According to the Institute of Fundraising FundRatios report, in 2008/9, 6.2% of charities’ voluntary income came from companies. This is clearly an important source of funds, but it is hard work and resource intensive.
Companies give from a variety of motivations, including philanthropy, to seek publicity and to demonstrate their social responsibility credentials. To secure significant funding from this source, an organisation will need to understand these motivations and be prepared to invest time in building and managing relationships.
Once you have one or more committed supporters from the business world, it is worth thinking how you might maximise this support. Do they have other business contacts who could be interested in supporting the same cause? The answer is more than likely ‘yes’. Might they be able to get their company behind the cause in some way, either in practical ways or financially? There is bound to be some way the company could get involved, even if it is just hosting an event. There may well, however, be other practical as well as financial ways in which they could give such as:
using the skills of individuals within the company
incorporating your cause in the company’s marketing materials
providing technical know-how
donating IT equipment
organising a volunteering scheme
matching funds raised by employees.
Reaching busy business people in the first instance, even someone who has already shown their support, however, can often be a tricky one. One effective way is inviting them to a business breakfast. The event can run from 8.00 to 9.30 am in the morning which does not cut too deeply into their busy agenda for the day. It allows for some useful networking so is not seen as a waste of time. And if one of your supporters in the corporate world is prepared to host the breakfast, it allows them to show off a little and get a number of key business representatives through their doors i.e. potential clients and customers.
As with any cultivation event there are plenty of things to think about:
The planning process – It is a good idea to get the host to delegate one or two people from his or her company to work with you. They know the lay-out, the booking system for, say, the boardroom, the catering facilities, access to diaries, the way the host likes to work, etc.
Scheduling – Build in 10-12 weeks from sending out the invitation to the business breakfast itself. Never underestimate how quickly business diaries get booked in advance even for early appointments in the day. This means the planning for the event should start 4-6 weeks in advance of sending out the invitations, depending on how often the planning team can meet during that time and how much research will be required to put list of invitees together. So, in other words, allow at least 4 months altogether.
Invitees – Ideally the list should be a mix of senior level representatives from companies that you have been targeting or would like to target and senior business contacts of your host. Note the emphasis on senior. You want people at the business breakfast who have influence and the power to make decisions. Assuming your host is at a senior level in his company – CEO or executive board director – then he or she is only going to be interested in a peer-level invitee list. So it is important to work with the host’s planning team on this and to get your host’s approval of the list. The ideal is for the invitation to come from the host as this will give the event credibility and a pull factor.
The pull factor – This can be the host him or herself because they are a known and respected name in the business world, the host company being represented, the guest speaker, or all three.
Guest speaker – Whereas the host will welcome those present at the breakfast and tell them why he/she has so much respect for the work of the charity that he/she is supporting, the guest speaker will set things in a business context and provide the added business relevance for the group of senior executives that have been drawn together for this event. It may well be that the host and speaker are one and the same but, either way, there should be a theme to the event which brings in the relevance of business to the cause or vice versa.
The theme – This may be a loose theme which ties business and the cause together but it should be reflected in the invitation or cover letter, the words of the speaker and the materials and slides used at the business breakfast, including any take-away pack.
Format – The advantage of a business breakfast for busy business people is that they are short, sharp and early in the day. That means they need to be a slick affair and run to schedule. If business people believe they will be out of the building by 9.30 am, then that is what has to happen as they will have booked their following appointment accordingly. If they decide to stay on for a further 20 minutes to network then that is all well and good but don’t count on it. For the sake of the host, the caterers and the boardroom schedule, it is equally important that the whole event is over including the clearing up by 10.00 am. So if the invitees arrive between 7.45 and 8.00 am, the following format and schedule can be used as a guide:
8.00 am Invitees arrive, register and help themselves to breakfast (buffet style with tables to go and sit at or already laid out on the tables)
8.15 am Host’s welcome
8.20 am Guest speaker
8.30 am Charity introduction by a senior representative
8.35 am Testimony and/or a short film
8.45 am Discussion chaired by the host
9.00 am Explanation by the host preferably or the charity representative as to what is being asked of the invitees and the taking of any questions
9.10 am Thank you and close
9.15 am Networking / individual discussions
9.30 am Invitees depart
The ask and options – If for most of the invitees this is a first experience of the charity and its work, then this event should be used as part of the cultivation rather than directly asking for a pledge. Building the relationship is critical and, as explained at the beginning, there may be a number of ways a company could help rather than just financially. So the options that you might want to put forward to the invitees the morning of the business breakfast could include being invited to visit the project, calling them to set up a meeting to have an individual discussion about their possible involvement, a list of practical and financial help required that could be taken back for internal discussion and followed up with a phone call. The invitees should be provided with a card with all of the options laid out and encouraged to complete their name, company, direct line, email and to tick at least one of the options.
Hand-outs – There should be a simple pack for each invitee, which includes the list of attendees and names of the host and speakers, some information about the charity, a specific piece about the work being talked about at the business breakfast and probably, if the host would like this, a brochure about the hosting company. The card referred to above with options laid out should be kept and handed out as the options are being explained, then collected up as the attendees leave the table.
Follow-up – As with all cultivation events, it is important to call and thank each invitee for attending soon after the event and to arrange a time to phone again or meet once they have had some time to consider the options. If you are unable to get hold of anyone initially by phone, email instead. The business breakfast is the beginning of the communication and relationship, not the end!
Fiona Alldridge Consultant to the NFP sector, specialising in corporate partnerships
Company sponsorship is often planned a year or two in advance, so write early to the person responsible for sponsorship. As far as possible, try to give your potential sponsor a clear idea of the advantage they will gain from sponsoring you. Will this be in reaching clients, gaining prestige, impressing business contacts or rewarding favours? Will it enhance their corporate image, give name awareness, promote a certain product, or benefit staff ? How will their name and yours be linked? Exactly what publicity will they obtain and in what form, e.g., posters, signs on stage, TV coverage? Will their name be part of the event name, so that it will always be used in conjunction with that event?
Remember, in a recession sponsorship is often heavily curtailed because its direct benefit to the company is hard to measure, and spending which offers perks to company employees or directors is easily cut.
If you are being imaginative in your discussions with companies, for example, suggesting they put up huge prizes at events, such as £1 million if six dice come up all sixes, or a golfer hits a hole in one, or even suggesting that they sponsor a world rock tour, then it is worthwhile suggesting that they can insure against these events happening or indeed something like a non-show by a major rock star at a benefit concert. This means that, effectively, the company pays a premium and removes the risk and liability.
Why companies sponsor events
The advertising associated with events e.g. major exhibitions, may be worth very large sums and will often be exclusive. A reception can be a very cost effective way of bringing together say, a couple of hundred people and key clients can be looked after individually. The company will also look to see if your event fits their brand values. If the company wishes to see itself as traditionally British it is unlikely to sponsor radical organisations operating overseas. Building the brand is key but so is customer retention, premium staff loyalty and recruitment. If a company is seen as socially responsible it attracts many benefits that feed into the bottom line in the long term.
Arts sponsorship is one area where huge sums can be obtained, and is a specialist field in itself. I would recommend “The Arts Funding Guide”, edited by Anne-Marie Doulton, published by the Directory of Social Change.
Charities that engage in serious sponsorship always ensure that they have a written contract, which makes sure each side knows what is expected. A mutual misunderstanding may have been Oscar Wilde’s recipe for a perfect marriage but it won’t work for a sponsorship deal. Both organisations’ objectives have to match; they have to understand the effort and resources they will put into the project and a controversial association cannot be hidden if a contract has to be signed.
In general, charities obtain much less than they imagine possible from businesses and, unfortunately, many innovative schemes can waste a huge amount of company time, for very little reward.