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Non-profits often underestimate the value of their work beyond the social services context. As a result, many 501(c)(3) organizations don't capitalize on the fact that the for-profit business sector will pay big bucks to hang out with them.

I've experienced this from both the corporate side, having worked as the sole designated event planner for Penske, a $5B transportation and logistics provider, as well as from the charity side via the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program & Cityteam. 

A simple formula to illustrate how this works = Charities require manpower and engage in interesting work + Corporations look for ways to stimulate employees and have an orientation toward community service.

Maybe you're wondering what kinds of experiences within the charity appeal to a corporation. Here are two recent examples from my portfolio:

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program invites thousands of volunteers to paint public art each year for free as part of its social change model. To elevate this function to attract corporate revenue, I provided access to high profile projects, matched companies with projects that fit their philanthropic themes, arranged for participants to meet artists and key community stakeholders, often added a separate speaking engagement by the high-profile Executive Director, and provided thought-provoking questions throughout the experience with time to debrief. The product was called an Experiential Mural Tour and quickly grew in demand, had the highest profit margin, and continues to be a revenue generator. Corporate clients would not only pay $10,000 or more for these experiences, they'd sometimes follow-up with equally sizable donations.

Cityteam runs kitchens that serve thousands of people around the country. Like finely tuned machines, these cooking facilities also require many volunteers to operate. To create an executive experience for which a fee could be charged a group might be led by the notable head chef rather than a kitchen lead, time set aside to discuss the impact of feeding the community using language that corporations understand, prepare a menu that participants would want to make for guests at home, all capped off by service to people in the program, a thought-provoking end to the experience. 

If it was as easy as promoting your existing volunteer opportunities to corporations at a steep cost, everyone would be doing it. In order to elevate the value proposition, the charity has to do the following:

(1) Put a high-touch salesperson in charge of the relationships and execution. Very simply, if you want to work with corporations you have to speak their language and do the small things that make them happy such as use polished packaging to describe the offering, use well-crafted communications in the sales process, and return phone calls within 24 hours. Sadly, many charities don't get past this important point.

(2) Refine the experience details to justify the expense. Corporate event planners and decision makers are used to being "customer focused" and to having a seamless experience. The charity-provided activity has to feel high-quality so provide add-on's such as transportation to/from the corporate campus, food and beverage options, and keepsake merchandise.

(3) Very importantly, be sure to charge enough! A $2,000 activity may seem too far out of line with the usual spend of $5,000-$10,000, for example, and will be assumed to be sub-par based on cost alone. Many charities have trouble believing that their work can command this type of spend, but don't realize that it's not uncommon in corporate team building circles. Research similar activities in your area or consult with a corporate event planner to help with pricing.

(4) Understand who and how to talk with companies. For these kinds of outings, the charity will target the Corporate Event Planner or Executive Administrative Staff rather than Community Relations. Use language centered on how the experiences help drive corporate goals such as team building, innovation, and community building. Be open to adjust your language and the activity schedule a bit, especially early on as you determine what works best. 

The payoff to engage corporations in the charity functions can be huge. In addition to the earned income revenue, there are often subsequent donations from the corporate entity and from individual participants as well. The experience can become a routine part of the corporate training program providing repeat business and cultivation opportunities such as follow-up grants. In the case of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program example outlined above, it even led to a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania to provide a regular half day training program for executives of multinational corporations. These kinds of experiences demonstrate a savvy in building awareness, revenue generation and diversification, and donor cultivation that I see far too seldom among non-profits. Begin to consider what's happening in your organization that could be an on-ramp for corporations. 

Article originally published at www.ryanderflerconsulting.com