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Right on the Money: When Corporations Are Partners, Donations Come Naturally

Professional people meeting over lunch.

At a time when many corporations have cut back on charitable donations, a youth-serving organization in Fayetteville, AR, has beat the odds. Youth Bridge, which serves runaway and homeless youth and teens with substance abuse and mental health problems, has more than tripled corporate donations as a percentage of its annual budget over the past three years, says Nancy Hairston, the organization’s chief fundraiser.

The success, she says, comes from recognizing that making the “ask” of a business is not a one-time request: It’s the culmination of a long-term process, with plenty of hands-on, personalized attention.

Any youth-serving charity, even one without a dedicated fundraising department, can put Hairston’s philosophy into practice. To help others raise corporate dollars in this time of shrinking state and local budgets, she shared with NCFY the steps she took to build a relationship with and secure a donation from one Fayetteville company.

Be warned that the process takes several years. But by following Hairston’s lead, you’ll find that soliciting a donation from a business feels more like talking to a friend than passing the hat. 

First Contact: Sponsorships

Hairston first invited members of the company’s board to sponsor YouthBridge events. Why? When sponsoring companies publicly associate their name with a youth-care program, it helps them feel invested in the program’s work and cause, which can lead to more substantive collaboration.

Next Steps: Courting Executives—and Employees

“Money is tight,” Nancy Hairston says, “and corporations want to know exactly who they’re supporting.” So she took steps to familiarize the company with the work that Youth Bridge does by inviting executives to her organization’s events.

She also met with corporate leaders on their own turf. Doing so showed them her commitment to reaching out, she says, and provided constructive feedback about how best to communicate Youth Bridge’s mission.

Because Hairston knows that corporations pay attention to where their employees volunteer and give money, she also created opportunities for its employees to volunteer at Youth Bridge. “[Companies] listen to employees with a direct personal relationship to an agency’s services,” she says.

Getting Closer: Board Memberships and Public Recognition

Next, Hairston asked a senior manager from the corporation to serve on her organization’s board. With a corporate representative on your board or in your regular meeting schedule, you have a valuable ally and advocate when asking the company for money.

If your board is already full or you’d prefer a different way to personalize your relationship with a corporation, consider some other form of recognition. Youth Bridge once gave their annual philanthropy award to another local company’s president, after which “two members of their management team asked to get on our board,” Hairston says. “And plenty of volunteers began to come, too.”

The Ask: A Conversation, Not a Question

When it came time to solicit a donation, Hairston had lunch with the board member, but she didn’t ask for money—she asked for help.

“Hopefully, your final ‘ask’ is a conversation” with a corporate representative or the company’s community relations liaison, she says. “Let them coach and strategize with you and help design a proposal for the board. That’s how you figure out what’s appropriate to request of them.”

The Result

With ample reason to trust Youth Bridge and a pitch tailored directly to their philanthropic interests, the corporation happily agreed to donate.
 

Read this previous Right on the Money article about how corporations approach charitable giving.

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