Transform Your Corporate Giving Strategy

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by Bill Crouch

Every client we have engaged with over the past three years is struggling with their relationship with corporations and their giving. Recently, I met with Mary J. Monusky, former director with American Express and now a business development consultant working with Broward College on building and leveraging their corporate portfolio.

In our conversation, I asked Monusky to share her insights from her extensive corporate experience in both the U.S. and Europe that can help accelerate nonprofit development work. Here are six suggested tactics and why they matter, which can transform your corporate giving strategy.

1. Be Relevant

Start by knowing the company. Read its investor news, annual 10-K reports, quarterly 10-Q reports and periodic 8K reports of significant events. Look for detailed information on sustainable development goals and/or corporate social responsibility. Read C-suite executive profiles on LinkedIn with attention the volunteer experience of each profile (board memberships are noted here). Ask expansive questions to gain clarity on key needs, plans and giving themes that you’ve uncovered. Focus on your contact’s responses, not on your predetermined messaging. Be thoughtful. Connect the dots between corporate goals, plans, acquisitions, issues with what your organization is doing/can do/has done/plans to do.

Why this matters: The more you understand, the more you will be able to speak their language and build a solid communication foundation. Cultivating concern and good will help you become closely connected and relevant.

2. Build Trust

Respect your corporate partner’s schedule, goals and needs (see No. 1 above to help identify needs). Exhibit transparency via open and honest communication (USPS remains the No. 1 most trusted company in the U.S. despite — or perhaps due to — publicly sharing financial irregularities).

Problem solve right off the bat. Tackle problems, suggest solutions, show results from similar partnerships or campaigns. Also, meeting in person shows effort and commitment, and establishes familiarity. For follow-up, think unflaggingly about your client and always do what you say you will do, whether it is sending an updated project plan or scheduling a next call. Do this the same day you met: There are no standard business hours in the global economy.

Why this matters: Trust continues to be valuable and rare. Your reputational value to your corporate partners is consistently being evaluated, based on how you are doing with the above and serves as a reliable barometer for making decisions. Since time is money, and trust reduces risk and uncertainty, it is critical you embody this mix of respect, results, relevant actions and values.

“Trust is the social glue that holds business relationships together. Business partners who trust each other spend less time and energy protecting themselves from being exploited, and both sides achieve better economic outcomes in negotiations.” — Harvard Business Review

3. Understand Corporate Timing

Understand your client’s fiscal reporting year. Six of the top 10 Fortune 100 companies align their fiscal reporting year with the calendar year, including Berkshire Hathaway, United Health, AT&T, CVS, General Motors and Ford. Partners, shareholders and press rely on this reporting and timing, and your organization should, too. Generally companies prefer Q4 to be reported as the strongest financially in terms of revenues and low cost of operations, so they can end the year on a high note (acting as a positive sentiment for stock prices). Due to this, public companies typically make large procurement decisions throughout Q1, Q2 and Q3, with a “silent” purchasing period common throughout Q4.

Why this matters: Their timing matters, not yours. When you inquire about giving, be sure to inquire about timing. You’ll eliminate the risk of asking/expecting funds at an unrealistic or inconvenient time.

4. Know Your Numbers

CEOs are constantly, myopically aware of not just results, but “lead and lag” measures that indicate where projects are on a timeline and which initiatives are gaining ground (the leads) along with those not making expected progress (the lags). While there are literally thousands of potential measures available to businesses, after completing your due diligence (see No. 1 above), you’ll have clarity on what’s being tracked and repeatedly reported: You will know your numbers. Be sure you understand these measures. If needed, ask questions — most CEOs will be anxious to share their perspective on business gains or losses and what’s being done to affect this. Understand the same about corporate giving: What efforts and gifts have supported leading goals and what’s been unremarkable. Know the numbers here, too.

Why this matters: C-suite executives are paid large sums of money to keep their eye on financial data. Metrics matter! As newer social responsibility determinants of success become commonly associated with corporate reporting, CEOs will look for ways to measure this, too. Helping them track, improve and communicate lead indicators of corporate giving will ensure your place at the table. Leading corporate partners want to know you think like them.

5. Share Accountability

Creating a giving plan with detailed action steps and a realistic timeline should be a primary goal and should include a “responsibility” column where tasks are assigned to and completed by both your organization and your donor’s company. Overseeing projects and making critical decisions together leads to greater shared ownership (with both sides working to reach shared milestones), enhanced opportunity for success (corporate partners with skin in the game will work hard to ensure their projects are viewed as successful) and ongoing partnership relevance (since you’ll be speaking and working together regularly).

Why this matters: Working together and becoming accountable to shared goals and tasks allows you to prove your intention, build trust and increase engagement with your client partner. And critically, this sets the stage for seeding a longer term, foundational relationship by defining an effective way to partner together that will last beyond this one project.

5) Know Your Endorsers

Consider every single person who you encounter at a client company an endorser. Know that the coordinator that schedules calls; the security guard at the lobby desk; managers and office assistants; IT consultants; marketing, PR and legal teams will all form (and potentially share) an opinion about you and, subsequently, the company you represent. Thinking these opinions will not rise to the level of your C-suite is an act of folly. When Monusky worked at American Express, its president used to say: “You are the Blue Box, everywhere you go,” meaning actions in public were always considered a reflection of the company. It was a high bar to live up to (AMEX is over 150 years old, with a sterling financial, corporate and cultural reputation to this day), but everyone who worked there embraced this, creating a dignified manner of working and traveling throughout the world. To this day, she is grateful for and embodies that lesson, and many of her closest client confidants are those who managed the daily tasks her C-level contacts had to contend with.

Why this matters: Most leading companies are organic, with activities and teams that are well integrated. Many charitable organizations target one level of executive at a donor organization and ignore or try to move quickly past lower-level managers or administrations. Think differently about your key endorsers. Broaden your lens. Learn and remember names, titles and team goals. Everyone you meet matters. And never forget: Today’s manager may be tomorrow’s CEO.

6. Never Pitch

Since most of you are promoting an opportunity for your client to increase their CSR standing, there is no need to sell your donor opportunity. Most Fortune 500 CEOs have policies in place promoting CSR and do so for one reason only, according to Sikhie Leung from Zegal News: “The reason is they absolutely will lose money and customers if they don’t.” Consider the value you bring to almost any corporate partner that is struggling to show a return on investment from philanthropic activities. Know your numbers (see No. 4 above), map out a sensical plan that aligns with your client’s CSR goals and start a dialogue.

Why this matters: The new normal in corporate America is forming partnerships that provide multiple benefits to multiple constituents: financial, social, developmental. Seek alignment with values and mission, not just with your corporate partner but potentially with their other customers and/or constituents. UPS’ Humanitarian Relief & Resilience Program has invested over $13 million across 61 countries to provide larger global relief partners with grant funding and smaller regional partners with supply chain expertise to strengthen disaster preparedness, emergency response and post crisis response efforts. Multiple organizations and individuals are benefiting from monetary support and workforce skills development all from one source. Bring actionable, thoughtful ideas that strike multiple chords, and you’ll never need to sell again.

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