Matchmaking for corporate philanthropy

Darian Rodriguez Heyman, executive director of the Craigslist Foundation, speaks to the intricacies of matchmaking between nonprofits and corporate donors.

Darian Rodriguez Heyman
Darian Rodriguez Heyman

Darian Rodriguez Heyman

Nonprofits looking for corporate sponsors, and for-profits looking for that perfect philanthropic partner, will find their best match lies in a collaboration that meets both parties’ needs.

The synergy of nonprofit/for-profit partnerships must be not only philanthropic, but also couched in terms of marketing, program and financial needs.

Finding that perfect someone

The key thing for both parties to identify is: Who are the folks that really fit – and are interested in supporting – the type of work we’re doing?

There are a lot of great resources out there to facilitate that daunting search for a soulmate. You can network and mingle through groups like the Foundation Center and statewide grantmakers associations. And CompassPoint Nonprofit Services sometimes organizes events focused on corporate givers.

Volunteers are also a great place to test the waters. Establishing a relationship with a potential corporate partner is often most effective if you’re already engaging their employees as volunteers or donors. Rather than cold-calling, go through those employees to deepen the relationship.

In encouraging a corporate partner, the first step is to arm yourself with information, whether it’s through Google, the Foundation Center or a phone conversation. Most corporate philanthropies do have stated objectives, so be clear on what they are.

It’s important not to waste your time or theirs where there’s no potential for connection.

The relationship talk

Once you’ve found a corporate partner, managing expectations is important. And if there are specific numbers or targets set, both parties need to be careful about overpromising.

Most corporations like to get their toes in the water before they make a substantial contribution. So be clear how many people are going to be at an event, how many times they’re going to get their logo out there – and stick to it.

It’s also good to quantify impact, perhaps with a follow-up report that tells the corporation exactly what value the company received for its contribution. Or taking it a step further, not just how many times the logo was shown, but what impact was shown on the people the nonprofit supports: “Because of you, we were able to feed 100 children.”

Getting the most out of a good thing

Sometimes a nonprofit will get into a relationship for financial reasons only, and not be as concerned about other potential benefits.

When groups do that, they’re undercutting and undervaluing the potential of that corporate relationship, because there’s so much more a company can offer.

Whether it’s free advertisements or in-kind donations, corporate sponsorship should not be about cash alone. About half of our annual income comes from in-kind donations, and grassroots groups often find it even easier to convince companies to donate products and services than cash.

Traditionally, when people think about engaging volunteers, they think about folks that are going to help out with very basic administrative duties like licking stamps and pouring soup. They don’t think about leveraging the fact that someone is a certified public accountant and could help them balance their books.

Skills-based volunteerism is starting to explode. As research comes out about retiring baby boomers, it’s becoming clear that they want to stay engaged, but not just by licking stamps and serving soup – they want to leverage their intellectual capital.

Corporate philanthropy and social responsibility are on the rise, but social entrepreneurship, where the lines between nonprofit and for-profit blur, is where the sector is really headed.

The next generation of college graduates is not as interested in the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit as they are in creating a better world, and this creates a clearing for partnership across and within sectors.

There’s a lot of opportunity in navigating those waters, and it’s going to be increasingly important for nonprofits to take that on.

Darian Rodriguez Heyman is executive director of the Craigslist Foundation, based in San Francisco.

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