

    First, many development professionals have the mind set that business should “give back” to the community. This expectation that the business community should “give back” is simply naive, at best. Businesses exist to generate a return on investment for the owners. Businesses do not exist to give money away. Besides, they already “give back” by paying a variety of taxes and employing people. So, if a charity wants support from a business, it needs to think in terms of how such support can build value for the business. (See my post: “There’s No Such Thing as Corporate Philanthropy” — http://michaelrosensays.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/there%E2%80%99s-no-such-thing-as-corporate-philanthropy/)

    Second, most nonprofits in a community tend to cultivate (maybe) and solicit the same group of usual-suspect businesses. However, most completely ignore a potentially lucrative subset: emerging, fast-growing businesses. In most major media markets, the local business publication will do an annual report listing the 100 fastest-growing privately-held businesses in the region. The listings usually include contact information, the nature of the business, gross revenue, and profit margin. It’s a fantastic prospect list that is usually ignored by the nonprofit sector. I know this from personal experience. Years ago, the direct response agency I once owned made the Philadelphia 100 list. While I was proud of our accomplishment, I braced myself for the deluge of fundraising appeals. To my great surprise, only one charity contacted me! This brings me to my third point.

    3. Charities think they just need to ask businesses for money. In some cases, that might be the right approach. However, in many other cases, businesses should be approached the same way one would approach an individual. In the case of my former direct response agency, the one charity that contacted me did just that. They didn’t call me to ask for a gift. Instead, they asked if they could take me to lunch to pick my brain. They said they love to hear from someone who runs a successful, rapidly growing business as they sought to grow their own organization. How could I say no? It was a great way for them to draw me in. It worked.

    Yes, nonprofit folks need to get out there and meet members of the business community. They need to remember that businesses are run by people who need to be educated and cultivated.

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