A colleague and I were having lunch recently when our natter predictably lurched to work. She asked what I thought was trending in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) field. My top-of-mind reply was, “What is old is new again. But more so.”
What I meant was – and this is obvious – that we live and work in a time where “brand is king.” As a result, corporations and their foundations use philanthropy as a tool to develop their brands as never before.
Sure, relationships and mission alignment are important. Yet today’s “reputation economy” demands more of us. In fact, it obligates our proposals – whether they be for cash, sponsorships, in-kind contributions or volunteers – to be driven by advancing the grantor’s brand.
Doing so offers new, meaningful, and thrilling ways to grow revenue. Mentioned below is my method for using today’s CSR environment to further the grantor’s interests as well as mine. I hope you find it useful.
If you are already incorporating any of these practices, then I say “Congratulations!” to you. Because you know the "traditional ask” is dead in the eyes of foundation decision-makers.
My assumption is you are skilled in performing research, getting meetings, and preparing a test pitch. Thus I will only share my techniques that I use once an in-person or conversation occurs.
Sometimes my process and content is communicated during one meeting. At other times over two discussions. My scenario is based on the latter.
My objective the first meeting is to learn what the grantor wants to accomplish and fund by asking them to state what change they want to bring about. My mind is open thinking is flexible. My priority is to learn how to become relevant rather than to promote a program or agency.
To discover our related interests, I often use an “opportunity plot” (e.g., a tic, tac, toe diagram). In the left column I note the three (or more) major changes the grantor wants their funding to achieve while the right column are three (or more) points I want to accomplish.
The middle column records our mutually compatible interests. (If it is blank, I thank her/him for speaking with me, and leave.) I then ask which middle column entry or entries merit a proposal. Those that are worthy I refer to as the grantor’s needs.
In our “reputation economy,” their needs are really brand needs. I never mention the term. Maybe I should.
I then verbalize how my application will address their needs. We talk about the compelling data points and human interest stories my request must contain to show I am united with their goals.
Next I suggest two opportunities to address each of their needs and those of both our beneficiaries. The “client” tells me if that makes sense or not. Her/his comments are taken into account as I summarize why her review committee will think my application is unique, exciting and on point. I end by explaining how by working together we can make the change they want to fund last.
Before leaving I request a 15 – 20 minute second meeting for a day far in advance of the submission deadline. If it is not granted I describe my anticipated budget in medium-to-broad detail.
However, if there is a second meeting, I will recap our previous discussion and disclose my plan’s finances. Specifically, we talk about (1) the requested amount of my grant; (2) my program costs; and (3) the return on their investment (ROI).
Since the finances are intertwined, I present discrete information as to why my requested budget is necessary to fulfill their needs. (This assures them that I will not ask for more funding during the grant term.) I continue by comparing my budget, overhead percentage, and program fees (if any) to similar programs. Then I make sure they know of any budgeted fundraising expenses in case they want to eliminate them.
This is followed by a summary qualifying and quantifying their investment to their beneficiaries and stakeholders. I also share what their support means to my beneficiaries and stakeholders.
I then present the ROI their investment will create. My calculations result in being able to say, “Every dollar you invest in my proposal will return $5 toward meeting your expressed needs targeted beneficiaries.”
Perhaps the best metric is saved for last. It applies directly to the corporation’s and foundation’s brand. I wield it only when my gut tells me it will have a positive impact on my application.
I ask if they are aware of the Lev, Petrovist, and Radhakrishnan research published in 2007 that quantified the value of a corporation’s philanthropic giving on its bottom line.
The three researchers studied 251 of the 300 largest U.S. corporations and found that the “average” company’s philanthropic investment – which was 10 cents for every $100 in net sales revenue – generated a $2 to $3 rise in profits (not gross revenue!) for every dollar they put into philanthropy.
Most importantly, the research showed that charitable activities attract new customers and build brand loyalty.
Corporations and their foundations have long recognized philanthropy’s benefit to their marketing mix and brand. It is our job to use their brand commitment to benefit those we are both privileged to serve.
Parenthetically, last January I contacted Dr. Lev for a study update and he said Dr. Petrovist was preparing new results for publication.
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