The Philanthropic Entrepreneur
And the real risk in developing corporate partnerships
Apr 19, 2017

Every year we ask, we wait, and we hope that things don’t change. It’s the way we’ve always approached our corporate sponsors and the boat is starting to rock; today’s companies want more and so should you. Transactional relationships that pacify corporate “social responsibility” initiatives and offer some really special real estate on this year’s event brochure, just don’t cut it anymore. Corporations are not individual donors and today’s forward thinking nonprofits are doing the hard work to move beyond annual sponsorships and one-time donations. They seek to develop mutually beneficial corporate partnerships on multiple levels.

Enter the Philanthropic Entrepreneur.

The Philanthropic Entrepreneur might be a person or a strategy, but for sure we know it’s a corporate fundraising mindset and a strategy shift taking place in the leaders of today’s successful nonprofits. The Philanthropic Entrepreneur invests time and energy not only in driving their mission every day, but also in challenging the way it’s always been done. Their mantra is to take a huge risk and inspire their board to take a risk and look at fundraising initiatives and partnerships through a for-profit entrepreneurial corporate lens. They approach the entire strategy of corporate fundraising as a collaborative discovery of multiple connection points in which an organization, its employees, and their combined influence can make a deeper Impact.

If it ain’t broken don’t mess with it

There are many nonprofit leaders and fundraisers that year in and year out put on the same Gala and solicit the same corporations to match the same donation as last year. If they find a spark of motivation – they might even come up with a 2nd or 3rd event they can pitch to a new set of corporate sponsors. If you don’t care enough – take the easy way out and don’t mess with it. The board will ultimately give you an “A” for effort in securing the easy money from an untapped mediocre partnership. The great thing is – if your corporate sponsor wants to, you can do it all over again next year without much effort.

NOW is the time to break it

The Philanthropic Entrepreneur is consumed with creating deeper corporate partnerships. They approach the challenge with a for-profit “solution based” sales strategy built on a foundation of listening, collaborating, and partnering to provide a mutually beneficial conduit that helps resources, ideas, communications, and successes flow. If you are ready to dance with the fear of failure and explore the ART of the Philanthropic Entrepreneur, raise your hand and forge ahead with confidence and rhythm.

Art of Transformational Relationships

The world is a giant connected network consisting of relationships. Some good, some bad, some meaningful, and some transactional. Transformational relationships transcend all as they deepen with listening, understanding, trust, commitment, mindfulness, and (insert any word you want to use to describe a relationship that inspires continuous positive change in both parties). According to ruckus maker and author Seth Godin’s definition, “Art is the hard work . . . and our best work, designed to change or impact someone else.”         Creating Transformational Relationships is Art!

Forensic Listening

Listening is an important and key skill in sales, fundraising, marriage, and most relationships we value. The intentional act of forensic listening is crucial in relationships that transform into partnerships. A partnership connects on many levels and forensic listening is truly a technique of gathering and organizing information/data and emotions to uncover passion, urgency, opportunity, initiatives, and various ways in which a partnership becomes a win/win. Forensic listening is scientific in practice, but filled with humility and servant connection at it’s core

“What’s in it for them” B4 “What’s in it for us”

The Philanthropic Entrepreneur must move with urgency and take full accountability when it comes to hitting organizational numbers and goals, but getting to yes is not an objective – it’s an outcome of building the foundation, trusting the strategy, and creating deep transformational relationships. If you uncover “What’s in it for them” and approach corporate partnerships with a servant humility of listening before talking and giving before receiving, both partners win:

The corporate partner:

  • Shared Passion: Most companies want to make a difference. Their partnership with a nonprofit that shares the same passions and helps ignite ideas of execution – is definitely a partnership worth growing.
  • New & Loyal customers: People like to do business with companies that are actively making a philanthropic difference in the world. That bond is filled with economic loyalty.
  • Publicity: A heartfelt connection to an active nonprofit partner presents PR opportunities that shower the business with publicity on many fronts.
  • New employees: Employees are excited to seek out and stay engaged with a company that mirrors their values and actively supports a cause or a mission consistent with those values.
  • Employee / Customer engagement: Using philanthropy to connect employees, customers and the brand improves brand experience and brand loyalty while getting everyone involved in making a difference.

The nonprofit partner:

  • Consistent Financial Support: Transformational corporate partnerships take years to develop and the financial impact for all stakeholders compounds over time. The ability to have multiple corporate partners brings a consistent financial confidence to your organization.
  • Volunteer Pool: Having a corporate partner with many engaged employees helps energize, create, and drive numerous volunteer and fundraising opportunities.
  • Expense-Side Donations: Nonprofit organizations can often leverage a partner’s donation to help out operating costs on the expense side. For example, a nonprofit that needs a new website and a social media strategy might love that type of in-kind donation.
  • Executive support: Getting support from a company’s executive leadership team is a recurring asset, an effective testimonial, and a connection point to additional corporate partners or donors.

Channel Development 

Approaching corporate partnerships as a Philanthropic Entrepreneur requires you to be an artist in the way you bring people and ideas together to open doors and make change happen. Transform the partnership by getting the right people in the room and listening to their ideas about how they might want to use their resources to partner with your passion and mission.

  • Defining Resources: Although the depth of each resource is certainly limited, the “types” of resources are only limited in imagination. Don’t take the easy way out and simply define resources as “time, talent, and money”. Be the artist that throws some unique ideas off the canvas to see if they resonate with your partners:

Soft Resources: Influence, Connections, Wisdom, Leadership, Direction.

Hard Resources: In-kind donations, Volunteers, Executive & Employee Donations, Event Sponsorships, Auction Items, Company Match Programs. Foundational Grants.

  • Developing Channels Around Resources: Resources can often become a channel or delivery vehicle as ideas begin to grow. Look for:

Exponential intangibles – Opportunities that have the ability to scale exponentially (Cause Marketing, Customer Fundraising Opportunities, In-Store Events, Internal Giving Challenges).

Road Trip Ideas – Appropriately named. Just start the car and let your partners grab the steering wheel and see where it goes.

Every corporate partnership is built around a different set of strategic pillars. Have a few ideas in your pocket to ask the question and stoke the conversation, but ultimately the success and transformational connection you build with a corporate partner is stronger if they lead the Road Trip.

The Mindset Drives the Leader

We agree, the Philanthropic Entrepreneur is a mindset, a culture, or a leader consumed with challenging the status quo. Strategically approach developing corporate partnerships on a transformational level. Surround yourself with inspiration by taking the calculated risk to recruit and hire remarkable people that are:

  • Intentionally listening to uncover and creatively design mutually beneficial and integrated partnership opportunities never before seen.
  • Forward thinking and entrepreneurial business development professionals that don’t have 7-10 years of broken nonprofit or corporate fundraising experience.
  • Brilliant at telling a story and familiar with the for-profit space to connect the dots between corporate partnerships with confident business acumen.

Beware of the Real Risk   

Although innovation comes from risk, most nonprofit leaders, boards, and organizations are risk averse. They embrace the tried and true mediocre methods for approaching corporate fundraising and sponsorships. The relationship between today’s successful corporations and philanthropy will soon demand that this thought process change. Nonprofit organizations must take risks and think like entrepreneurs. Challenge yourself, your boss, and your board members to be held accountable for the way in which everyone strategically pursues, embraces, and grows the Philanthropic Entrepreneur mindset.

The Real Risk is being afraid of trying something new that may fail.

The Real Risk is a lost opportunity to make a massive difference in your organization’s mission.

The Real Risk is taking NO risk at all.

Posted by Kevin Ebben on Apr 19, 2017

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