As part of a corporate blog swap with the brilliant Heather Nelson, I’ve put together my top tips for approaching cold corporate prospects. While you’re here, read Heather’s blog swap submission on employee engagement.
You’re a brilliant fundraiser so you know that your best corporate prospects are the ones that are already involved with your charity in some way (and if you didn’t already know this then we need to have a chat about how we can improve your approach).
But what happens if there’s a business in town whose work is so perfectly aligned with your charity’s mission it would be silly not to work with them, but their staff are currently strangers to you?
Do you let it pass, head out networking and hope for the best, or put some work in and prepare properly for a ‘cold’ approach?
We’re told that the cold approach is a no-no in corporate fundraising but there will come a point where we may have to do it – uh oh.
BUT, there are little things we can do as relationship builders so we’ve warmed it up a little by that first contact.
Here are my tips (which have a superb success rate!):
- Do your research: are you sure you don’t know anyone at the company?
Search the company name on LinkedIn and see if any of your contacts work there. Check the employees against your charity’s social media. Is an email registered to the company domain subscribed to your mailing list? Show the logo to your board and volunteers, it could spark the realisation that their friend/employee has just accepted a job there.
From your research look for the right person you should be talking to at the company to make your work more targeted and help you network to the right person:
- Small business: the owner is likely to be the decision-maker
- Medium: in slightly larger organisations the HR or marketing team may manage charity activity
- Large: in big businesses you may be looking at a CSR (corporate social responsibility) team made up of volunteers who organise the charity activity alongside their usual roles
- Never go direct if you have a mutual contact
Being introduced to someone through a mutual contact transfers some of the trust and recognition from that existing relationship to you. And as a fundraiser anything that can speed up the relationship building is golden. If your contact comes back to you with an email address for you to go direct, always reply to them to ask for an introduction.
To increase your chances even more, write the introduction yourself for them to copy and paste. You’ve made it easier for your mutual because you haven’t created extra work for them and you’ve controlled the amount of information the recipient will receive. I’ve failed so many times by having the other person write the intro, give too much away, and the recipient saying they’ll pass on to the right person who will be in touch if they’re interested – spoiler: they never do *eye roll*
- Be creative with your subject
They won’t recognise your name so you need another way to grab their attention.
Try something like, ‘Nikki told me to contact you’, ‘Great to meet you at networking’, ‘So good to meet a fellow Bruce fan’ – anything that makes you stand out from the hundreds of other emails in their inbox.
- Do more research!
Take a look at their company website, look at their social media, talk to people who do know them, and use the information you find to connect them to you and your charity within the first paragraph of your email.
You want to make it obvious very quickly that you’re connected in some way so they associate you with someone familiar. This way they’ll have a spark of trust and they’ll keep reading.
Something like, “Hi Bruce, I really enjoyed meeting you at the gala in February. We had a quick chat about climate action and your businesses steps to go green and I was so happy to hear you’ve already had progress!” – you’ve shown you’ve already met, you listen to them, and that you care about the same things.
- Tell them what you can do for them
You want to make things easier for them, and they need to know that working with you isn’t going to mean a lot of extra work.
Share a small insight into something positive that has come out of a similar partnership to not only social proof the approach but highlight the good work you do; perhaps you increased employee engagement with another company, got a lot of positive PR, or maybe you’ve heard they’re struggling to embed CSR activity and have proven insight that partnering with one organisation can streamline everything beautifully. You want to show them this isn’t just a money thing, you have so much to give back to their team.
One corporate told me that the reason they selected a charity was because they already had challenge event spaces and their team were really big on fundraising this way. If you’ve found out something similar through your research, mention it!
- Don’t ask!
The only thing we should be asking for at this stage is for some of their time to get to know them better.
A corporate contact of mine once told me that they received FIVE HUNDRED emails a week from the public asking for donations and gifts in kind. The public can be forgiven for doing this, they’re not trained fundraising professionals like you. But if YOU do it, you’re lumped in with the countless others who don’t make an effort and treat them like a cash-machine. Your email will end up in the trash if it’s even read at all.
- Take it offline
Once you get into an email back and forth you’re increasing your chances of being lost in their inbox once a busy day comes and you’ll be another thing on the ‘to-do list’. You don’t know this person and the goal is to build a relationship, so take it offline as soon as possible (safely – make sure someone knows where you’re going, put it on your shared calendar, and meet in a public place).
In this first email, to increase your chances of getting a response, give a specific date and time that you’d like to speak to them.
If you’re too vague you’re creating work for them to find a gap in their diary and it’s unlikely they’ll get round to it.
- Write like a human
And finally, just because you’re a corporate fundraiser doesn’t mean you have to get all ‘business-speak’ and write formally all the time.
Great fundraising relationships are created between people who understand and connect with each other, and you need to be you to make that happen.
Be friendly, be engaging, and most importantly let your personality shine through – what they meet in person needs to flow seamlessly from the relationship you’ve begun online.
So there you have it, eight simple ways to warm up your cold approaches to corporates!
Next time you think a lack of a lead means a dead-end, give this a go instead and you’ve instantly increased your prospect pool.
I’d love to hear from you about the wonderful ways you work with corporates, and I’m always here if you have questions on anything fundraising.
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