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Building and Maintaining Productive Corporate Partnerships

February 14, 2017

by Grant Monck

Grant MockAt AFP Congress in Toronto in November, I presented on the topic of “Building and Maintaining Productive Partnerships with the Corporate Sector in Canada” with Nada Ristich, director of dorporate donations for BMO Financial Group. Nada and I have worked together for over a dozen years, and it was great to share our perspective on this topic with fundraisers from across Canada.

Our presentation covered our personal journey in the corporate and nonprofit sectors, the changing landscape of both sectors in Canada, the initiation and enhancement of corporate relationships and a case study to discuss ethical and fundraising issues. We emphasized philanthropic corporate giving rather than sponsorships, which from my experience is more of a marketing endeavour. 

Twenty Years of Changes

Many changes have occurred in both the charitable and corporate sectors during the past two decades. On the fundraising side, the number of registered charities has greatly increased, and there has been a significant move from volunteer-based annual fundraising to staff-intensive major gift campaigns.

As noted by Statistics Canada in their 2010 Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating, Canadians donate $10.6 billion annually. By 2003, corporate donations and sponsorships totalled an additional $2.3 billion to support the charitable sector in Canada. While there is a great focus on individual giving in Canada, the continued financial support from the corporate sector cannot be denied.

In corporate Canada, there here has been a movement from “cheque-book” philanthropy directed by CEO’s and board members to focused giving and cause-related marketing coordinated by staff with a responsibility for corporate social responsibility.  Employees wish to have not only a say in corporate giving, but a hands-on role as volunteers to assist charities. This approach is not only more democratic but follows the trend of Canadians wishing a more direct and fulfilling role in philanthropy at home or in the workplace.

With these changes, corporate financial support may now be deemed more of an investment in charities than solely the support of “good works.” Corporate philanthropic investments demand greater accountability and reporting from charities than in the past. The question is also being asked by corporations every day: what will be the impact of our support?

A Fundraiser’s Toolkit for Building and Enhancing Corporate Partnerships

The dynamic and ever-changing environment in the current charity and corporate sectors calls for even greater emphasis on building solid partnerships. Here are some tools to assist both novice and experienced fundraisers in this work.

1) Research, research, research

Before making contact, research your organization’s history with a corporation and uncover any current or past personal connections. Also, make sure to research the corporation and its charitable giving to other organizations. Though it is sometimes easier said than done, work to secure a face-to-face meeting or phone call with the appropriate individual from a corporation before any proposal is presented. Is there a fit with your mission and the corporation? A personal call or meeting is the best way to determine the answer to this question and hopefully begin a long-term relationship.

2) Listen, listen, listen  

First impressions are important. Approach an initial call or meeting with a corporation as the start or continuation of a long-term relationship. Be clear on an agenda beforehand and look at this interaction as a fact-finding session, not a sales pitch. Start with open-ended questions and then if appropriate, discuss alignment of your charity’s mission and needs to the giving approach and priorities of a corporation.

3) Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up 

After the call or meeting, seek agreement on "next step" items. Follow up with verbal confirmation. It is also a good idea to follow up with an email within a day, outlining the next steps you agreed to. Most importantly: do what you say you are going to do!

In our AFP session, Nada and I noted that for a successful partnership there needs to be:

  • Open and frequent communication;
  • A written agreement if applicable, detailing who does what and when; and
  • A shared understanding of expectations and how the success of the partnership will be measured.

One of the highlights of my fundraising career and current work with charitable clients has been the personal relationships I have developed with representatives of corporations across the country. These relationships were initiated and developed when I worked with different charities as a board member, consultant and staff fundraiser. While the charitable and corporate sectors will continue to change, the importance of building partnerships and personal relationships will be key to enhancing both sectors and Canadian society at large. Good luck with your work!

Grant Monck is a consultant with over twenty years of fundraising, legal and management experience with local, national and international organizations. Current clients in the nonprofit field include community foundations, health organizations and universities from Hong Kong to Toronto. See Grant's website at for more information.

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