Professional Development

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Speak the Language of Business

Tuesday, 08 April 2014 08:20

Schools and parents are turning more and more to fundraising to support out-of-school time programs because of budget cuts. However, trying to convince businesses to help out can be challenging, and it's easy to get turned down by not following certain business protocols. Here are some tips to consider when fundraising from businesses, corporations, and people in the for-profit sector.

Most companies do sincerely care about the people and the communities where they do business, and the philanthropy of those companies is rooted in charity, compassion and altruism. However, at the end of the day, businesses were created to make money, not give it away, so your fundraising pitch needs to acknowledge not just the philanthropic interests of the company, but the business interests of the company as well.

The best way to appeal to the business interests of the company while making your fundraising appeal is to describe how the company’s gift will help their visibility in a positive way. Explain how the company’s donation will create more visibility among customers and potential customers. For regulated industries, demonstrate how financial support to your organization can look good to government authorities and regulators.

Visibility can be provided in many ways such as logos on brochures and web sites, signage at events, logos on rooms and fields, and even with speaking opportunities for the company at your special event. Helping a business donor enjoy positive visibility through a financial donation to your nonprofit is a win-win for you and the donor.

This standard fundraising practice is most important when raising money from the business sector. Before you start asking for donations, establish a list of companies and products from which you will not accept financial gifts. Well-intended people within the nonprofit sector have different views over who should or should not be on the “prohibited” list among products such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling and firearms. Work with your board of directors to determine which, if any, companies and products are not appropriate for your nonprofit, and create that list before the temptation arrives to receive a financial gift that could wind up compromising your organization’s well-established values.

Some employers will match financial gifts made by their employees to a nonprofit, up to a certain amount. When receiving a donation from an individual, ask if their employer has a matching gift program. Similarly, some companies will make financial donations to nonprofits where their employees volunteer. These gifts could be a set dollar amount or could be a certain dollar amount per-hour of volunteer time. Be sure to ask your board members and all other volunteers if their employer has this financial donation policy.

Instead of a monetary gift, a business might offer to provide a product or service free of charge. If this product or service is something you were going to purchase out of your budget, then this is an in-kind gift and is just as valuable as receiving cash that you then would have utilized to pay for that product or service.

Every successful business closely watches the bottom line. When making your fundraising appeal to a company, emphasize the strong financial management of your nonprofit organization. Describe the diligent and comprehensive process your organization uses to develop an annual budget, how the organization manages that budget, and the financial reporting made to the board of directors to ensure proper oversight of the budget.

Activities-based costing and per-unit costing, while important for you to strongly manage your organization, also are impressive to prospective donors in the business sector. If you can inform a for-profit donor that your daily cost to serve a child is $x, or your full cost to send one child to summer camp is $y, you are speaking a businessperson’s language.

Business donors also are more likely to ask for your annual audit, and they also are more likely to ask how much of your budget is devoted to direct service and how much is devoted to administrative overhead. You should be aware of these numbers and percentages anyway, and benefactors from the business sector will hold your organization in higher esteem if you can communicate this information to them.

Most companies budget on the calendar year, and most companies include their planned financial giving in their budget for the next year. Those budgets often are being written and finalized between October and December, so be sure to make your fund raising request to a business no later than October. If you are pitching a funding request to a business earlier in the year, there always is a chance the company has undesignated dollars available to donate in that calendar year. However, do not be surprised if the company agrees to fund you but then says that the gift will be in next year’s budget and will be sent during the next calendar year.

Yes, as fundraisers we are taught that some of our donors – especially those who have consistently and generously funded our organizations from one year to the next – sometimes can be asked for a second financial gift in the same year. This is least likely to happen in the business sector. Since most companies budget their financial giving, each nonprofit being supported usually is in the budget for one gift. That said, successful business people love to network. That’s how they develop new customers for their company and sometimes find new career opportunities for themselves. While the company might not make a second gift, the business executive can be asked for suggestions of other companies and business executives who might be interested in making a donation to your nonprofit.

Businesses also can make donations to nonprofits through product sales. Cause-related marketing involves the company donating $x to a nonprofit for the sale of every product. Similarly, sports teams can make donations for every home run or field goal or three-point basket. Opportunities such as these are most likely to develop deeper in the relationship between a company and a nonprofit. If you have a business donor who has been financially generous to your nonprofit for an extended period of time, you might consider asking if there are any cause-related marketing projects that would benefit both of your organizations.

Remember, businesses want positive visibility – including from their charitable giving – and the department in charge of creating that visibility is the marketing department. In addition to the philanthropic dollars planned in the company’s annual budget, some businesses are willing to consider providing financial support to a nonprofit from the company’s marketing budget.

A fundraising request to the marketing department obviously must demonstrate the visibility generated by the gift. Signage at major events, sponsorship of media-related activities, naming rights of rooms and buildings and logos on printed materials are some examples of potential benefits offered for a financial gift from the marketing department.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at: @_billstan

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