City Connections: Join the Dots!

Whilst I welcome Charities Aid Foundation’s (CAF’s) recent recommendation that FTSE 100 companies agree a standardised reporting metric to increase transparency and comparability of their philanthropic activity, it got me thinking about what more we should be doing to make our universities seem more ‘user-friendly’ to prospective corporate supporters.

We are all prospect researchers

With CAF reporting that 13 of the FTSE 100 companies no longer publish their philanthropic activity in their annual reports, the days of relying on Google searches for identifying and qualifying new corporate prospects are numbered. Instead, look at how you can improve your own data resources to reveal insights and opportunities from within your existing networks:

  • Ask senior alumni about their employers’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) priorities and record these as philanthropic interests on the organisation’s record.
  • Record key alumni as ‘influencers’ or ‘advocates’ within an organisation to help them stand out from the long list of employees your institution knows at a multi-national corporation.

Not only will these changes help make your institution less reliant on public records as an identification tool, but they will also increase the depth of your connection with new corporate prospects by ensuring your cultivation strategy is tailored to the unique relationship that does or could exist between your institution and a company.

Step outside your office

Likelihood is that a corporate donor’s willingness to support your project is part of an interest in engaging with the wider institution. Have regular meetings with colleagues in careers, business development, and research offices to be aware of what your institution has to offer the corporate world, and in turn make sure the corporate world is aware of your current fundraising priorities and naming opportunities. Done well, this may mean that occasionally your pursuit of a prospect results in a non-philanthropic sponsorship agreement. Yet if you build the right relationships internally, your colleagues could just as easily return the favour by producing a philanthropic lead out of a campus careers presentation that both teams can take credit for.

Start somewhere – anywhere!

I am aware that these are not new ideas, but like many higher education fundraisers, I have sat in on more than my fair share of strategy discussions about how universities should/could go about navigating the world of corporate fundraising. The somewhat repetitive nature of these discussions suggests a desire to wait for the ‘perfect’ strategy of corporate engagement to emerge. Yet if we took this approach in developing major gift strategies for any other constituent type, most development offices would still be struggling to get off the ground.

So, although CAF’s recommendations are most welcome, we as fundraisers must also start to ensure our own house is in order and primed to welcome all philanthropic opportunities, regardless of whether the external funding climate changes for the better or worse.

Whilst some universities have made great strides in this area by working towards shared databases and integrating corporate partnerships and philanthropy, this is still a long way off for many. So ask what smaller steps you could take to help ‘join the dots’ and work with what you have. This could be about identifying a small number of top strategic partnerships that could be of significant value across the institution, or simply by initiating some sharing sessions about how each department values and engages the corporate sector.

And for those not currently aware of any synergy between your goals and the philanthropic interests of key corporate prospects, never underestimate the power of ‘drip-feeding’ your key achievements throughout your networks to empower existing supporters to join the dots and make corporate connections for you.

-Victoria Barthram, Senior Consultant

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