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Sept 9 & 10

3 Corporate Partnership Myths Hindering Meaningful Connection

Reading Time: 6 minutes


When you’re a non-profit striving to further your mission and increase your impact, what strategies come to mind?

If you aren’t leveraging strategic corporate partnerships, you may be missing opportunities for increased revenue, expanded reach, positive brand association, and an increased pool of expertise and resources. Yet many leaders shy away from building these relationships because of three corporate partnership myths hindering meaningful connections. 

These myths include:

  1. The belief that since they are connecting with a person, corporate partnerships are the same as individual fundraising and thus treating the company as you would a major donor. 
  2. Not wanting to bother a busy corporate executive during the proposal fulfillment processes and therefore not communicating regularly
  3. The false assumption that they have to be agreeable to the demands of the corporate partner at the risk of losing the support. 

In this article, we’ll break down each of these pervasive myths and provide you with actionable takeaways so you can start building stronger, values-aligned corporate partnerships, and ultimately an approach that will build your revenue in the very best way.

Do you Believe These Corporate Partnership Myths? 

As someone who has worked in the world of partnerships, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to build strong relationships that truly benefit both parties.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions and myths out there that make it even harder to create these connections. In this article, we’ll debunk three of the most pervasive corporate partnership myths, and offer some practical tips for building partnerships that can truly make a difference.

Myth #1: Corporate partnerships are built between people so it’s the same as individual fundraising

It’s true that corporate partnerships are built by people. And the good ones are most often built between two people who have a genuine and positive professional relationship. 

If you have a strength in individual fundraising, definitely begin there. Start by building a professional relationship with your key contact in the organization. This could look like adding a personal touch when calling or emailing so you can connect person-to-person which deepens the professional relationship. 

This is only half of the equation in what I like to call 2-for-1 Fundraising. In other words, if you only do the work of connecting with the individual, you can’t build a meaningful corporate partnership. The second part is the company itself. 

For example, some years ago the company of one of my biggest corporate partnerships announced it was merging.  

My first call was to my contact with the purpose of commiserating and leaving a message of solidarity, and letting her know I was available if she needed connections or introductions.

My second call was to send an email of gratitude to several corporate team members that could be shared widely. In my message, I recapped the significant impact of the partnership, including a recent story shared in our organization’s e-news that I’m sure they didn’t see. 

Both are important when you are building meaningful corporate partnerships, and in this case, setting the stage for what’s next.

Another benefit of taking the time to build relationships with both the individual and the company is to create what I call sticky” partnerships. In this way, should your individual point of contact leave the organization, your work hasn’t been in vain because you can still lean on the connections you’ve created with the organization itself to grow the future partnership. 

Your Takeaway:

  • Your stewardship plan for a corporate partner should have some parts that are all about your contact and some parts that are all about the company.
  • Keep it easy for yourself by leveraging the marketing emails and stories that are shared with individual donors. It may be necessary to make some small edits or add a sentence in the beginning to create a meaningful outreach to your corporate partner.

Myth #2: They’re busy, so I won’t bother them while I’m fulfilling the proposal

Communication is key during the fulfillment phase. It’s true corporate leaders are busy but remember they invested with your organization for a reason. Therefore, ensure your contact is intentional and purposeful. 

First, make sure it’s clear what information you need to share whether positive or negative and then provide an update that connects to that reason. So for example, reach out to let them know how well your recent event was attended by their target audience.

Similarly, If something has just exploded and isn’t going as planned, ask to set up a call. 

Remember, your partners aren’t just there for the sunshine and roses; they’re there for the mess, too. I’ve consistently found that sharing the mess has strengthened the partnership. One of the things I’ve found is that we often have a tendency to overthink what our corporate partners want from us, when in reality it’s just open and honest communication. 

Recently, one of our clients was partnering with a company that was called out on social media for funding an environmentally sensitive project, and the call-out tagged our client. We talked through some public messaging for the client, but also a direct outreach to the company. 

They worked it through together allowing for transparency about the impact of the situation on each of their organizations. This created an opportunity for the company to provide additional knowledge and information. 

Trust was built on both sides, and now the company is looking to renew the partnership. 

Your Takeaway:

  • Connecting with your corporate supporters and prospects on a regular basis ensures you are continually building strong, authentic relationships with them. It doesn’t build trust and relationships if you only reach out when you have an ask or when your impact report is due.  
  • The opportunities lie in the in-between contact points.  The email wishing them happy summer holidays, the periodic email that gives them an update on the program they support or when it happens letting them into solving a messy situation. 

Myth #3: You HAVE TO say yes to whatever they are asking for

This is one of the most dangerous corporate partnership myths because if you feel pressured to say yes, it ensures you aren’t building a meaningful partnership.

Very early in my career, one of my corporate partnership mentors told me that transparency was one of the most important keys to success with corporate partnership. I took that advice to heart and consistently have been transparent with corporate partners. 

My commitment to transparency has meant I’ve told them that their employee engagement plan was untenable. I’ve withdrawn an organization’s support of a marketing campaign that had cultural appropriation a week before launch.  And I’ve let them know that their support was insufficient for the impact and the results they were seeking so they had to give up their program exclusivity.

I’m not going to say these conversations were easy; however, they are critical to ensure that the core purpose of the corporate partnership was being met.

Remember your core purpose is always meeting the mission of the nonprofit. Alongside this, the partnership can also benefit the company. However, if it is benefiting the company at the expense of the nonprofit then you need to say no.

Or better yet, explain how it needs to be different. 

You might be surprised at how often a solution can be found.

Your Takeaway:

  • Be prepared to say no. Ideally doing so in a way that shares knowledge and alternatives.
  • Having corporate partnership program guidelines in place that provide an organization-wide set of values and parameters around partnership is an important step. It gives fundraisers more agency and power when they are in the room, preparing to say no. 

Start Creating More Meaningful Corporate Partnerships Today

Building meaningful connections between corporations and non-profits is not always an easy task, but it is essential for creating impactful change in our communities. By debunking these myths and offering practical solutions, we can build stronger partnerships that benefit both parties and, ultimately, create positive social impact.

So, the next time you’re working on a corporate partnership, remember to challenge assumptions, communicate openly, and stay true to your organization’s mission and values. With a little persistence and creativity, you can build partnerships that make a real difference in the world.

Myth-busting around corporate partnerships based on my experience works, and I’m happy to do it so you can move into a place where you are building awesome, values-aligned corporate partnerships. 

But even better than my experience, is building your own.

So, my last takeaway is this: Talk to your corporate partners. Ask them questions. Share your concerns. Give them the opportunity to prove to you that they want a meaningful corporate partnership too! 

If you want a template to get you started on these guidelines, you can buy my Time-Saving templates: https://www.bridgeraise.com/timesavingtemplates

I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

You’ve got this! 

TLDR: Building meaningful connections between corporations and non-profits is not always an easy task, but it is essential for creating impactful change in our communities. The next time you’re working on a corporate partnership, remember to challenge assumptions, communicate openly, and stay true to your organization’s mission and values. If you want a Workbook that provides resources and guidance on how to address power in your corporate fundraising, check out: https://www.bridgeraise.com/powerdynamics 

About the Author: Heather Nelson, MBA, CFRE

Founder and President at boutique fundraising consultancy, BridgeRaise, Heather and her team help non-profits raise more money from companies by prioritizing aligned values. Heather is a 20+ year fundraiser, corporate partnership expert, mentor, teacher, tree person, and a dog and hockey mom!

She’s very active on LinkedIn and would love to connect with you there: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nelsonheather/

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