Nearly all of us dream of an established company providing our nonprofit with significant funds.

We are thrilled when we line up a meeting with a prime corporate prospect! At the meeting, we provide background information on our organization, smoothly present details on our programs, and confidently state how we are truly making an impact.

Can you spot the problem? We fell in love with our own organizational goals and desires and forgot to focus on the interests of the company.

Unfortunately, this scenario happens far too often and leads to meetings where corporate executives are respectful, express interest, and request that we send a proposal. As the corporate executives want to be polite, they do not tell us that we did to try to ask questions or were off target with our collaboration suggestions. As a result, we end up in the land of unreturned emails.

What should we do differently? Conduct research and become knowledgeable about the company, so we are prepared to ask targeted questions and present viable partnership options. However, our goal is to position the conversation so we can ask effective and probing questions about their needs, interests, and challenges.

There is one question that stands above all others as it unlocks the door to crucial answers we are seeking.

It is very simple: Can you please explain how you have partnered with other organizations?

At the meeting, we want to establish rapport and first ask questions about their role, organization, and corporate objectives. Once accomplished, we pop the magic question.

Why is this question so powerful?

When we ask this question and probe deeper, we gain answers to the following:

  1. Pitch the right person. If they can answer this question and offer details, it leads to a more productive meeting. If they struggle, it gives us the opportunity to transition to a colleague. While corporate executives are skilled enough to respond to other questions (e.g. goals, objectives, or needs), this question requires knowledge as to what and how they have worked with others.
  2. Current Partnerships and Relationships. They will almost always comment on their most successful relationships that were well received within the company. We can learn about the structure, benefits, and rationale for why and how they developed other partnerships. Our job is to figure out how or if we can replicate these relationships. Companies thrive on establishing similar relationships as they want to go with what worked previously.
  3. Needs and Challenges. As they describe current relationships, this allows for a deeper understanding of their challenges. If the partnership involves active involvement of staff, employee engagement is a likely challenge. If struggling with visibility, this often represents a major component of the relationship. By asking probing questions, we uncover the underlying needs and challenges as to why these relationships were successful.
  4. Decision-Making Process. After understanding the specifics of a partnership, we ask how it was established and who was involved. Did it require a committee, one senior executive, or specific departments to be involved? The response offers a window into how our proposed partnership will be reviewed.
  5. Budget. We ask about resources required – such as staff time, executive/board involvement, or other needed resources that drive the relationship. We follow up with a direct question about their budget or can infer from what they shared. Successful partnerships that address key challenges frequently represent their biggest financial commitment.

When we implement a targeted plan of which asking the right questions is one key part, we reduce the wheel-spinning and endless waiting for a response. We streamline our efforts, focus on the right prospects and contacts, alleviate stress and pressure, and position our organization for additional funding.

Join us on Thursday, February 14 at 2:00 pm ET for a webinar hosted by the Foundation Center, Corporate Relationships in Action: A Step-by-Step Guide to Outreach as we uncover the secrets in finding our best fit for a corporate relationship!

Flax Associates helps associations and nonprofits establish mutually beneficial partnerships that enhance value offered and result in additional funding. We help develop the strategy, structure, and ability to implement. If you’d like to discuss your current sponsorship strategy and plans to boost your revenue, please reach out by email [email protected] or phone (202 266-2655).