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.