The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 32

Forming Win-Win Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships, with Heather Nelson

In this Episode:

It may be surprising to learn that nonprofit corporate sponsorships actually increased throughout the pandemic. Even as many for-profit businesses and nonprofit orgs tightened their budgets, businesses have responded to the needs in their communities and leaned into partnerships with like-minded nonprofits in greater numbers than ever before.

For many nonprofits, however, creating successful corporate sponsorships is full of uncertainty. How does one identify good potential partners? Whom should they approach? What should they offer to make it a worthwhile endeavor? This overwhelm leads many to doubt or abandon the idea altogether, choosing instead to channel resources to more tried-and-true donor-based and grant-based sources.

Heather Nelson’s mission is to help more nonprofits and businesses form successful, win-win partnerships. That’s why she started BridgeRaise, a consultancy that focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. We invited her to The Nonprofit Hero Factory to demystify the process and break down her methodology into simple, actionable steps that anyone can use to start or scale their organization’s corporate fundraising.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:19.610] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:21.140] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory. I love having experts on every single week to not only share information with you guys about how to do better marketing and communications and fundraising and make better use of technology. I also love it because a lot of times I get to learn from them what their ideas and their strategies are, and we have some great conversations around the subject. Today, it’s a particularly interesting episode for me because while I’ve been aware of this concept for many, many years now, of course, I have never actually personally delved into corporate sponsorships and how to set those up with corporations, perhaps in the area or national corporations for nonprofit.

[00:01:08.210] – Boris
I know how to market them. I’ve done that many times, but I’ve never actually been on the back end of things as the initial negotiations even happen. So today I’m excited to have Heather Nelson on the show. Heather is the President and lead consultant at BridgeRaise. She is an MBA and a CFRE. Heather is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise, as I just said, which focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. And Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships, which I think is key, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about a lot in the episode today.

[00:01:50.820] – Boris
Heather describes her superpower of building aligned relationshipbased partnerships between nonprofits and companies and really seeing and believing in the value that nonprofits can bring to those partnerships. With that, let me bring Heather onto the show.

[00:02:05.565] – Heather Nelson
Hello everyone. Hi.

[00:02:05.565] – Boris
How are you today?

[00:02:09.480] – Heather Nelson
I’m great. Thanks for having me today.

[00:02:11.760] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you on. I’m really excited to learn from you today. Before we do, though, you just heard me read off your bio and it is really impressive already. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you? What’s your story? Other.

[00:02:25.930] – Heather Nelson
Well, I’ll start with saying I’m Canadian. I’m based in Canada, and I have been in the nonprofit sector my whole career, which I feel puts me in a bit of a unicorn position. I did start in programming and working on the programming side in international development organizations and a few other organizations. And then I went and got my business degree and came out of that really wanting to work on the revenue side, business development and fundraising. And so, I’ve been doing that ever since. And most recently, prior to starting my own consultancy, I worked at Food Banks Canada, which is the National Food Bank Association here, and we focused entirely on corporate partnerships.

[00:03:12.920] – Heather Nelson
So that was where I really got to flex that muscle and practice things I learned at business school and throughout my career. Which I’ve now applied to BridgeRaise, which has been around for five years. And we’ve been working with nonprofits of all sizes on their corporate programs.

[00:03:29.640] – Boris
That’s very cool. I, too, started out in programming, but mine was in C, C++, Lisp.

[00:03:38.710] – Heather Nelson
The other kind of programming.

[00:03:39.560] – Boris
The other kind of programming. It always catches me off guard for just a second. My brain has to turn… no, no, we’re talking about nonprofit programs.

[00:03:46.990] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Yeah.

[00:03:48.900] – Boris
Awesome. Heather, tell me, what are you seeing out there? What’s going on in the world of corporate sponsorships and nonprofit development? I know that things in finance in general have been changing a lot over the last couple of years, shifting alignments, shifting resources. What’s happening specifically from your point of view?

[00:04:10.580] – Heather Nelson
You know, I’m so happy you ask because… well, first, I’m going to start with I really like using the word partnership instead of sponsorship. And one of the reasons is to highlight one of the changes that we’re seeing that I believe, which is very good for nonprofits. We’re seeing the evolution away from either a very philanthropic and donation-based or a very transactional, purely marketing based scenario to this place in the middle. Right? So I like calling it—using the word partnership because it does have some elements of both of these things in it. And that is an emerging priority amongst this sector. We’re seeing that happen.

[00:04:51.590] – Heather Nelson
It’s becoming more and more pronounced that companies are looking for certain things from the nonprofit that extend beyond just doing good in the world, but include doing good in the world. We also have seen, obviously, with the move to remote working that we’ve seen happen over the last year, the influence of virtual marketing, virtual events, virtual connections between employees and their companies that has heavily influenced how corporate partnership looks. So that’s been a big shift that we’ve really had to adjust to in the space of corporate partnership.

[00:05:28.040] – Heather Nelson
And I think… the last one I would like to highlight is I think a lot of people felt that when the pandemic started, that maybe there wouldn’t be the funding that there had been. And we didn’t see that. We’ve seen actually companies be more and more generous recently than maybe ever before. They’ve leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. They’ve accessed employees in different ways. And so we’ve actually seen companies do at least as much as they had before, and many do more.

[00:06:02.760] – Heather Nelson
Of course, there is exceptions. There is companies that have not been able to do that, but where they have been able to we’ve seen them do it. And I think that has led to at least a certain amount of optimism around what is possible, which I really appreciate.

[00:06:18.100] – Boris
That’s wonderful to hear. I was actually going to ask you, has it been increasing or decreasing and it sounds like organizations…

[00:06:23.978] – Heather Nelson
Yeah… Some of each.

[00:06:24.691] – Boris

[00:06:24.762] – Heather Nelson
It’s not all bad.

[00:06:26.820] – Boris
So I wouldn’t be surprised if it mirrors the overall donor and donation landscape where some things have declined, but overall things have gone up. And I definitely want to get into all of the reasons why the organizations, the businesses are doing it. And especially at this time, there might be some additional reasons. But before we get there, I’m wondering, what does it look like? How how are nonprofits creating these corporate partnerships as it were? What does it look like when it’s successful, when it’s done right?

[00:07:03.440] – Heather Nelson
Well, I mean, I think from my point of view, I mean, there’s a bit of a personal question and a bit of a factual part, I think to that.

[00:07:11.468] – Boris
Tell me both.

[00:07:12.620] – Heather Nelson
From my point of view, when it’s done right, there’s a strong alignment on the reason for the partnership. Could be alignment on a value between the company and the nonprofit. It could be an impact that they both want to have. But there’s some really core reason why they’re partnered together. And then when it’s done well, that extends into there being benefits that the nonprofit provides and in return, an investment that is proportional to that relationship that is given by the company. Right?

[00:07:45.640] – Heather Nelson
And that’s when it really works. And sometimes they’re more consistent across a few. And sometimes they’re fully unique, depending on obviously, the amount of that investment. But I really like it to look proportional. So it needs to be… both sides need to be valued in a really good partnership. And that’s what it looks like inside. And then outside, we see stories being told. We see announcements being made. We see a connection between the two that is visible to their employees, maybe to their customers, maybe to the public at large.

[00:08:24.330] – Heather Nelson
The audience might depend on the situation, but it shouldn’t be a secret if it’s a good partnership, that’s really working.

[00:08:31.580] – Boris
Of course, yeah. So you’re kind of getting into this anyway, but I really want to dive further. Why do companies want to form partnerships with nonprofits? I mean, we kind of know, especially those of us in nonprofit, that—why a nonprofit might want to form a partnership. And I’m sure that maybe you could even talk to, not every company is going to be a good fit for a nonprofit in the first place. But what is it that a nonprofit can offer, is offering per se, from their side of the partnership that will entice the business to work with them?

[00:09:08.400] – Heather Nelson
Sure. Well, I think following up on that alignment piece, what we are seeing out in the world is companies really wanting to solve social problems. Some of them want to have an impact on certain social problems. Some of them want to stand for something in particular. And nonprofits provide them with knowledge in that space, provide them with expertise, authenticity around making that happen. So that’s the first thing. But there’s also other benefits we’ve talked about. We’ve seen in the world this disconnect between employees and their employers because of more people working remotely and employee engagement opportunities. To opportunities for employees to volunteer with the nonprofit is a really outstanding benefit that nonprofits can offer to companies.

[00:10:00.100] – Boris
They can also help provide some content for marketing. That could be stories that could be the impact that the company is helping them make in the world and sharing that with the public or with their employees. So there’s different benefits. And part of an overly good partnership is finding out the ones that the company values and that the employee and that the nonprofit can execute effectively against, and matching those together.

[00:10:27.050] – Heather Nelson
But we do see them fall into these buckets, most typically around employee engagement, some and authenticity and impact. Those are three buckets I would look at.

[00:10:38.640] – Boris
Yeah, I really love the part about the employee engagement. It’s hard to see the news and not hear about “the great resignation” that’s happening right now. Where, ever since the pandemic began, people are not excited to go, first of all into the office, never mind back. But people are being more selective. There’s actually a labor shortage in a lot of areas because people are much more selective about what they want to be doing. And I know that it’s popularized with the millennial generation, but I think I’m a lot older the millennial, and it still applies to me, obviously, because I’m doing this work.

[00:11:13.910] – Boris
We want to have alignment with the work that we’re doing. We don’t just want to work for a paycheck anymore. Most of us that are privileged enough, I should say, to have these choices and opportunities. So when a corporation can not only say, hey, we also care about these things, but actually devote dollars and time towards that, that helps with the employee retention and appeal. I’m sure too, right?

[00:11:38.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. I agree. It absolutely does help with those things. And I think I really believe that a company just saying it’s making a difference is insufficient, right? They need to prove it. And one of the ways they can do so is by giving their employees time. But providing incentives by giving the space and opportunities for employees to engage in this cause that this company cares about. So if it’s done well, it can be a real win-win because it can strengthen the tie between the company and the employee.

[00:12:18.240] – Heather Nelson
And it can also make the purpose or the community investment priority of the company more real for everybody. So that’s great. And I think, you know, to your point around, people aren’t looking forward to going into work. We also find that we’re connecting so much virtually around work. It’s really nice to have something else to be connecting about. And so we do find nonprofits offering lunch and learns and training sessions and, virtual tours and all these sorts of things just give, like, a different cooler conversation for people to have. And, you know, they need that. That helps with the connection for companies. So nonprofits have that to offer.

[00:13:05.230] – Boris
Absolutely. And there’s also on the other side of the millennial stereotype, which is a positive one. They want to be spending their money on organizations that they don’t consider evil or that they consider aligned with their own morals and values. So I think in that sense, it’s a marketing tool. Hopefully it’s a genuine endeavor by the organization, but it is a way to signal— virtue signal, in the true sense what their priorities are, right?

[00:13:35.020] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, for sure. For those companies that have a consumer facing brand, I mean, there’s so many other things that a nonprofit can do with them to demonstrate through sales and through how they interact with customers, that they are connected to a nonprofit. That does tend to sort of lie in the purview of more sophisticated nonprofits. And it’s a great vehicle, and it can be very lucrative for both sides if it’s working well.

[00:14:08.160] – Boris
So I know that in grants, for example, when an organization, a nonprofit gets a grant, there is a certain amount of reporting to do and a certain amount of perhaps even mile posts that they need to reach and metrics that they need to keep and report on. Is there anything like that with a corporate grant? What does a company want to see when they’re forming a partnership?

[00:14:32.120] – Heather Nelson
You know what there’s probably as many examples of what the company wants to see is there are arrangements. I would suggest that they do fall into a few categories. Within the context, there is corporate grants that are more heavily weighted on metrics related to the impact on the stakeholders, the beneficiaries of the organization. So some are designed that way, and they are, well, not exactly the same as other granting. There is more similarities with a fairly clear guidance around what kind of reporting you need to do.

[00:15:09.010] – Heather Nelson
Outside of those kinds of relationships, it does tend to be on a negotiated basis. There should always be some form of reporting. And I do actually recommend that fairly early on, you find out what it is they are measuring. Because sometimes they’ll be measuring a number of employees participating. Sometimes they’re measuring the number of Facebook likes they got. Sometimes it’s, you know, that you met the certain impact. So it’s an important part of working out a successful partnership to know that piece of information and to plan to report on it.

[00:15:43.950] – Heather Nelson
I do generally like to recommend, however, which is different than most foundation grants, that the report back is as succinct as possible. So you’re reporting on what you have promised to report on without a whole lot of extra, because generally it is being shared. So making sure that you can share a fairly tight story of success is perfect.

[00:16:12.440] – Boris
And making sure that the organization can share—the company, I should say, can share—a fairly succinct impact statement as well. Because it’s one thing to say, yeah, we care about something, and it’s another to say look at the change that we helped create with our consumers, with our employees, right?

[00:16:31.280] – Heather Nelson
I love that you bring that up, because one of my keys to success, actually, in corporate partnerships, is that you can boil the complexity of what you’re doing with the funds down to a sentence. And that can be very difficult, especially if they’re funding a very complex issue. And when you’re in the weeds of it to boil it down to “and we’re helping 100 kids exit poverty” or something very simple like that or serving 100 breakfast can feel like you’re oversimplifying very complicated social issues. However, companies need to be able to communicate fairly succinctly in annual reports and other places what their money went to do.

[00:17:15.130] – Heather Nelson
And so we do need to be able to do that. Somebody at the company is looking further into the detail to make sure it’s authentic and real and all those things, so there’s somebody that you can provide more detail to. But you need to be prepared that there are a lot of people at the company that are only going to know that headline and that headline is going to help you renew your money and get more.

[00:17:39.670] – Boris
You made me think about this concept where I’ve actually, with clients at times, aske them for a testimonial before we actually start the work. And I promise not to use it unless they still believe in it afterwards. But for me, it’s trying to get an understanding of their expectation. What do they value? What do they want to see at the end that’s going to make them super happy? So as you were talking, I thought, well… I wonder if you almost want to create a press release ahead of time. What will the press release in six months look like if this is successful, right?

[00:18:12.680] – Heather Nelson
I love that idea. That’s a great idea. Yeah, because it is like that sometimes. That’s when you see, “oh, that’s what they wanted to say. Why did they just tell us?” I mean, that’s another argument, honestly, for long term relationships. Because there’s only so much that a nonprofit and the company, there’s only so much information they can exchange the first go round. Right? Nobody has the time for everything to be shared. And therefore, if you commit to a relationship over time, then there’s always incremental gains each time.

[00:18:48.240] – Heather Nelson
Whether you do the same thing each year or you change aspects of it, you have time as two organizations to get to know each other, right? And improve on it. And that would be the kind of thing you’d be like, okay, we got the press release at the end of this year. Okay. Now what we want to say next year would be a really cool conversation?

[00:19:06.620] – Boris
You’re welcome to steal that idea.

[00:19:09.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, that’s right… it’s in my notes!

[00:19:10.790] – Heather Nelson
That’s all yours. You and everybody listening to this episode. Okay. I feel like so far, we’ve really established why a business might want to be in a partnership with a nonprofit. What they’re going to get out of it. And similarly, what nonprofit should be thinking about when they’re looking into partnerships. But let’s break it down to if we haven’t started any corporate sponsorships yet, or we’re looking to grow our partnership program, what do we need to do? How do we even identify the businesses out there that might be a good fit for partnership with a nonprofit?

[00:19:51.830] – Heather Nelson
Okay. Well, so the first thing I want to say is that if you haven’t started before, be looking to only find a few companies to start with. So I find that often what happens is we think, okay, let’s first get an exhaustive list of every possible company. And then once we’ve done that and got research on all of them, then we’ll go to the next step of having a conversation with some, and we’ll kind of go on. And I am really all about getting into the part where we’re having the conversations, we’re testing our ideas and we’re getting to partnership with somebody so that we have something to build on.

[00:20:25.740] – Heather Nelson
I ask to start with to try to find ten companies that you think you should start with. And usually we start by looking at people who’ve given in the past who are lapsed. Companies that are in our geography, so that can be a good place to look, companies that are in geography because then already you have one little piece of alignment.

[00:20:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then, I call it dream storming. Usually when people work at an organization, they already have thought to themselves, this is a company for XYZ reason I think should be giving to us. Right? You know, your organization, you know, the organized companies that are likely to align. So we start with a list like that, and we do… I recommend then doing a very specific kind of research. And it’s not about all the research… it’s about going to their social media. It’s going to their website. Going to a few places and really looking for the things that you need to know to show alignment between your organization and the company.

[00:21:22.660] – Heather Nelson
What are they talking about around employees? What are they giving to already? What’s important to them right now? Are they really focusing on a certain social issue? How do you speak to that social issue? So we’re looking for those kinds of bread crumbs in what they’re talking about. And social media is amazing for this. So this is like 100% where you spend your time to figure that out.

[00:21:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then based on that, you move to outreach. And I build a little bit of internal knowledge around benefits and what we’re going to give to them before. But it’s not fancy. It’s not polished. It’s not all glossy. It really is more of a working document. So that then we can start having conversations and learning what they value before going further.

[00:22:09.290] – Boris
So as soon as you said, social media and all things digital, I don’t know if you saw my eyes light up and my grin come across my face, because obviously, that’s where I live and brief most of the time. What are some of the social media tools? I would think LinkedIn would be a big one for work like this.

[00:22:27.860] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:22:28.980] – Boris
Where do you tend to go?

[00:22:29.670] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. LinkedIn and Twitter are the two places that we tend to go to look. And we start with that list and then go to those two channels for more company information. And, of course, their website, too. They have media releases they’re putting sometimes that’s a good place to look. But yeah, LinkedIn for the people that are responsible for their community investment, for marketing and sometimes, sometimes even human resources. So you will usually see that those are the places that there tends to be relevant information. And Twitter, too.

[00:23:07.190] – Heather Nelson
That’s where companies tend to broadcast things they’re proud of. Right? So another place to look.

[00:23:13.270] – Boris
Now, do you approach them on LinkedIn or on Twitter? Where do you initiate? And then I want to get into how, but where do you initiate the conversation?

[00:23:22.040] – Heather Nelson
To the degree it’s possible we initiate the conversation in email. So that is the preference. If that’s not possible, then LinkedIn can sometimes be a choice. If the person is very active in LinkedIn and you can tell that they’re engaging there regularly, then that can be an option. But if they’re using it mostly as a broadcast channel, then it’s more appropriate to try to reach them at their work and through email. That’s my recommendation.

[00:23:54.580] – Boris
Ok. Great. Do you ever just do cold calls as well?

[00:23:59.920] – Heather Nelson
You know, that’s not my recommendation. Generally, I believe that… look, the email maybe may be cold, but we’re going to try to create warmth around it by following them on these social channels and communicating with them and showing appreciation before we reach out and then making sure the email is an aligned email that just very simply gets to the point about why they should call you back. If it doesn’t, then sometimes putting in it that you’re going to call to follow up is great. But I like to break the ice, especially now with people working remotely and different things, with an email to notify them and explain who I am before the first phone call.

[00:24:40.960] – Boris
That’s great. That’s great. Okay. So we know where we’re going to stalk them, pardon the term. We know what types of things that we’re looking for on these social media channels and where we’re going to first initiate contact. What do we actually say when we’re trying to initiate contact? Because, boy, those cover letters can be awkward. And I’ve seen people… I’ve personally fumbled for what the perfect intro to make in certain situations. How do you do it, Heather? What secret?

[00:25:09.400] – Heather Nelson
Right. Well, I think the most important key I always tell my clients this email is so short that it is painful. That’s how short it is. Because it really is the least amount of information you can give them to get them to call you back. And for many of the people we’re reaching out to, this is not an important email, so they’re likely reading it while they’re walking on their phone while they’re in the elevator. So, long with attachments is not going to work.

[00:25:39.420] – Heather Nelson
It should be short. It has one sentence explaining who you are and where you’re from. The next one is the alignment. That cool thing that you found. Hey, I saw your employee engagement is really important to you, and I have a cool opportunity I’d like to talk to you about. Hey, I see that this is important and I want to talk to you about that. And then what your next step is, can I have 15 minutes? I’m going to follow up with a phone call. Three sentences. That is it.

[00:26:05.480] – Heather Nelson
And if they don’t answer that, they don’t respond, then we can start thinking about what’s the next version? What’s the next next little bit of information that we try? Because they may not answer the first time. But holding back a bit of information, like, you know, we were in the news or this is a little bit more about what we’re offering, that will give you a chance for a follow up email. And we know that sometimes it can take a few tries to get a call back. So, you know, no point in, like, avalanche of information on the first go.

[00:26:35.970] – Boris
So I really appreciate that you don’t want to overwhelm them. So often when people are doing marketing, regardless of whether it’s nonprofit or for profit, they try to cram everything in there possible. Look at all the reasons why you should this and this. And there’s a lot of overwhelm versus telling a clean and concise story, something hopefully that teases that there’s more and that we’d love to talk and tell you more and that there’s an opportunity there. Right?

[00:27:04.220] – Heather Nelson
That’s it. And then again, the the more is a little bit more right. They don’t need to know everything about your organization to buy into this one thing. I think that this feeling that in order to give the money in order to create a partnership, they have to know everything right away is like a myth that trips people up. Just think about enough to have another conversation, enough to get to yes. If they want more information, honestly, they will ask you. If they want financials or HR structure or all the programs that you have available or all the events they will ask you. Generally, they’re not shy people.

[00:27:45.240] – Boris
And frankly, they could Google you, right? And you’d show up.

[00:27:47.340] – Heather Nelson
Right, they can go to your website. Well, that’s another thing I always say is that there is no such thing as a first impression. The second you’ve written an email, they have gone to your website. They may have already gone to your LinkedIn. So make sure that those things look corporate friendly… I call “open for business,” before you make the call. Because after it’s too late, you’ve already got “okay, now they don’t like companies,” or “I don’t see a company anywhere in any of their stuff. Why are they calling?”

[00:28:17.540] – Boris
Absolutely. And your website is a powerful tool in that regard. So are your social media profiles. Do you advise organizations to have specific corporate sponsorship and partnership pages on their site?

[00:28:32.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, there’s different ways to show that you are open for corporate partnership, and so it depends on the organization all day. But I do very, very heavily recommend that there’s some visibility of companies on your website and on your social. So how that looks? There’s lots of different ways that can work, but there definitely should be evidence that this is something you do, that you welcome companies to support you.

[00:28:58.490] – Boris
And if you already have had sponsorships, they should be on your home page. They should be on your sponsors page. They should be in several places as reinforcement for not only potential new partnerships, but also just individuals will say, oh, this company supports them. It gives you some sort of credibility social proof, which is great.

[00:29:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Right. So that’s for sure. That’s super important that that shows up somewhere.

[00:29:25.280] – Boris
So I don’t want to pull all your secret sauce out. But let me see if I could get just a little bit more from you, Heather. Once they have agreed to a call, what is it that you need to be prepared to deliver in that call? Because I’m assuming it’s not going to be a four hour call with the entire executive board of the business. What is it that you need to have prepared and what’s your goal for that first call?

[00:29:50.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, so what I say to have prepared is a brief description of what… expanding on the hook that you put in the email, expanding on the alignment. So, the key benefit. You need to have a little bit more about that, and then you have to have a series of questions. So I have a series of questions that I always look at and pick from, because by the end of that call, you should know what the proposal should look like or what more information you need to know in order to know what the proposal should look like.

[00:30:19.350] – Heather Nelson
You should not come to that call with the proposal. You should have the primary idea and maybe even a secondary idea that you’d like to tease them. If the first thing, like, drops like a rock. Like, they’re like, no, I’m not doing that. Then you’re like, sell, maybe there’s this be prepared to pivot, but in both cases, it’s like a paragraph description, a few bullets. It’s not the detail because you’re going to want to follow up with thoughtful details based on the answers they give you to the questions, after you talk for a little bit.

[00:30:50.830] – Heather Nelson
They’ll make you say something because they generally won’t just tell you the goods without knowing what you want to know. But if you tell them a little bit, then follow up with a few questions. That’s really an ideal first call. Then the next step is more, right? More of a proposal, a one page summary, whatever the next step might be. But again, you’re building right. You’re building the relationship. You’re building the partnership. You’re building a benefit that makes sense to them.

[00:31:21.690] – Boris
Absolutely. I appreciate that you think of it and advocate it as building a relationship. It’s not an exchange. It is a partnership. And those really grow over time. You don’t… I’m almost tired of saying this metaphor all the time, but you don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, or text them, “will you marry me?” after you just both swiped right. Whatever the new dating analogy might be. It takes time to build that trust, build that credibility with each other, that you’re both going to deliver on what you want, and that it’s a worthwhile investment for both of you in terms of time and funds, Right?

[00:31:59.080] – Heather Nelson

[00:32:00.420] – Boris
So if organizations that are listening to this haven’t started yet, haven’t gone down the path of corporate sponsorships, corporate partnerships, and now they’re looking to or maybe they’re looking to grow their program. What’s the first next first thing that they should be doing right now?

[00:32:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Well, let me start with answering it for newer organizations. They really need to answer the question, why is a company going to give to me? And for what? And that has to be from the company’s point of view, not from the nonprofit point of view. It’s not, “I want money to do this thing.” It’s this makes sense for a company because it helps them accomplish Y. So the why and the what. We have to answer that. After that, all other things can follow.

[00:32:46.970] – Heather Nelson
And if you’re a more sophisticated organization, I would be pushing the limits on that. So they can tackle more complicated whys and whats in terms of connecting audiences to their brand, that kind of thing. So it’s the next level of that same question. You need to understand that… what you have to offer in a corporate context before you can make a call.

[00:33:11.470] – Boris
Absolutely. Whenever I’m working with a client and we’re trying to whether it’s develop a website or some kind of campaign, we always start with the target avatar. And in that target avatar, the most important section is actually not even the demographics. It’s the psychographics, which focuses, in part on what are their morals and values, what are their concerns and what are their pain points? And how do we solve it? So I feel like for a corporate partner, maybe you fill out the head of HR or the head of whatever department it might be. But they are thinking on behalf of the company, what are their pain points? And how can we solve those pain points for them, right.

[00:33:51.980] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Exactly. Yeah.

[00:33:53.450] – Boris
I love it. If they haven’t… Starting with a blank page for most things is pretty difficult. I know you have some resources and some templates. If nonprofits want to get started and want to kind of leap frog those first awkward moments of sitting in front of their keyboard, what can they do?

[00:34:12.740] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. So I have two things that I can offer to help. First, if you go to slash gettingstarted, there’s a free download there that goes through the why and the what, and some of the key questions to ask yourself in that. And a few more things that you might want to do internally just to get ready before you start reaching out. So that’s free. You can download that. And then I also have a bundle at slash timesaving templates, and it’s a low price offer.

[00:34:43.520] – Heather Nelson
And I basically have, the research brief is in there, an outline for an introductory proposal, some email samples for that three-line email. So I have a bunch of things in there that are designed to just get away from starting from scratch. Of course, every organization will modify them slightly to meet their own personal needs.

[00:35:04.981] – Boris
You would hope so.

[00:35:05.230] – Heather Nelson
It really gets you past that, “Okay, how do I even structure this?” Because I tried it. And these ones work.

[00:35:11.880] – Boris
That’s brilliant. And I’m sure it’s a great resource for organizations. I know in marketing we have what’s called swipe files, where you literally take example copy and images and videos, whatever it might be from successful campaigns, and you modify them because if that works and there’s enough alignment, then chances are it’ll work for you, too. Or at least it’s worth a test. In this case, Heather, you’re clearly super knowledgeable on this subject. If someone wants to get started and wants to leap frog that whole initial stage of research, trial and failure, I’m sure they’re going to love the resources that you offer.

[00:35:50.110] – Boris
Is there another tool that maybe isn’t yours or resource that you recommend organizations that are looking to start or expand their corporate sponsorship program? Check out.

[00:36:03.700] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Honestly, I learned from other organizations all the time. One of my favorites is called Accelerist. They do some great research. They have a technology-based corporate partnership database that helps find alignment between your nonprofit and companies. It’s a great tool. I highly recommend going to their website and taking a look at some of their resources. So that’s what I love and turn too often.

[00:36:30.160] – Boris
I’m glad to hear that there is such a resource because I know for the foundations out there, there is the Foundation Database Online by Candid, and there’s other search tools out there, but I didn’t know that there was actually one for corporate sponsorship. That sounds great.

[00:36:47.700] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, absolutely. It is super great.

[00:36:50.170] – Boris
So, Heather, we’re going to have all these links in our show notes, obviously. So that it’s super easy for anyone to grab your tools or check out accelerist if people want to get in touch with you directly, what’s the best way that they can do that?

[00:37:02.620] – Heather Nelson
Of course you can reach me through my contact information on my website, but I love connecting with people on LinkedIn, so I know you’re sharing my link there. Follow me on LinkedIn. I drop videos in there. Tools, other… have conversations on articles that I think are relevant in this space, and I love being connected to more people there. I welcome new friends over there.

[00:37:24.150] – Boris
Awesome. As someone who has recently connected with you on LinkedIn, you share great content. So anybody who’s interested in this stuff really should connect with you as well.

[00:37:31.886] – Heather Nelson
Brilliant. Thank you so much.

[00:37:33.050] – Boris
Heather, thank you so much for being on the show today. I learned a lot. I love learning it’s one of my favorite things to do. That and teaching. So I really appreciate your time today and I’m sure everyone listening has enjoyed it as well. And if you have, folks at home, could you please please please subscribe? Leave us a review.

[00:37:50.300] – Boris
Share this with others so that more people can discover. Great experts like Heather learn more about the things that they can be doing both online and in storytelling to activate more heroes for their cause. Thank you and we’ll see you on the next episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:38:25.880] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • We’re seeing a move from marketing-based and philanthropy-based, to partnerships. (4:10)
  • Another big trend is the shift to virtual marketing, events and connections between employees and their companies. (4:51)
  • With the pandemic, more companies have leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. (5:28)
  • There are three factors to a corporate partnership done right: (7:12)
    1. Alignment on values between the company and nonprofit.
    2. Benefits that a nonprofit provides the corporation.
    3. An investment by the company that is proportional to that relationship.
  • Some of the benefits that a nonprofit partner provides a company are: authenticity and impact around their dedication to making a change, and marketing opportunities. (9:08)
  • Employee engagement and cause alignment are increasingly important as more people are looking for fulfillment beyond the paycheck, in what’s becoming known as “the Great Resignation.” (10:38)
  • It’s also beneficial for the company in terms of showing their values to consumers, who are also increasingly conscientious of the brands they give their money to. (13:05)
  • There are many different metrics or results reporting that companies might want to see from a sponsorship. You want to know that information in advance. Some are more concerned with outcomes and impact on beneficiaries. Others are concerned with employee engagement numbers. (14:32)
  • Unlike most foundation grants, or corporate grants, you want to keep the report as succinct as possible so that it’s as easy to share as possible across their media channels and annual reports. (15:43)
  • Most people at the company are only going to see the headline results and base future giving on that headline. (17:15)
  • When starting to look for companies to partner with, resist the temptation to cast a really wide net. Heather advises to start with finding 10 companies that would be a great fit. (19:10)
  • Start by looking for companies with a known alignment: those who may have given in the past, or those in your geographical area. Then try what Heather calls dream storming: brainstorm companies you think would align with your organization. (20:25)
  • Once you have your list, start researching those companies, which can be largely done on social media and websites. Your goal is to look for indicators that they’re going to align with your company. (20:25)
  • Once you have your researched list, you can move on to outreach. Have an idea of what benefits you’re going to give them, but the goal is to start a conversation in which you’re going to learn what they really value. (21:45)
  • LinkedIn, Twitter and company websites (press releases in particular) are the platforms that will be most helpful in identifying potential partners. (22:29)
  • You want to start the conversation on email, if possible. LinkedIn is a secondary option if the people you’re interested in are very active there. (23:22)
  • When initiating contact, it can be difficult to know what to say. Heather advises: Keep it short. Include the least amount of information to warrant a call back. (24:40)
  • Sometimes it can take a few tries to get the response you’d like. So hold back some additional interesting/relevant information for your subsequent attempts to get a reply. (26:05)
  • Potential corporate partners will likely check out your nonprofit before responding. So you want to be sure that your website and your LinkedIn showcase you as a great potential partner. There should be evidence that you welcome companies to support you. (27:45)
  • On your first call, be prepared to expand on your alignment and the key benefit, and have a series of questions ready to go. (29:50)
  • With each conversation, the goal is to deliver a little bit more and to build a relationship and the benefit(s) that make sense to them. (30:50)
  • For organizations new to corporate partnerships, start by answering the questions, why is a company going to give to us, and for what? (32:19)
  • More experienced organizations can be looking at more complicated versions of whys and whats, including specific items that will help connect audiences with the business brand. (32:46)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson

President/Lead Consultant, BridgeRaise

Heather Nelson MBA CFRE
Heather Nelson is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise. BridgeRaise focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for non-profits and Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships. To tap into Heather’s practical resources, check out or connect on LinkedIn

Connect with Heather Nelson