5 Networking Tips for Better Corporate Partnerships

This week I’ve invited my friend and networking genius Paul Nazareth to share some networking strategies with you! Paul has worked on both sides of the table, for sponsorship seekers and corporate grant makers, and knows what he is talking about.

Throughout this post, Paul uses words like “grant” or “impact” which is typically rooted in corporate social responsibility. If you are seeking sponsorship, instead think “investment” and “fulfillment”. Aside for some semantic differences, everything in this post applies to you whether you are in the private sector seeking sponsorship, a charity or a sports team. At the end of the day, people buy from people and, as I always say, sponsorship packages are not the sales tool…you are!

Now over to Paul:

As a fundraiser for 16 years I’ve had the unique opportunity to spend a few years working in charitable gift planning with a major national financial institution. Although I wasn’t in the CSR or granting team I was able to speak with, gain insight from, and network with, granting gatekeepers in financial institutions and other corporate teams. Also for my entire career I’ve studied professional networking skills to be a better fundraiser.

As an evangelist for better networking, I hope these 5 Tips to Engage Prospects are of value:

Tip #1: It’s not about you!

For many charities and fundraisers, especially those who are passionate about their causes, this is the single biggest complaint I hear from funders. In my role working with donors in a bank, my job was often the strategy of “how” and not “who” our clients supported in a gift plan. Many fundraising peers knew this and I still filled a recycle bin almost as tall as me with cases for support that had pages and pages on the history of the charity and the current work and programs of the organization. What the charity was asking for, wasn’t even clear most of the time.

A corporate funder once showed me two responses to a granting opportunity: One was a binder as thick as my fist, the other a one page summary with a clear request sent by a near identical organization – guess which one was funded? James Temple Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer of PWC Canada wisely summarizes this when he said on “Don’t tell us who you are, don’t spend all your time telling us what you do. Focus instead on what, together, we could do that would have an impact on our shared goals”.

Tip #2: Don’t connect only when you have something to sell!

Having coffee with a funding and granting officer of another financial institution (remember too that even though there isn’t an established “conference” that all the granting and CSR professionals attend, they do indeed keep in touch and talk to each other ) this peer lamented that established contacts only reach out when there is an immediate need. Chris and the Sponsorship Collective team are champions of the “Advice Meeting”, some of the strongest networking strategies you can invest in. But this strategy is only the START of the relationship! If you have the advice meeting and don’t keep in touch about how you’ve used the advice, followed up with contacts they referred you to and how the advice is helping and moving you towards a solution – how do you think you’re ever going to build a relationship where the funder is comfortable talking about funding your big goal? Asking for advice, small asks early in a relationship and showing that you are worthy of a contact’s trust is a critical way to demonstrate and prove you’re prepared for the big grant, sponsorship or cause marketing campaign.

Tip#3: Reporting back is essential!

I know, duh right?! It’s fascinating to me how many organizations don’t report back on how grants and gifts are used (or for you sponsorship folks, providing a fulfillment report!). Now, I’m not talking about the obligatory paper stuff; the template report, the thank you card the holiday card. So much of networking is about standing out, if you want the next campaign, to keep this long term relationship or grow the revenue… you need to go beyond the templates and demonstrate impact!

This is a must in the corporate sector where relationships rule. Now in my work with CanadaHelps we serve dozens of Community Foundations across Canada. Leaders of these foundations spend a good part of their year making grants and the other chasing reports and impact information to share as part of their commitment to being transparent and accountable to the community they represent. What’s fascinating is that organizations seem to be blind to the concept that making a funder chase you for a report is clearly going to impact if you are ever funded again by that institution (have I mentioned enough in this post that funders talk to each other?). In the world of networking, it’s important to remember that the world is small and what goes around comes around.

Tip#4: Keep in touch!

2016 is indeed the year of constant contact, for better or worse. Outside the granting and reporting cycle, are you in touch with the funder and their network? Are you findable and easy to engage as an organization or its representative? A corporate funder shared with me that they were a passionate donor (and former board member) to a charity that their organization had not supported yet, but they had invited the charity’s leadership to several events and every invitation was met with silence or excuse. When is a grant application not a grant application? In my networking talks when I’m speaking to business schools and fundraising leaders about networking it’s the executive recruiters who ask me to remind everyone that networking, even in a digital world is still firmly grounded in face to face contact. Want to be top of mind? Make sure you’re in orbit. Speaking of the digital world, remember too that your organization’s website needs to be current and clear (and in 2016, mobile optimized for a phone ) and you the granting, sponsorship or brand manager need to be findable through Google! That means that if your charity or non-profit doesn’t have staff names and profiles on your site you need to have a current and public LinkedIn profile. Just the other day I was sitting next to a corporate funding professional who was arranging a connection for some public recognition of a grant with a social-sector peer through Twitter’s direct message feature ( which has no 140 character limit in 2016 and is much like texting or email ). Several granting leaders share with me that when they look up staff from multi-year granting relationships, the organizations rarely inform them when someone has moved on and who their current contact is.

Tip #5: Nothing moves in straight lines!

I was just listening to a brilliant panel discussion on funding strategy in 2016, assembled by the RBC NonProfit services team. Panelist Jasmina Zurovac, Director of Corporate Donations with the RBC Foundation reminded those listening “don’t just ask for funding for your one project, think of us as connectors. We all keep in touch and talk you know, share your ideas and ask if we know who might be a good fit”. Networking, it’s often said is not just about who you know, but who they know. Be open to networking for networking’s sake and make connecting with funders, being of insight into the charitable sector and your organization’s cause part of your regular habits. When I ask funders how the biggest grant conversations really started and were grown and cultivated, it’s the small time invested and not the great big moves or asks that net the biggest results.

Paul Nazareth is Vice-President, Community Engagement with CanadaHelps.org, Canada’s leading charity that brings together charities, donors and advisors as they give online. Paul is Chair of the Humber College Postgraduate Fundraising Program Advisory Committee, teaches fundraising with Georgian College and is a national instructor with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. Find him at @UinvitedU  on Twitter and read more of his blog posts on networking here on LinkedIn