Harnessing the Power of the Niche – 19 new partnerships in 4 months

Two big problems for most corporate fundraisers are a) how to even get your foot in the door to start a conversation with a potential partner and b) how to have companies actively desire a partnership with you ahead of any other charity.

One of my favourite sessions at this year’s IOF Convention was in the partnerships track and included three examples of small charities achieving fabulous success through corporate partnerships fundraising.

I particularly liked one of the examples shared by Damian Chapman about the corporate strategy he has implemented at Police Care UK, not least because until last year, the charity had literally not done any fundraising whatsoever for 50 years. In spite of needing to launch from this standing start, between March and the first week of July, by following the strategy I’m about to explain, Damian has signed up no fewer than 19 corporate partners.

Niche down

The first crucial distinction Damian made was to be absolutely focussed on which companies his charity would and would not pursue as potential partners. Although the danger faced by police officers has received some front-page media attention in the last couple of weeks, with the attempted murders of PC Stuart Outten in London and PC Phillips in Birmingham, the day to day reality is that the 11 police officers a day who are injured, or the fact a police officer is attacked every 20 minutes in the UK, or that a police officer dies by suicide every two weeks, is not at the top of most companies’ CSR policies. So when he started this job, one of Damian’s first questions was ‘which companies are far more motivated by this cause than the rest?’

The answer was the various companies that supply goods and services to the police forces in the UK. And because in this case the names of these companies are publicly available, he was able to draw up a list of which companies to proactively contact.

Build relationship / offer value first

Crucially, he did not then seek money or a partnership in the first instance.

He knew that the first step with any potential partner is to find a way to start a conversation. This may seem obvious, but the challenge remains that in most charities we have colleagues who expect us to go and ask for money and get impatient if we don’t.

On our Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme we use the metaphor of BMW sales people putting their effort into encouraging people to take test drives rather than trying to push for car sales. On our Programme we teach five tried and tested strategies for booking more ‘test drives’ (ie getting conversations with) initially cold companies.

And in this excellent Convention session Damian explained how effective his event strategy was for building relationships, ie securing chances to meet for coffee with the potential partners.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

A letter was sent to just the list of companies we discussed earlier, those most motivated to care. The letter invited them to an event to find out more about the possibility of partnership. Note, it did not invite them to come to a ‘fundraising’ event. There was to be no auction, no raffle etc. The event was as easy to say yes to as possible. Importantly, the invitation to visit was signed by both the Commissioner of Police, Cressida Dick and the Policing Minister. On our programmes we teach the extraordinary and under-rated power of Professor Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Influence. One of these principles is Authority Power, which clearly was a factor in the success of the project:

  • An immense 72% of the companies who received the letter responded.
  • 92% of the companies who responded turned up to the event! Well (if you were that kind of company) you would, wouldn’t you?
  • At the event, they heard powerful stories and facts bringing to life the importance of helping police officers who have been injured in the line of duty. And they were offered the chance to arrange a meeting to find out about how their company could get involved.
  • 90 of the companies that attended agreed to a follow up meeting.
  • So far, these meetings have led to 19 partnerships, with more to follow. (The value of these partnerships vary, but they will range between £5,000 and £120,000 per annum.)

Whose invitation won’t they say no to? How could you use Damian’s approach

  1. If currently most of your corporate fundraising is reactive, and does not raise enough to justify your considerable effort, my first suggestion is to make at least some time / week to be proactive, ie go after the companies that make sense strategically, because those are the companies where your efforts are most likely to pay off. (Note, for most charities, this does not mean chasing those exhausting, demoralising Charity of the Year partnerships that you’re really unlikely to win.)
  2. But assuming you’re clear who to approach, and why, how do you go about starting a conversation? Actually, there are lots of ways to get those first cups of coffee, but in most cases the kind of event strategy that is working so well for Police Care UK should be near the top of your list.
  3. If you go down this route, one of the most important problems to solve is which Authority figure should extend the invitations. Put differently, whose invitation would these guests find it really difficult to refuse? I appreciate that it may be hard work to build a relationship with that person. But if you knew the results in the medium term would be well worth the effort, who could your signatory / host be? And how would you go about building / improving your charities’ relationship with them now so that this becomes a reasonable request in the future?

Curious about increasing corporate partnerships income?

The Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme can help you understand and confidently apply dozens of strategies like these to solve the various challenges you face. You can find out more about how it works here.