Practical Steps to Get Your Board Involved in Corporate Partnerships
One of the biggest hinderances to implementing a successful corporate partnerships strategy is unhelpful internal cultures, and predominantly the prevailing culture of the Board.
So many corporate fundraisers feel that their Board ‘just don’t get it’. They see fundraising and partnerships as something that sits ‘over there’ that has nothing to do with them, and then almost simultaneously are banging their fists on the table asking why we don’t have any sponsors onboard yet.
There is no doubt that the sense of disconnection between the Board and the fundraising person/team can be responsible for much angst, frustration and heartache internally. As the Corporate Fundraiser for your organisation, there are practical steps you can take RIGHT NOW to start mending relationships and getting the support you need in your role.
WHAT YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOUR BOARD
Moving forward, there are some key things you need to know about your Board that may help you to reframe some of the frustrations you have.
• Your Board are not lazy, and they are not ‘bad’ people.
• You’ve been asking your Board for their help with corporate partnerships, but if you do not directly report to the Board (because, say you have a Fundraising Manager above you and a CEO above them) is the Board actually hearing your requests for help?
• We can complain about the lack of support our Board gives us, but unless we give them a clear pathway of step-by-step things they can do for us, they might be willing, but unsure how to help in a practical way.
• When we ask our Board to ‘open up their little black book’ of corporate contacts to us, it can create resistance. For instance, does your Board know you? Do they understand what you want to say to their contacts? Might they be worried that you will embarrass them? What are you going to ask for? What kind of contacts are you looking for, specifically?
• Every Board Director knows that when they tap a colleague or contact ‘on the shoulder’ to help them out, at some stage they will also be tapped on the shoulder.
• Board Directors can be well meaning, but uneducated about the expectations and timeframes involved in building relationships with corporates. They are not fundraisers, you have a role to education and support their understanding.
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO GET YOUR BOARD’S SUPPORT
Your Board can be a wealth of information and support, but it means that you need to know what they need in order to help you.
Here are some practical tips to get your Board working together and WITH YOU to kick some great corporate partnerships goals!
• Create a plan. If you’ve just been told that you need to ‘find sponsors’, you’re new in your partnerships role, or you’ve just been treading water not sure what direction you need to head to get great corporate partners, you need to create a plan.
• Create a policy around the Board’s commitment to corporate partnership. The policy should establish an understanding of and commitment to the importance of your organisation’s efforts in seeking, engaging and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with corporate sponsors. You need to think about including things like:
o How does your organisation view corporate partnerships?
o What might the funds be used for?
o Why are partners important to your organisation?
o The fact that partnerships are based on a mutual exchange of benefits, they are not a donation
o What generic privileges/benefits might partners receive?
• Create guidelines and expectations for how you want your Board involved in the corporate partnerships journey. Think about creating a Corporate Partnerships Board Expectation Agreement and list the areas that they can help you with. Think things like:
o selling tickets to your events
o inviting their friends, family and colleagues to your events
o promoting your programs, events, corporate partners on social media (why not make it easy for them and actually write the post you want them to share and provide links to the people you want them to tag?)
o offering 2-5 introductions to potential corporate partners within their network
o the sky is the limit- how do you want your Board to be involved?
• The Board needs to vet your list of potential partners. There is no point in developing a list of prospects in isolation and then making your approaches. At the end of the day, the buck (for pretty much everything) stops with your Board. They need to agree to who you intend to approach, but also, within that list, there might be people that they know and can introduce you to! They may also have some other brands and contacts to add that you had not thought of.
• Educate your Board. They are not professional fundraisers, and they often do not have a sense of just how long it can take to get a meaningful, sustainable partnership across the line. Let them know:
o That it can take 9-12 months to bring in your first partner.
o That sponsorship comes out of a company’s marketing budget and that there is huge competition for what companies spend their marketing dollars on.
• Get them to watch Dan Pallotta’s TedTalk, ‘The way we think about Charity is dead wrong’. It beautifully dispels the Charity Overhead Myth. Just do it, you’ll be glad you did. In fact, send it to the team! Everyone needs to watch this one.
• Ask for a Fundraising Sub Committee to be created on the Board. The more people on the Board that understand the partnerships journey and can champion your good work to the wider Board, the better! This can really streamline communications, help drive your strategy and add accountability to their role in corporate partnerships.
• Push back when you need to. It’s all very well to have a Board that are as keen as mustard to get sponsors on board, but THE most important sponsorship-related question your organisation can ask is, ‘are we ready to engage corporate partners?’ Does your website need updating? Is your messaging current? Do you have a robust and engaged social media presence? Do you have stories about the great impact you create. Does your Board know what’s involved? Do they know how they might need to be involved? How long it will take? It’s super important to get all questions, beliefs and concerns on the table upfront so you can manage expectations appropriately and save yourself added pressure and potential frustration later on.
So there you have it!
Some practical tips to support your Board to support you. Never forget your vital role as a brand ambassador and educator. Ask for what you need, and provide a clear pathway for people to follow.