Mailbag: Make Your Partnership Proposal Stand Out from the Pack

Q: What elements of our proposal might be considered advantageous when compared with other opportunities the prospect may have?

A:  There are two simple things you can do to make your proposal stand head and shoulders above the rest.

First, ditch the Olympic medal mentality. A blind proposal offering “bronze, silver or gold” lists of benefits at menu pricing is still being offered, but it’s not the most attractive or up-to-date model. Apart from conferences, it doesn’t work very well either. How do you make the medal levels distinctive when you’re asking for funds to carry out a program over the course of several months or a year? How will you establish benefits when the audience is far-flung instead of gathered in a ballroom? Wise nonprofits don’t.

Second, ask smart questions to find out more about the prospect’s marketing goals, then tailor your proposal to address them. If you can address at least two common goals in your proposal, you will be well ahead of the pack.

Mazarine, fundraising guru and blogger at, has a list of questions to help nonprofits discover common ground with their prospective funders. I particularly like five of her questions:

  1. Do you want to enhance aspects of your company’s reputation? Asking this will help you get beyond assumptions and learn more about the company’s priorities. A company you assumed wanted to focus on environmental responsibility may really be trying to become known as a great place to work.
  2. What do you most want the public to know about your company? There may be plans on the drawing board that you’re not yet aware of… new products, shifting demographics, or even a new mission statement.
  3. Are you facing challenges in attracting or maintaining a motivated or skilled workforce? Companies that encourage employees to volunteer are more likely to be listed as great workplaces. Providing volunteer opportunities may be the win-win start to a great relationship with your prospective funder.
  4. Would aligning with this nonprofit give your prospective funder a competitive edge? (If not, how did this company make it from your “suspect” list to your “prospect” list, right?)
  5. Are there specific products you are trying to position? The answer may provide food for thought.

Making the connection: To stand out from the pack, break out of the Olympic medal mode and demonstrate how your nonprofit can help the company meet its business goals. Do you have favorite questions to add to the list above?

Celebrations: After the Happy Dance

A recent LinkedIn discussion centered on how nonprofits celebrate when they win a grant. Turns out, many “do the happy dance!” One writer reported her organization rings a cow bell so that everyone hears the good news. Another indulges in small treats, such as a cupcake or a new e-book.

What’s missing?

Or who? That’s right, the funder! After all, it takes two to tango, and even the Harlem Shake is no fun if you do it alone. If funded nonprofits want to talk about how they celebrate, so should funders. So let’s ask them.

In fact, let’s put it in a quick, five or six question survey that goes out with our sincere letter of thanks. Now, I’m not talking about the tax receipt telling your funder their check has been received. I’m talking about a personal letter – the old-fashioned, snail-mail kind – that shares your enthusiasm about how your organization will be able to provide better service, serve more people or do whatever your proposal promised. (If you don’t already have one, Pamela Grow offers a great template thank-you letter complete with a sample P.S. for the survey.)

The “Partnership Kick-Off Survey” might ask:

  1. How do you prefer to be contacted (email, telephone, postal mail)?
  2. How often do you want to hear about the program you’re funding?
  3. What recognition do you find most meaningful? (Just as people are introverted or extroverted, funders may want public or private recognition. A plaque in the lobby is not a one-size-fits-all celebration.)
  4. Can we announce your contribution in a news release, newsletter, or in other ways?
  5. What should we use in program materials (your organization’s full name, logo, approved description, etc.)?
  6. Can we have a copy of your report form now, so that we capture and track the details that are most important to you?

Then close it with another thank you: We look forward to continuing the conversation about how your funding helps create X, Y or Z.

Making the Connection: Who wants a thank-you letter from a dance party they weren’t invited to attend? Let’s start inviting our funders to help us celebrate by asking what kind of recognition is most meaningful to them.

Score a Thank-You Touchdown

What kid wouldn’t love to charge out on the professional football turf though the same tunnel their favorite players use? Or what adult, for that matter? (Check out the photo album.)

That’s how 250 Minnesota students burst into 2013 Fuel Up to Play 60 Training Camp, a reward for implementing healthy eating and physical activity changes in their schools. Led by the Minnesota Vikings’ mascot, Viktor the Viking, and by the Midwest Dairy Council’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way, these kids spent a day running relay races, brainstorming next year’s programs, learning how their dairy foods are produced and meeting the newest Vikings quarterback, Matt Cassel.

It was almost as much fun for the adults to watch the kids’ excitement about this nonprofit program. Which is why Midwest Dairy invited its corporate funders and prospective funders to join in the fun.  Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school program designed to empower students to “fuel up” with nutrient-rich foods and get out to “play 60” minutes every day. It’s a joint venture founded by the National Dairy Council and the NFL, in cooperation with USDA and endorsed by governors and agencies across the Midwest.

While Minnesota students enjoyed the Vikings playing field, students across the country got the chance to visit other stadiums for similar events, and some even won the chance to have an NFL player, alumni player or mascot visit their school.

Did I mention that adults are often as star struck as the kids?

Making the Connection: That’s what makes these events the perfect venue to say thank you to donors. Does your organization already have events that sponsors and partners could visit?

Six Simple Steps for Board Involvement in Fundraising

Nonprofits that engage their board members in fundraising are more likely to reach their goals than those that don’t. In fact, 60 percent of organizations in which board members have helped with fundraising met their 2011 fundraising goals, according to a study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. That compares to just 53 percent of organizations without board involvement.

The university foundation where I serve on the board of directors is becoming more involved in supporting our fundraising staff. We’re mindfully building on our commitment to 100 percent giving (by itself an important goal and hallmark of an effective board). This past weekend, we voted to incorporate Six Simple Steps for Board Involvement in Fundraising into our new strategic plan.

How did we do it?

As chair of the development committee, I borrowed a story from a fellow consultant. My friend Chuck recalls being asked to lead his church facilities committee. Continue reading

Matchmaker’s Tips

Matching nonprofit missions with corporate funding is all about relationships.

For Valentine’s Day, it seemed natural to see what nonprofits can learn from the advice of romantic matchmakers. A review of “Relationship Rules,” published in the journal Psychology Today in October 2004 and reviewed most recently in June 2012, uncovered these tips:

  • Choose a partner wisely.
  • Know your needs and speak up for them.
  • Respect, respect, respect.
  • Know how to manage differences.
  • Solve problems as they arise.

What would you add to the list?

Making the Connection:
Relationships with corporate funders can be very rewarding when the matchmaker’s tips are followed. A win/win relationship between a nonprofit organization and a corporate funder is based on meeting both parties’ needs.

Matchmaking: Corporate Funds and Nonprofit Solutions

Training Hosted by the Association
of Fundraising Professionals/Minnesota Chapter

February 14, 2013

Moderator — Kim Polzin (Polzin Communications, LLC)
Panelists — Mike Newman (Travelers Foundation) and Karen Smith (Verizon Wireless)

Looking for the perfect corporate funding match for your nonprofit? Even the best solution to society’s hot-button challenges sometimes have trouble finding the right corporate funders. In this session, you’ll learn about three different kinds of corporate funding (and who controls the budgets), and how to determine which companies have potential to be a match for your organization. After this session, you’ll be able to: Continue reading