For most people, getting in the door is often the hardest part of making an ask. And it is really intimidating for those who have not worked in the corporate world. How do you get in the door? What do you say to the corporate leader? What if the prospect says, “No, we’re not interested?”
The first thing you need to do is make sure you are hanging out where the corporate leaders hang out. You won’t find them by sitting in your office.
Some leaders you will likely have a connection to—perhaps their companies donated to you before, one of your board members might have connection with the company or the corporate leader, or maybe some of the company’s employees have volunteered at your organization. But what about those you have no contacts with? How do you start developing those relationships?
Building New Relationships with Corporate Leaders
Make a list only the leaders with whom you do not have a contact or with whom you have a tenuous connection. We can then develop a plan to cultivate those leaders. List any possible contacts you might have, even if they are weak connections. You might be able to cultivate them into stronger ones.
Attend a few meetings of your chamber of commerce, and see if these leaders are in attendance—even if you do not get to meet them personally. Attend other nonprofit events and see if these leaders attend those events. Ask board members, development committee members, staff members, and other volunteers what they know about these leaders. Do they belong to Rotary or other service clubs? Do they travel a lot for business? Do they have family obligations that keep them at home most evenings, or are they involved in civic groups?
What are their interests? Do they love kids, serve as mentors, have family members with a disease with which your organization focuses? Do they have strong feelings about preserving the environment? Do they hunt, play golf, attend the local symphony, attend church?
Once you’ve developed this list, you might find some stronger connections than you thought you might have with some of these leaders.
Start with those you have some connection to and see if you can cultivate a stronger relationship. If this leader is a member of Rotary, for example, maybe you can arrange to speak to this prospect’s Rotary club. If you know a leader is a regular church attender, see if anyone on your board or staff belongs to the same church. If you know the leader attends the symphony, find out which of your board members or staff might also be a subscriber to the symphony.
Once you have a list of some business leaders with whom you have a slight connection, let’s see if we can cultivate those relationships into something deeper—before asking their companies to support you financially.
A Primo Cultivation Idea
Business leaders generally will attend early-morning meetings before they go to the office. So let’s plan some cultivation events to which they can be invited.
The first step is to identify your audience. List the leaders you will invite to your cultivation event(s).
Now let’s plan the event. If your list is long, you might want to plan several events. You will probably want to invite about twenty-five leaders to each event. You should try for a number of attendees of between ten and fifteen, but not everyone will be able to attend. Sometimes organizations organize the invitees by category—bankers and financial people, utility company leaders, high-tech company leaders, insurance company executives, etc.
The next step is to find a chair of the event—a business leader who will be known and respected by the list of leaders you want to invite to the event. Preferably this chair will already be familiar with and have a passion for your organization. It could be a board member, a member of your development committee, a major donor, a volunteer, or someone connected to one of your board or staff members (perhaps an employer).
Now, prioritize the list. Who is the best person to chair the event? Second best? And so on?
Choose several dates that will work for your organization before approaching the first person on your list. When you contact this person, be sure to mention why you want him or her to chair the event and what the purpose of the event is. Make it clear that you are not asking for money, but for advice, from those who attend this event.
Once you have a chair, let this person know you will write the letter of invitation. If the chair is willing to use company letterhead and envelopes, that will look more personal than using your organization’s letterhead, and it will attract the attention of the invitees. You should accept the RSVPs at your office, though. Do not expect the chair to handle this. Share your list of invitees with the chair, and make sure everyone on the list is approved by the chair. Also ask the chair if there are any names you should add to your list.
Plan a light meal, and keep your agenda brief. A suggested agenda would include the following:
A brief welcome form the chair
A brief update from your CEO explaining your programs and how you are addressing community needs
A tour or virtual tour of your organization
Time for questions and “advice giving”
When it comes to the open-discussion part, have some questions either written or verbally addressed to the group. Following are some examples:
Are there community needs you think our organization should be addressing?
Are there ways you think we can better market our programs to the community?
Do you have an employee volunteer program? If so, would your employees be interested in volunteering in any way for us?
Are there ways we might partner with your company?
In Raise More Money from Your Business Community, there is a perfect example of a successful cultivation event for a homeless shelter. See if something like this will work for your organization.
Once you’ve held your cultivation event(s), the next step is following up with attendees, particularly those who asked for more information or suggested possible partnership arrangements or employee volunteering opportunities. Do the follow-up one on one with the person who attended the event.
Track your follow-up information on a list, which will then be added to your database.
You will also want to follow up with those who did not attend the event. Make a list of those who did not attend.
If there are a number of people who simply did not find your first date or time convenient, you will probably want to hold a second event to accommodate them. Some of the people invited might not find any of your times convenient and might need to be contacted individually. Make a list of those you want to contact individually.
When meeting with these prospects individually, schedule appointments in the prospects’ offices at their convenience. Let them know you will take only thirty to forty minutes of their time. Since you can’t conduct a real-live tour at these meetings, try to give them as much information as possible in a brief amount of time. Take some leave-behinds, like an annual report, brochure, or fact sheet. But don’t expect them to read too much.
For discussion purposes, you can use the same questions used during the cultivator event. You don’t want to be taking copious notes during the meeting, but as soon as you get outside the office, jot down any important notes—especially if there is any follow-up information you need to provide for each prospect. You might also invite each prospect to take an individual tour of your organization if that is appropriate.
You are now well on your way to developing a strong relationship with business leaders. There are a few other tactics you might try, such as asking your board members to host events in their homes if they are on friendly terms with the leaders you want to cultivate. However, many businesspeople don’t like “mixing business with pleasure” and would rather keep these types of activities to work hours. Spouses might not be interested in hearing about something they perceive as business-related activities.
Once you have a relationship with business leaders, it will be easy to get them to talk to others about your organization, to serve as “cheerleaders” and “evangelists” for your organization. Once business leaders indicate a desire to get more involved with your organization, ask them to serve on your board’s committee. Invite them to host cultivation events for their colleagues and friends. Invite them to speak on behalf of your organization or to open the doors to other business leaders. You will soon find that a team of ambassadors for the business community will be willing to ask other businesses for money. These leaders might even start a “friendly competition” to see who can raise the most money!
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