Getting Inside the Mind of a Corporation

May 23, 2019

In our previous post, Where Do I Start with Corporate Partnerships?, we spoke with longtime consultant Derry Deringer on why and how your nonprofit should go about forming strong partnerships with corporate entities.

In this second part of our interview with Derry, we dig deeper into what corporations want out of a partnership and how you can go about finding out these answers.

Elevate: Thank you again for sharing your insights from the decades of experience you have. I want to spend a little bit of time going over how to engage a corporation and what they are thinking of. In your experience dealing with corporations, what are the key considerations or factors that corporations care about when they partner with a nonprofit?

Derry: Here are questions businesses are asking when considering partnership:
• How well does it align with our business needs?
• How well does it align with our culture?
• How much do our employees care about this cause or nonprofit?
• What does the CEO or if a local decision the region head think about the opportunity?
• What is our budget this year and over the partner period and is partnership a priority with our community giving/affairs policy?
• What issues in the community are most important to us as a business and why?

Elevate: Two key metrics that are often measured in corporate partnerships are the marketing value and programmatic impact. In your experience, do you think corporations care more about impact or marketing value?

Derry: This varies from business to business. These are very good questions to ask business directly when you are in the very early stages of courting business partners.

Elevate: I see. Every corporation wants some form of marketing usually. Do you find that corporations prefer certain types of recognition or marketing when they engage in corporate partnerships?

Derry: Generally, interest in recognition on event programs and signage has decreased, while interest in recognition on digital platforms has increased. Recognition preference can vary. Survey or talk to your current business donors. If you don’t have business donors, identify areas, industries, or links to businesses that make a good match for potential donors (ex. the employers of loyal individual donors). Ask for their preferences (without asking for money). The questions will be appreciated and would count as a relationship cultivation touch point.

Elevate: Speaking of relationship cultivation, the question I think many nonprofits always struggle with is who is the best person to talk to or get in touch with when establishing a corporate partnership?

Derry: Good question. This varies. Imagine a half dozen possible contacts and a half dozen to a dozen giving possibilities from a large business. Understanding how to navigate the contacts and giving opportunities is the art of corporate giving. Here are some possible contacts. There are others depending on the industry and size of the business.

Assistant to or the CEO
Head or officer in Community Affairs
Head or officer in Community Relations
Head or officer in Corporate Foundation
Head or officer in Government Relationship
Head or officer in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)
Head or officer in Marketing

One just has to research, talk to employees and develop the skills to get to the right person. So talking to the right person is one important factor and another very important one is the decision -maker and decision making process. Asking these questions can save you time and frustration. This is where hiring a consultant/coach can help you build these skills and work with you to advance your relationships with your actual business donors.

Elevate: And just to clarify, what do you mean by the ‘right’ person to cultivate? How do you know when you’ve found the right person?

Derry: So, the “right” person or group is ultimately always the decision maker, right? Your goal is to have a direct relationship with that person or someone who is close to that person. Sometimes a group makes the decision. The art of corporate engagement is asking good questions and engaging with company staff in a productive way to learn about the inner workings of the program and decision making. For example: tell me more about how the corporate giving program works. Who heads that program? What’s the process for vetting nonprofits?

You might have different decisions makers for different giving programs in the organization. For example, HR might decide on workplace giving, whereas the CEO and executive team might decide on partnerships and the marketing head may decide on event sponsorship. A lot of knowing when you’ve found the right person comes with practice and experience. Be bold and keep pursuing it and asking questions.

Elevate: I’ve seen many cases where a nonprofit’s board consists of a number of their corporate partners. Is it a good thing for corporate partner’s representatives to be a part of a nonprofit’s board of directors or advisory board?

Derry: Yes, it helps. Good partnerships have shared culture, values and community interests so it makes sense for a partner to have someone on the board or advisory group somewhere. Also, the more ways that a nonprofit engages a business in giving cash, in-kind or services (time, expertise, network etc.) the higher the chance the business and its employees will continue to give.

Elevate: Can you give us some examples of innovative ways you have seen nonprofits engage corporations in their work?

Derry: I saw a regional technology company partner with a homeless shelter. They had a few executives on the board who provided management expertise and played a leadership role in successfully recruiting a new development director. In another case, a Fortune-500 food company gave cash and technical support to help a humanitarian NGO promote and grow entrepreneurship (food trucks and stands) and self-reliance in Bangladesh. I’ve also seen a small business donate computers and cash while the staff volunteer as teachers to low-income adults learning computer skills to secure higher paying jobs.

Elevate: Interesting. Sounds like there’s a quite a variety of partnerships out there. My final question for you today is whether you think it is a good idea to approach a corporation that does not have any sort of corporate giving or social responsibility program in place. Do you think this is an opportunity or a concern?

Derry: Good question. If the company doesn’t have any corporate giving program in place, you’ll want to see a lot of interest and motivation from the leadership. If you don’t have that from the start, likely not to be worth the effort investment. If they do have a program, make the case for your nonprofit being the better choice when they review renewing their partnerships or adding a new one.

Elevate: That’s a good principle to go by. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. This has been an extremely enlightening discussion that I’m sure many of our readers will find helpful as well.

Derry DeringerDerry Deringer is principal of Deringer Consulting which was launched in 2011. Previously, Derry was Director of Corporate Relations at WFP USA. He brings twenty-five years of experience with nonprofit, business and international organizations. Deringer Consulting helps executives and teams grow faster with better fundraising and better strategic planning. His favorite work is helping clients accelerate growth through a unique blend of coaching, consulting and facilitation methods. And the best place to start with every new client? … right where they are. Schedule a call with Derry today! 202.494.9170 |

About the Author:

Ethan Nava