Need to Attract New Corporate Partners? SEVEN tips inspired by one brilliant campaign.

In Episode 61 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast, Laura Webb, who in 2020 had been interim head of corporate partnerships at Leeds Children’s Hospital, described how in the winter of 2020 she and her colleagues launched a new initiative, Sponsor the Sparkle. It was a way for local businesses and supporters to donate to the charity by sponsoring Christmas lights in the shape of stars on the side of the hospital. It proved a fabulous success, raising £35,000 in donations incredibly quickly.

Laura had been inspired in mid-September by a post she saw on Facebook about Sheffield Children’s Hospital’s Snowflake Appeal. By the time of her own charities’ Facebook Live switch-on event in Leeds in early December, 22 partners had donated. Importantly, more than half the companies that supported gave to the charity for the first time.

Part of the rationale for the initiative was to respond to a challenge that many hospital charities experience each December. Members of the public often want to help by donating presents for the patients, especially for the children’s hospital. The intention is obviously very kind, but unfortunately it’s often difficult for the charity to make use of the presents as intended, for instance because the suitability of some presents to people who are ill. And in December 2020, for infection control reasons in the era of COVID19, it was not possible to accept them at all.

At the same time, there are many things which make a big difference in a hospital at Christmas time, and especially in 2020 when patients were more isolated than normal. For instance, the hospital charity provides Christmas dinners and decorations, appropriate presents for all demographics of patients, and taxis for staff working over Christmas. A great strength of the campaign was that it gave generous would-be supporters a means to help people in a way that would make a big difference at an especially difficult time.

It’s true that some elements of this campaign particularly lend themselves to hospital charities and hospices, but nevertheless, most of the principles which under-pin this campaign apply to corporate fundraising initiatives for any kind of charity.

In case it inspires you to improve your existing plans to raise funds with companies and community groups this Christmas, or to start something brand new, perhaps similar to what Laura did, in this blog I’m happy to share some key elements that we believe contributed to the success of the campaign.

1. Harnessing an existing motivation and context.

This whole campaign is fun, joyful and Christmassy! A big reason it works is that it neatly combines the desire people have to be generous in the holiday season, with the ritual of celebrating through sparkling lights.

2. Simple, clear proposition.

Another strength is that it’s so easy to understand. Within moments of seeing information in an email or on social media, or hearing an explanation over the phone, supporters understood how it worked. And importantly, decision-makers could tell it would make sense to their staff and customers.

3. Learning from ‘bright spots’.

Laura got the idea for this campaign from the brilliant Snowflake Appeal delivered by Sheffield Children’s Hospital every Christmas for more than a decade. She saw information about it on Facebook, and realised it should be possible to create something similar.

If we’re not very careful, a common pitfall for charities is to focus most of our energy within our organisation, trying to come up with our own original solutions. The truth is that we are rarely the only charity wrestling to solve a problem or maximise an opportunity.  Making it your regular habit to pay attention to what other organisations are doing, and to search out solutions other organisations are already implementing brings many benefits.

For one, most importantly, it helped Laura believe what was possible, which gave her the confidence to take decisive action. For another, she was able to have invaluable conversations with a generous fundraiser at Sheffield that helped her benefit practically from their experience. And for another, to secure buy-in and investment in her own organisation, she was able to create a well-reasoned model of the return on investment her campaign could achieve, because she could show what was already being achieved elsewhere.

4. Easy first step.

One of the key ideas we share on the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme is the importance of making it as easy as possible for a company to start a relationship with your charity. By making it really easy for companies to get involved and start receiving benefit from supporting the charity, this initiative has created a great platform with which to build relationships with companies, so that they can continue to support if they wish.

5. Adding value to partners where possible.

While the donations were driven by the desire to do something kind for patients at the hospital, Laura nevertheless made sure companies were recognised for their generosity. In the first year, this included a sponsors logo stamp for them to share with staff and customers, for instance through their email signatures; involvement in the Facebook Live switch on; and a thank you photograph and certificate. The team at Leeds have plans to further improve the partners’ experience and recognition this year.

For a different, but very powerful approach to adding value to partners, check out this example in my recent blog about the success achieved by Children’s Hospice South West.

6. Team effort.

Within most charities, there are often several different people who have relationships with partners and suppliers, and lots of your colleagues have corporate contacts of their own. Managing to recruit 22 partners so quickly was achieved through a brilliant team effort, in which Laura encouraged her colleagues to proactively contact companies to let them know about the opportunity.

And implementing the campaign also required lots of wonderful teamwork by colleagues across the charity and the partner NHS trust, including the estates team responsible for over-seeing the installation of the lights. Laura explained that a wonderful benefit of a cross team initiative like this is that through the project you build stronger relationships with colleagues in other teams, which can only help the organisation become more effective.

7. Asset for the future

As well as raising impressive funds in the first year and giving a charity the chance to build relationships with companies that get involved, the team has also created an asset they can build on and improve each year.

Would you like help growing your corporate fundraising income this year?

The Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme is designed to give you not only LOTS of powerful strategies (such as the one we’ve explored in this blog), but just as importantly, the support to help you implement these techniques in practice. In fact, this is exactly what happened for Laura Webb, mentioned above, who took part in the Programme last year. Like her, you take part in inspiring masterclasses and one to one coaching, which are all designed to help you build momentum and get results. Curious? You can find out more here.