The M&Ms of Corporate Fundraising

Your house may be like mine. Every holiday, we have baskets of M&Ms all over the house. At Thanksgiving, we have orange and brown M&Ms; at Christmas, green and red. And this past Valentine’s Day…you guessed it, red and pink M&Ms. Even though they all taste the same, except when you venture into peanut, peanut-butter, mint, caramel and hazelnut, I credit Mars with making the ubiquitous little chocolates our go-to candy throughout the year.

There is a lesson here for nonprofit corporate support. Hint:  it is NOT to deluge your corporate sponsors with M&Ms. Although that may be a strategy for retention, you must first master the M&Ms of nonprofit corporate partnerships.

Although the marketing of your mission and message through various media merits mentioning as does your mindset, mentors, and the mind-numbing miscellaneous minutiae of macros and modifiers, more and more there are only two M’s that matter the most.

Metrics. Corporations love to show positive numbers. Everything is measured. If you have not yet embraced the power of metrics, this is a good time to do it. How many people do you reach, this year’s program completion rate compared to last year, how many different ethnicities, what are the results of your intervention, etc. These and other measures can determine not just how well your program is doing but also how well you will be funded. Outcomes based philanthropy means that everything – every program, event, volunteer training, publication – must reflect the measured accomplishment of your work.

Mirrors. Corporate branding increasingly means helping the company look good to its broadest constituency base. When corporate philanthropists place  your organization in the mirror, they insist that it must enhance their brand and reinforce their values. They report to their own board, investors, suppliers, employees, and above all, customers. They will carefully evaluate whether your organization can accommodate their branding needs. To the extent that you can help them look into that mirror with confidence, you have ensured that your organization stands a greater chance to retain their all-important support.

Metrics and mirrors. These concepts matter to the companies you are hoping to reach, and they will likely matter for many years in the future. When you remain close to your corporate partners, you will find more creative and relevant ways to market your mission and learn how to adapt your fundraising strategies to meet their seasonal needs, just as the flavors and colors of M&Ms adapt to each season. But if you prioritize your metrics and mirror M&Ms, you will fund your corporate stakeholders to be among your most loyal donors.


Three Steps to Cultivate a Major Gifts Prospect

If you are like most of us, the major gifts prospect list that sits on your desk stares at you and foils your boldest strategies. Those one hundred names have enough wealth to build an entire university campus several times over. Of course, you don’t know any of them, and your Development Committee hasn’t responded to your requests for introduction, despite your pleas.

Whatever the minimum major gift threshold for your organization, ten annual contributions from your top donors for the next several years with a solid annual retention rate means significant support for your organization.  So what’s a development director to do?

Here are three steps to a successful major gifts program.

  1.  Learn/Rank. Read the bios, the giving history, the speeches, and other information of the people on your prospect list. Explore the networks of these accomplished and generous individuals. As you identify their related giving and their relationships, however tenuous and distant, with your own board members, the ranking of your prospects will take shape. You will soon have drawn a web of connections between your people and those top prospects.
  2. Push/Pull. A major gifts team usually consists of board members and development committee members. Among those leaders, there is likely a small percentage who have agreed to enthusiastically reach out to their networks. Those are your favorite people, right? They are also the most time-challenged, and they often find it hard to fulfill their promises to talk with their contacts. Try push/pull. First, push them to do their work, to fit those calls and referrals into their jam-packed schedules. Of course, be creative and nice in your approach. Second, pull plenty of data and research in order to equip them with the information they need to successfully reach their goals. Pulling the appropriate data will make your board and committee members feel more comfortable when you do your push. Don’t forget to track not only the progress of your prospect but also the progress of your board advocate.
  3. First/Second. With your first layer of top donor prospects safely in the hands of your most committed volunteer leaders, it’s smart strategy for you to cultivate the second layer - the network that surrounds those prospects. Identify and cultivate those people; if even a small percentage respond, you are on your way to meeting your fundraising goals.

A strong major gifts program lifts an organization and unleashes the potential of your organization’s vision. And a successful major gifts program is only three steps away.


The First Steps to Getting Your Fundraising Strategy Right

Here is how too many organizations develop their fundraising strategy. Someone declares we need some strategy around here so off you go with your team to a retreat from which you emerge with slick charts, creative revenue streams, optimistic projections and long to-do lists. Everyone smiles and cheers.

By the following Thursday, the fundraising strategy is forgotten. What went wrong?

Sometimes staff and board members need to be re-energized to implement a fundraising strategy. As a first step getting your fundraising strategy right, put the spreadsheets, donor lists, beautiful charts, and blogposts on hold. (They will be there when you return.) Meet with the kids your nonprofit educates. Serve dinner to the families who come to the shelter night after night. Hang out in the cancer wards your major donors have built. Feel the small everyday victories your fundraising makes possible.

Then, for a fundraising strategy to truly becoming a road map to fundraising success, first you must answer this critical question. What are your organization’s strongest fundraising assets?  A beloved, charismatic founder? A large dedicated base of small donors? A wealthy private foundation that has pledged its support for the next twenty-five years? A unique special event that has delivered results for a decade?

While best practices tout the need to have a balanced portfolio of development – foundations, direct mail, major gifts, special events, planned giving, government funding, corporate donations, online, etc. – most organizations actually have only two or three really strong assets.  A pragmatic fundraising strategy ought to concentrate on what your organization does best and perhaps adds one or two additional revenue streams.

For example, if your nonprofit attracts more than its fair share of foundation funding and has hundreds of donors giving annual $25 gifts, make sure your strategy includes maximizing foundation giving and annual giving. Your strategy may want to include building a major gifts component and introducing planned giving to your donors.

Reminding your team of their mission and creating a development strategy that maximizes your organization’s assets is a winning combination for successful fundraising.