Most nonprofits want to engage corporate supporters better. And many corporate employees want to be helpful to nonprofits. In fact, according to a 2018 study by Povaddo, 65% of corporate employees agreed or strongly agreed with the sentiment that corporate America has a responsibility to give back.
But how do you get through when people are busy?
One way that many people have found helpful is to do personal networking. Face-to-face coffee chats are invaluable. But how do you get someone to say yes to meeting you, so that you can build those all-important relationships with prospective donors?
1. Don’t Ask for a Meeting; Make a Tailored Ask
Asking a corporate employee for a face to face meeting as a way to get to know them can work sometimes…if you have a warm introduction, and the personal connection is already fairly strong.
If you don’t know someone super well, one of the best ‘first touch’ ways to connect is to ask a corporate employee to forward something on your behalf to their social networks or the right person at their company who handles the topic you want to talk about.
How do you know what to put in that email request?
2. Ask for Input on the Ask
This may sound silly, but asking for input on an email to send, before you send it, is another great way to engage a corporate employee. Corporate employees are generally great at knowing the appropriate way to phrase an email to a colleague that will help you get the best result.
So before you ask them to forward something, you can ask for input on how to phrase the email to get someone else to say yes. You can ask:
- Is there anything I should know about the company’s priorities right now that will help me make this a win-win for [nonprofit name] and [person you want to reach?]
- Can you share one sentence about what [person you want to reach] goals are for this year so I can create a tailored proposal that might help them?
3. Be Strategic: Research Your Contacts’ Interests
Your work may feel really urgent to you, and your work matters. But if you have an important new initiative where it would be transformative to have corporate employee involvement, don’t email everyone you know at one company. Do your homework on people you email.
Can you find out from their public profiles/LinkedIn/articles etc. what they care about?
Read the books Major Account Sales Strategy and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Do what sales people call “Account Mapping” and to identify what the priorities are for the people you want to connect with. Busy corporate employees may not have time for coffee chats when they have ambitious quarterly goals to meet, quarter after quarter.
One great way to get help is to know what the people you want to help you, need help with.
4. Make Specific Requests that are Easy to Skim and Forward
As a general rule, don’t ask corporate employees to be a “partner.” Usually, the PR department, the marketing department, legal, and probably several executives need to agree on what constitutes a “partnership” and…it can take months to develop.
So, don’t ask for something big up front… start with “hey, can you forward this volunteer opportunity to your colleagues?”
Asking for “one volunteer from 10 am to 12 pm on __ day in _ city for a one time event with no press/media” is easy to skim and forward. (Side note: to avoid burning out your network, try not to ask for more than 1 or 2 things per month per person. If you need more support than a one-off request, VolunteerMatch.org, Taproot Foundation and Catchafire.org all have platforms to connect with skilled volunteers.)
Here’s an example of a lightly edited email from a nonprofit in India that is “easy to skim” and “easy to forward.” Note the structure and specific request with sample content to share.
Hi [Corporate employee name],
How have you been? I’m in town at the moment. Super excited because I’ve been invited to [something exciting that will get their attention].
Since I’m here I wanted to check if you had heard back from your contacts in Delhi. I’m not sure which one, so I’m copy pasting the list of names you had mentioned.
1. [Connection name 1]
2. [Connection name 2]
3. [Connection name 3]
Let me know if you can connect me. I’m here till the 9th, so it would be great to be able to meet them.
[Nonprofit Person Firstname]
PS: Reattaching blurb if needed
I recently met with [Firstname Lastname], Executive Director, [Nonprofit Name]. They are an Indian non-profit doing interesting work in the space of citizen engagement in governance using digital technology to increase public participation in democratic processes. I thought you might find their work interesting; hope you will be able to connect.
Here’s a bit more about the organisation:
URLHERE is a ____ based nonprofit that is working towards [your mission statement here]
5. Provide Detailed Volunteer Descriptions with One-Click Signups
According to a 2018 study by Povaddo, about half of all employees (49%) say their company offers paid time off to volunteer in the community, and two-thirds of employees who are offered paid time off to volunteer take advantage of it (66%).
One great way to connect with corporate employees is to share blurbs about volunteer opportunities. Long prose descriptions may fare well in PhD theses, but corporate employees, as a general rule, like shorter, digestible content better. Figure out what you need before you ask for help, and document exactly what you need in writing.
Use a 1 page Quip or Google doc description of what you need, plus a simple form for each role (or the list of roles) where you want to recruit volunteers, plus a 3rd doc on blurbs people can share with their networks (like this one that Katharine created a few years ago).
Make it easy for people to share a link, with prewritten blurbs, to pre-scoped roles.
Make sure that projects you scope for volunteers are limited in duration. Think about what you want accomplished in:
- 5 hours a week for 6 months
- 10 hours a week for 1 month,
- 1 week of 40 hours (one time only, not ongoing)
The more you can make volunteer projects bite-size, the more it shows you can respect volunteers’ time and the more likely you are to find enthusiastic, engaged corporate supporters.
Effective marketing and engagement is about building relationships at scale.
To get practical tips on marketing at scale, read our e-book on Marketing Automation for Nonprofits.
About the Author
Katharine Bierce serves as editor-in-chief of the Salesforce.org blog and helps create e-books (like this one on AI for Good), research reports, and other digital content at Salesforce.org. She is a lifetime member of Net Impact, a StartingBloc fellow, and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. From 2014-2018, she grew the SFTech4Good Meetup, a NetSquared tech for good community, from 2,000 to over 4,800 members. A self-described “full-stack human,” she is also an avid meditator and yogi. When she’s not doing content marketing, you can find her teaching or taking yoga classes around the San Francisco bay area. Follow her on Twitter: @kbierce