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Less is more in the cluttered world of corporate fundraising

For many voluntary organisations, the large charity of the year partnerships are inaccessible, whether it be a case of not meeting the criteria of national service delivery, focusing on the ‘wrong’ cause, or simply not having a broad enough appeal, or a big enough brand. This means that for a significant number of charities Tesco et al are simply not on the agenda.

At Battersea, we are able to work with partners who recognise the power of our brand, national supporter base and breadth of media channels. This allows us to tap into partners’ marketing budgets and often circumnavigate CSR policies that might otherwise exclude us. However, this brand power is a rare commodity, and consequently one I cherish.

Prior to joining Battersea I was the lone fundraiser for a small local charity that visited adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities, running hour-long sessions designed to engage and involve them. Less than 4 per cent of the population falls within this group, and they tend to be invisible – cared for by the community in residential homes where there is little opportunity for interaction with the outside world. The charity I worked for had been delivering this service for more than 20 years, yet was virtually unheard of, had a name that was actually a bit of a misnomer and focused pretty much all of its efforts in one county. This was not an ‘easy’ corporate sell.

In fact the first thing I learned was that in terms of return on investment, focusing on trusts and foundations was a significantly better use of my time than seeking out cold corporate prospects. There are a multitude of trusts and foundations that are set up to support smaller charities or less popular causes. These became the bedrock of my efforts and produced some amazing returns.

The other key thing I learned was: don’t go in cold! When you don’t have immediate brand stand-out, then use your connections. Trustees, the other halves of your colleagues or friends who work locally can all become your strongest champions – and it often only takes one.

The other area of success came from focusing on the very reason that we weren’t relevant to big supermarkets – our localness. As well as schemes like Waitrose Community Matters (this takes 10 minutes to fill in and you may have to wait a while, but you will get something back) and other branch-led activities, we also found local businesses that embraced the opportunity to work with a charity close to home.

Finally, make a feature of being a smaller charity. For many smaller corporates the impact of their donation can be greater in a smaller organisation. Smaller charities can develop stronger and more meaningful relationships that avoid the charity of the year churn and allow a donor to feel that they are making a real difference – whatever the size of the donation. Small can be beautiful, especially if you’re small too.

Corporate fundraising for a smaller charity is a challenge, but there are organisations for whom supporting a charity that is literally on their doorstep has a real and tangible appeal – you just need to find the right way into them.

  • Mark Atkinson

    Jane – you are spot on with this blog. Totally and unequivocally agree.

    In my most recent role we didnt even use the term “Corporate fundraising”. Instead, I developed a “Commercial Fundraising” team which specifically targetted the marketing budgets of prospective partners.This won’t work for every charity but it can work very well for decent sized membership organisations whose members have a clear propensity to purchase specific products or services. What we essentially did was create an agency for companies to reach our member base through the development of carefully selected and exclusive partnerships. We had a menu of off the shelf activity which companies could choose from on a pic n mix basis to provide a bespoke campaign which we then delivered over an agreed timeframe. This included advertising, product placement, distribution and sampling, competitions, market research, affiliate programmes, introducer arrangments and of course sponsorships and the development of completely bespoke initiatives of mutual interest.

    The results of this were outstanding. We were cheaper than going through an intermediary agency with all the associated costs, we had the trust of our members and companies benefitted from the halo effect. We even monitored propensity to purchase on behalf of the company. The net profit was great and we had contracts against which we ringfenced funds to deliver project based activity.

    4 things to remember in all this is

    1. The role of company procurement managers who are prevalent in larger co’s esp FMCG’s is simply to get best value for the company. They wont have been involved in negotiations with the brand team so you wont have a relationship with them. They will try and bash down the price so allow for a little flexibility in your costings so they feel they are getting some concessions.
    2. The importance of getting the contract right because if you dont then it doesnt matter how well you negotiated things can get messy esp when there are staff changes which frequently happens with brand managers who get moved around regularly
    3. Ensure you are totally au fait with data protection requirements if contracts require you to promo direct to your members/ supporters
    4. Never give a company brand exclusivity only give them exclusivity for the product or service they are working with you on for the duration of the contract. Exclusivity is expected but dont prevent your charity from being able to work with other competing brands. You will lose out on money if you allow this to happen. Make sure the contract is clear on this.

    Adhere to these rules and act in accordance with your clear ethical policy and the right charities can do very well with this approach.

    Mark Atkinson
    VCSchange