Community voices, featuring guest author Noel Wax

Understanding the Value of Your Supporters and Donors and How to Convert That to Corporate Dollars

The NPO relationship game is changing before our very eyes. As companies continue to understand the importance of supporting causes and standing for something, nonprofits are in a unique position to capture the attention and interest of these brands in the form of corporate giving.

As CEO of GroundSwell Group, an organization that aims to bridge the gap between nonprofits and corporations, I want to help nonprofits make the most of this opportunity. First, let’s take a moment to review the common model of engagement. Nonprofits approach brands in hopes they will fund a program or initiative. This often takes the form of a gala, race, walk, run, auction, or other event. While these are great ways to initiate a conversation, pandemic aside, these companies get hundreds, if not thousands of these requests for support annually. If the NPO does not have a relationship with the brand, someone at the company who sits on the board, or another point of entry, these relationships are difficult to cultivate. Often, the NPO is sent to an automated submission form for the request, and while their mission is extraordinary, they are lost amongst the 1.6 million registered not-for-profits in the United States seeking this same support.

This model is often incredibly deflating. The good news is, the resources you hope to gain are available and in fact growing. What brands need now is for nonprofits to understand their needs and help them craft a partnership that allows the brand unique access to the nonprofit’s supporters and donors. While I’m not suggesting that NPOs just turn over their donor lists, there are creative, thoughtful ways to connect your donors and supporters with the brands you partner with. Your donors are uniquely passionate about your cause, so they may be more inclined to support brands if they see you partnering with them.

Know your donor base

The first step is to understand the value of your donor base to a brand. This is, of course, assuming you know your donor base as well as you should. If you don’t, take some time getting to know them. What are they like? Why do they support you? Where do they live? What do they value? This is all key data that can not only help you grow your donor base and maximize their support, but also connect them with the right brands that want and need to reach them.

One thing to absolutely understand is that your donor base loves and supports you and your work, so you have one of the most unique relationships and opportunities to introduce them to the brands you love and support—and, who support you. 

Picture messaging like: “Thanks to the support from [fill in company name here], we are able to buy two new wheelchairs for our veterans to get to work.” Knowing what you’re doing with these funds is empowering, and the love you give the brand will translate to loyalty and positive sentiment for them. This is really powerful stuff, and there are dozens of examples of impactful, positive messaging that works for both the brand and NPO.

Know your donor base

Evaluate your assets

Now that you intimately know your donor base, it’s essential to understand your “media assets” and how you communicate and connect with your audience. These will be the assets that you connect the brands to that have real value. 

Take a look at your social media channels. Every follower you have offers value to brands. Every email you send. Every event you host (virtual or in-person). Every invitation you send. Every networking opportunity you provide. Every creative thought leadership interaction. Every time you communicate, you are providing an opportunity to introduce your brand partner to your audience. 

Of course, it’s common to send the $100,000 or $50,000 sponsorship opportunities to as many brands as possible for your upcoming event. But remember, they get hundreds of these. The table for 10, a seat on the dais, their logo in the program, on the website, and at the event—these are great, but you can make your opportunity even more attractive by going a step further.

Be creative, stand out, and bring real value to your partners by showing them how they can win business and accomplish positive business outcomes from the relationship. If the brands win too, chances are you’ll work with them for a long time.

Stand out from the crowd

The field is wide open right now. There are not very many nonprofits doing this, so you have a chance to stand out in a very crowded field. Your brand partners will be very impressed that you know your donor base so well and are willing to make a real connection. 

Good luck! Whatever strategies you explore, I wish you enormous success in 2021 in fulfilling your vital mission to make the world a better place for all.

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