PMA Consulting, LLC

Corporate Cultivation – The New Normal

Corporations throughout America have adapted to a new way of doing business. For some it’s called survival, but for many it’s a bleak but real outlook we might term “the new normal.”

While adapting to the new normal, struggling nonprofits may stray away from the fundraising strategies that have proven successful in the past to search for that mystical silver bullet to answer the questions of the organization’s future. Neglecting the once dependable fundamentals could prove to be the demise of the nonprofit.

As in basketball, fundamentals are paramount. A slam dunk or no-look pass can bring a crowd to their feet; but games are lost every day from a missed free throw or an errant bounce pass—two of the most basic and fundamental skills of the game. Now more than ever, fundraisers must lean into one of the basics of the craft: donor cultivation.

Developing new relationships or fostering existing relationships is a fundraising essential. However many focus solely on scoring the gift and don’t take the time to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship. Unfortunately, the same is true in corporate philanthropy. Although corporate major gift fundraising is different from individual work in that you often have funding request deadlines and gift requirements to work with, the basics still hold true. In an article by Joanne Fritz, “Top 10 Tips on the Fine Art of Cultivating Donors” she says your cultivation must be “strategic, systematic and coordinated.” It must also be done by board members, staff, donors and volunteers. Basically, corporate cultivation must be a well-coordinated, intentional effort executed by your prepared, like-minded team.

Cultivation 101 – Identify, Investigate, Involve, Invite

Cultivation is embedded firmly in the middle of PMA’s Development Cycle. In successful major gift fundraising, every step in the Development Cycle is critical. Without cultivation and a subsequent genuine, trusting relationship, a minimal gift might be secured, but your organization may suffer in terms of longevity of donor relationship and overall gift value.

The four I’s of the progression of cultivation are Identify, Investigate, Involve and Invite to invest.

  1. Identify: Every nonprofit organization should have a prospect researcher. In reality however, the majority of nonprofits simply don’t have the budget for such a position. Actually, everyone in the organization is responsible for identifying prospective partners. We should all be in tune to funding opportunities for the organizations we represent. Have you reminded your team members of this charge?
  2. Investigate: We must research and document because learning is ongoing throughout the life of a donor relationship. Get to know the prospective organization. Develop a genuine connection with the funder. Learn about the organization’s capacity and propensity to give. Discover its passion and interests. (For larger entities this information is readily available). Find out who the key stakeholders and funding decision makers are as well as key relational connections in the community to those individuals.
  3. Involve: Though fundamental in practice, involvement is the game-changer. Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, says: “…volunteer work is nourishing people in ways that paid work simply is not…The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves…entrepreneurs, executives, and investors are realizing that the best performing companies stand for something and contribute to the world.”  Rockford Sharefest, an organization that mobilizes thousands of volunteers annually, sees this year after year. Corporate partners, such as Lowes and Old Chicago restaurant, send dozens of volunteers each year – corporate employees who enthusiastically take coveted vacation days to serve Rockford Sharefest’s Schools Project. In the new normal, where salaries and benefits are less of a motivator, corporations—specifically the employees—want to be a part of something bigger. Give your corporate donors and prospects a compelling opportunity to share in your mission. 
  4. Invite (to invest): If the above steps are followed tactically, making ‘the ask’ is simply the next natural step in the evolving funder relationship. Some of us are quite good at loading the gun, but struggle at pulling the trigger. All successful fundraisers must eventually ask for gifts. The very good news is if you are successful at identifying the prospective partner, gathering worthwhile intelligence, and purposefully involving the employees in the organization, the appeal will most likely not only be anticipated but welcomed.

In the New Year, may you and your organization find the new normal to be prosperous and thrilling!