40 Reasons Nonprofits Have More to Offer Businesses Than We Think

Marc Koenig is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub. He is a writer and marketer who helps nonprofits put a positive dent in the universe, make donors’ lives richer and stop just struggling to survive (all while having one hell of a good time). Follow @npmarc for more.
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When it comes to nonprofits working with businesses, I always think of the Joker’s iconic line:

“You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.”

The Joker

Here’s to hoping you don’t have to bust out the “watch-this-pencil-disappear trick” at your first business partnership meeting. 

To most of us in the nonprofit sector, businesses and nonprofits seem a world apart.

We understand executive directors, fund management and event planning—but don’t talk to us about minimum viable products and CTOs.

Which makes it difficult to approach businesses to partner with them. We feel like we’re aliens in a strange land.

And even if we knew HOW to contact businesses, would we know what to do if someone was interested? Um, sponsorships maybe?

But have no fear. In his book Fundraising with Businesses, expert Joe Waters shows that every massive campaign is built on solid fundamentals: Approach a business, offer them an incentive and give them a detailed plan of action.

In other words, don’t just chase cars. Learn what to do if you catch one.

Going from Win-Lose to Win-Win

So what would you offer a potential business partner? Most of us usually jump one of three directions:

  1. Cash donations – A donation from the company to you. If cause marketing were Christmas, this is the generic gift card.
  2. Sponsorships – Money for you to put their brand’s name and logo in front of people. Anyone who’s tried to get a fundraising event off the ground has had to wrangle sponsorships.
  3. In-Kind Donations – While these CAN be amazing, they can also be cringeworthy. Too much like the gift from Aunt Lawna that wasn’t on your list and doesn’t come with a receipt.

The common theme of all of the options above?

Joe Waters doesn’t doesn’t think you should focus on them much. He doesn’t.

But why not?

Each of the methods above are great in the right context—but they leave so much potential on the table.

While it’s comfortable and easy to accept a simple cash donation, it’s usually one of the LOWEST returns on a business partnership you can get.

If instead that company invested money in a campaign to promote your nonprofit and their company at the same time, you can see much greater rewards.

In other words, why go with a small victory for you—when you could have a massive victory for both you and the business you’re partnering with?

(And which option do you think will get the business eager to partner with you in the future?)

Business partnerships don’t have to be charity—they can be win-win.

As an organization doing amazing things, you have something valuable:

You’re selling the benefits of being associated with your cause and what you’re doing.

You’re selling meaning.

And when you’re working with a partner, you give their work more meaning (and attract more customer attention) than if they worked alone.

The Secret of Business and Nonprofit Success

Reading Waters’ latest book, I was surprised.

While I thought creating business partnerships was difficult, it turns out the hardest part is just finding a proven model that you know will work.

Because once you have a proven model, convincing businesses to join you is just a matter of making it incredibly easy for them to say yes—going local, getting in their heads, doing the work for them—instead of being a question of whether it will benefit their bottom line.

Most of us avoid diving into cross-sector partnerships just because we don’t know where to start, or what we should try.

And if we already have a potential parter, we don’t want to waste our limited time and money testing novel approaches… and maybe screw up a valuable relationship.

Waters summarizes the pressure he felt in his own fundraising gigs:

“None of my bosses had the time or patience for testing concepts or trying new things just to try them.”

Sound familiar?

The 40 Proven Strategies for Business and Nonprofit Partnerships

You can learn a lot from Joe’s book about how to get (and maximize) nonprofit partnerships.

Here’s a few powerful things I discovered:

  • How simple Point-of-Sale methods can raise $300,000 for a nonprofit in a single month—with only 10 participating locations.
  • Persuasive statistic on why nonprofit partnerships matter to business partners’ target markets (e.g., 90% of American consumers want to know about what causes companies are supporting).
  • The three Types of Decision Makers who determine whether you get a partnership: Thinkers, Feelers and Deferrers (and how to appeal to each).

In other words, the book is packed with technical strategies on how to get more from your existing relationships.

To be totally transparent, it’s true these strategies work best from an existing position of strength. The methods will be most effective with a previous business partner or a strong potential partner connection already in mind.

That said, if you take the advice on how to incentivize businesses to collaborate with you, you can easily combine that with a few meetings with potential partners and a detailed plan for implementation and how it benefits them and forge that partnership.

It will just take creativity and dedication—and then, once that’s in place, you’ll have Joe’s resources at your command, which combined with your hard work will (practically) guarantee success with a new partner.

A Vision for Small and Medium Sized Nonprofits

At the end of the day, even the smallest nonprofit—with no existing business connections or cause marketing relationships—can use this book.

Imagine your next partnership pitch:

“We have this testimonial from working with Y company that’s just like you, and here’s our plan and the expected raise in revenue, based on what we’ve seen in the past.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t that open doors?

At the end of the day, fundraising with businesses is tough. It definitely takes more work than accepting a token donation.

But even the smallest nonprofit can learn to raise more money and foster valuable long-term business partnerships—as long as you have a proven game plan.

Interested in learning more? Check out Joe Waters’ book Fundraising with Businesses.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher. Nonprofit Hub isn’t an affiliate nor benefits in any way from promoting Joe’s book. It’s just a good’un!

Image source: MoviePilot
  • LydiaMcPherson

    Excellent article. 100% in agreement.

  • jona

    This is a wonderful article, very en lightning.