by Lizzi Hollis
One of my proudest moments as a fundraiser is a partnership I account managed with a large house-building company. They had made a £10,000 donation and chosen my charity as one of six partners. 18-months later they had raised nearly £200,000 and made a £113,000 donation towards a strategic partnership.
STEP ONE: HAVE A PLAN
I knew this partnership had the makings of something transformational for my organisation. My key contact shared this belief but recognised that the company was not ready to embrace it. Together, we had to maintain business as usual whilst drip-feeding the potential we both saw. I kept my vision for the partnership at the forefront and developed my comms around this.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Before starting a conversation with partner have a vision for what it could look like. Ask yourself, “Where are we now? Where do I want to be?”
STEP TWO: UNDERSTAND THEIR PREFERRENCES
Early on I made sure I got to know my key contact within the company. She was based up in Scotland; face to face meetings were difficult. She would always call me, rather than email. I learnt that if I wanted her backing, I should first pick up the phone and follow up discussion points in writing.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Your counterpart’s preferred method of contact is a vital feature of stewardship. Often it’ll become clear to you and you can follow their lead.
STEP THREE: COMMUNICATION
If there was a new edition of our supporter magazine, an article in the news about our work, or something from the wider sector that was relevant, I would share this with the CSR committee.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Partners should be made to feel like activists, not cash cows. Keep your partner up to date with your charity’s news.
STEP FOUR: MAKE IT PERSONAL
During winter, teams from the company participated in a “sock drive”. I responded to each office coordinator with a handwritten thank you card. It took about 90 minutes and gave me a cramped hand but I received lots of positive responses – I had engaged more staff across the organisation.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Never underestimate the value of a handwritten letter. Never be too busy to send a heartfelt, handwritten note.
STEP FIVE: REWARD
I invited my key contact along to a prestigious event as a thank you for her hard work. She told me it genuinely made her feel valued as a major component in the success of the partnership.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Understanding what recognition your contact wants is vital to a fruitful relationship.
STEP SIX: BE HONEST
During the partnership my organisation had some high-profile bad press. Despite my nervousness, I picked up the phone to inform my key contact of the news. She thanked me for my honesty and advance warning and reassured me that, as a large company, they were not unfamiliar with bad press. She confirmed their continued support and belief in our work. Yes, it was a difficult conversation to have, but people don’t like to be caught unawares and if they had found out another way, I could have lost her trust.
KEY TAKEAWAY: What do you do when the challenge is against your organisation and is resulting in bad press? Tell the truth.
STEP SEVEN: THINK LONG-TERM
We were given the opportunity to present an organisational challenge to a team of graduates for a project. I offered support and ideas to their project on topics that were not the focus of my role. You may wonder why I supported this with such gusto, here’s why…
Within six months I had a group of passionate advocates spread across the company. They were raising money, volunteering their time, and encouraging colleagues to engage with the partnership. I had also forged a relationship with the Group Director of HR – a vital decision maker on the CSR committee.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Consider long-term return on investment. Something that may seem like unnecessary work for you could secure further opportunities for success.
STEP EIGHT: DON’T BE SELFISH
The company wanted to encourage challenge events for employee fundraising. This seemed cumbersome and resource heavy…it also wouldn’t sit within my budget…but I could see the bigger picture. Yes, that employee’s abseil fundraising will fall into the “Events Team’s pot” rather than Corporate, but they also became more engaged in partnership activity and influenced their colleagues to do the same. It created better outcomes for my target as well as for our beneficiaries.
KEY TAKEAWAY: The biggest mistake we can make as fundraisers is to work in silos. All donors, including corporates, are not giving to your team, they’re giving to your beneficiaries.
STEP NINE: COLLABORATE
I arranged charity site visits and invited frontline colleagues to meetings, pitches and events. It was a vital part of bringing my vision for the partnership alive. Without the support of my colleagues I would not have been able to demonstrate the impact the company could have. I relied on them to get the information I needed for reports and proposals. Similarly, the finance team were a vital component when I needed to show the expenditure of our partner’s donation.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Recognise that internal stakeholders are as important as your external ones. It will build trust and respect with your external stakeholders.
THE HAPPY ENDING
When the time came, I pitched the idea for the company to support us by expanding a service that could have a positive impact in one of their own challenges. I took along the head of the service and a client who shared his experience (the real hero of this story). They agreed to fund the expansion and support the project in its existing form. It was a massive win for the partnership, but also confirmed my belief of what was possible. I also believe that, if you follow the steps above, you could do it too.