Building Relationships with Corporate Leaders

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!

Buy Raise More Money from Your Business Community—The Workbook here:


Preparing Your Home for Your New Cat

By Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed.

Congratulations on getting your newest feline family member! Your life is about to change and so is your cat’s. Be prepared may be your new mantra as you prepare for a lifelong companionship together. Cats don’t like change and moving to a new home is a big one—it’s a new environment filled with sensory overload of new sights, sounds, and smells. Preparing your home before your cat arrives eases the stress of transition for both of you.

Preparing your home for your new cat isn’t too different from preparing for a new baby—you want it safe. Assess your home from a cat’s point of view from the ground up; yes, that means getting down on the floor to take a good look around. If you have kids at home invite them to play along since small toys and game pieces could be hazardous to your cat.

What do you see? Open outlets, dangling wires, house plants, paper clips, toys…that long-lost earring you dropped weeks ago?

All of these are potential hazards to your cat. Seal those outlets with plastic safety plugs because cats are curious and may explore the outlet with their claws. Wires or cables, whether dangling or on the floor, should be concealed with rubber strips to prevent chewing, or worse. The strips are available from office supply stores, big box stores and online. Alternatively, you can make your own using paper towel tubes cut lengthwise and taped down. Of course you’ll need to watch that your cat doesn’t like to chew the tape.

Some cats are naturally drawn to plants and may consider them a green snack. Many common house plants, flowers and roots are toxic to cats. Remove toxic plants, such as lilies, from your home.  Keep a watchful eye if your cat likes to chew on plants, real or artificial; they may need to be relocated to an area away from your cat.

Our homes are filled with objects we use daily for our convenience and small items such as paper clips, pins, and twist ties must be securely stored away. Yarn, thread, ribbons and dental floss are potentially life-threatening hazards to cats. Cat tongues are covered with backward facing, hook shaped barbs that make the tongue feel rough. The barbs are “one way only” and prevent cats from “unswallowing.” Swallowed string can cause intestinal blockage leading to emergency surgery or death. Never try to pull string out of your cat’s mouth—get to your veterinarian immediately!

Since we’re talking about stringy items, take a look at those window treatments! Blind cords, decorative tassels, curtain ties, heck, the curtains themselves invite exploration. Your cat could become entangled in the cords, ties, or decorative pieces and risk strangulation. Secure them out of reach.

Other high spaces to now be aware of include counters in the kitchen and bathrooms. Store food, sharp objects and medicines safely out of reach. While we’re in the kitchen, put covers on stove top burners to prevent burns. Put cleaning supplies away and install cabinet latches to prevent feline exploration.

Now that your home is kitty-proofed it’s time to set up a feline B & B before your cat’s arrival. That means having the essentials of a sturdy carrier for transport to your home, food, water, dishes, litter, litter box, bedding, and a scratching post in place before you bring home your cat. Have everything set up away from the hubbub so your cat can adjust in a quiet retreat. Stick with you cat’s current food and litter; you may change later, if your cat agrees. Try to bring home a bottle of the same water your cat is accustomed to drinking or use bottled water to prevent an upset tummy while transitioning to your water source.  If possible, bring home a personal item, such as bedding, with your cat’s personal scent on it for an extra touch of comfort.

Bring your cat home on a quiet day so you can give full attention. When you get home release your kitty in the B & B area, not in the middle of the action in the living area. Liken the move to being dropped smack dab in the middle of an unknown city during rush hour. Where’s your hotel? Where do you eat? Where’s the toilet? What areas should you avoid? Is that a dog? It’s overwhelming. Some cats are outgoing and adjust quickly while others are more reserved and take time to adjust. Allow your cat to acclimate on personal feline time, not yours.

You and your new cat are embarking on a life-long journey together and early preparations ensure you create a paw-sitive relationship with your cat from the start.

Buy Ramona’s great new book Cats for the GENIUS at


Telling Your Donors Who You Are

Telling the reader who you are is a key component of your case for support. Although the case for support is not the same thing as the strategic plan, much of the information you need can usually be found in your strategic plan. Your case, as your plan, should start with mission, vision, and values. Your mission tells people who you are and what you do. Your vision tells the reader not only where you see your organization headed in the future, but how you envision your community at some point in the future, because your organization exists.

 Values are important to your case because you want readers to see that your values resonate with theirs. Your values represent who you are as an organization and what your core business philosophy is. Your donors can look at your values or value statements to find out more about you, your organization, and how you operate.

 If you don’t already have a values statement, this might need to be developed before your complete your case. To get your values statement started, you will find some helpful hints in Lynne Dean and Linda Lysakowski’s book Nonprofit Strategic Planning. Dean and Lysakowski recommend asking yourself: 

  • What values are so vital to us that we would be willing to lose otherwise good talent if the people involved were not shining examples of this value?

  • What values would you continue to bring to your work with this organization whether they were rewarded or not?

  • Think of two or three people who you believe exemplify what this organization is all about. Now make a written list of all the things these people seem to have in common. What does this tell you about their values? Now look at three people who were a complete mismatch for the organization and ask how their apparent values were different from your first three “stars.”

 Your values might include things such as: 

  • Openness

  • Caring

  • Integrity

  • Diversity

  • Quality

  • Transparency

 Your Mission

 Most organizations have a mission statement, although it is often too lengthy, too wordy, not up to date, or not in conformity with your values.

 Clarifying your mission statement may be as easy as saying yes, the mission statement adequately describes the overall purpose of the organization. On the other hand, you may decide to integrate new elements or delete elements which no longer apply.

 Your mission should concisely and accurately explain: 

  • Why does your organization exist?

  • Who does the organization serve?

  • What makes the organization unique?

  • What is the organization most noted for in the community?

 Your mission statement should be a specific, succinct articulation of what stakeholders wish your organization to be.

 What about wording of the mission statement?

 Examples of Concise Mission Statements 

  • Make-A-Wish Foundation: We serve a unique and vital role in helping to strengthen and empower children battling life-threatening medical conditions.

  • Charity Water: We’re a nonprofit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

  • Livestrong Foundation: We unite, inspire, and empower people affected by cancer.

  • Mt. Laurel Library (NJ): We inform enrich, connect, and transform our community.

  • Alexander Dawson School challenges its students to achieve excellence of mind, body, and character through a rigorous college-preparatory program.

 Vision for the Future

 The vision statement for your organization may seem lofty; the purpose of the vision, after all, is to inspire both the community and the clients. The vision describes your organization’s preferred future state or what the organization wants to be in the future. You will want your vision to focus not just on how you see your organization in the future, but on what your vision is for your community in the future.

 Dean and Lysakowski describe a good vision statement as one that answers the question “what would a perfect world look like?” or “what would a world that no longer needed our organization look like?”

 In addition to the vision for your organization, a good vision statement focuses on the vision you have for your community. Some questions you might ask to address this issue could include: 

  • What are the ultimate goals we are trying to achieve (i.e., end hunger, cure a disease, have a well-educated population, save a river?)

  • What do we want our community to look like (i.e., free from violence, creative, strong work force, a great place to live)

If you don’t already have viable mission, values, and vision statements this might need some work before you can complete your case.

 Examples of Good Vision Statements: 

  • Feeding America: A hunger-free America.

  • Oceana: We seek to make our oceans as rich, healthy, and abundant as they once were.

  • San Diego Zoo: To become a world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation.

 Next we’ll continue our blog on telling your story to your donors


To buy my new book, CharityChannel’s Quick Guide to Developing Your Case for Support, visit

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And for a 15 percent discount on Nonprofit Strategic Planning: