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Nonprofits target corporate giving

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Business partnerships get more focus, attention.

By Todd Cohen

Duke Energy and Duke University share more than their founder’s name.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based utility recruits students from the Durham school, sponsors faculty research, holds technology-transfer rights for technologies developed at Duke, and makes gifts to support academic programs.

“The money that companies give away needs to affect their business interest,” says Mimi O’Brien, director of corporate and foundation relations at the school. “We look for different ways we can engage with a company that touches the different ways they can be engaged.”

That means looking at the “totality” of the school’s relationships with a company, she says, and developing a “package” of mutually-beneficial philanthropic support.

With companies aiming to reap greater value from their philanthropy, nonprofits are growing more sophisticated in their pursuit of corporate support, experts say.

“Nonprofits are thinking differently to attract corporate partners,” says Kristian Darigan, a vice president of cause branding at Cone, a Boston-based consulting firm.

Much like ad agencies, for example, larger nonprofits are creating “leads” who can pull together teams to work with individual corporate clients, she says.

At the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, she says, team leads are assigned to one or more partnerships the nonprofit has with over 100 corporations.

And nonprofits are “really thinking smart about their sales pitch to corporate clients,” she says.

Instead of developing a corporate-sponsorship proposal in advance and then presenting it to corporate officials, for example, nonprofits are instructing their staff to “listen to the corporate objectives and then go back and see where there are mutually beneficial synergies between nonprofit and for-profit objectives,” she says.

Nonprofits also are paying more attention to tracking and showing corporations the return on their investment.

And to increase their attractiveness and value to corporate sponsors, Darigan says, nonprofits are working to build or improve their “brand equity.”

“Large companies making large contributions are often looking for an established, credible brand who they can share equity with, or in some cases borrow from,” she says.

Nonprofits also are targeting segmented audiences that corporate sponsors may want to reach, and developing media partnerships to give corporate sponsors more publicity.

And some nonprofits are working to build a leadership role in a particular cause, such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

“It’s easy to partner with Komen because they’re the leader in the breast-cancer space,” Darigan says. “The consumer gets it.”

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