Parters or vendors?
Do you ever walk down the street when you’re visiting an unfamiliar city and catch sight of some forlorn looking vendor with a mobile display of goods that are of mild curiosity but not of real interest? The poor fellow makes eye contact, and you easily see that he’s trying to hide his desperation for a sale behind a sad smile. He’s just a “vendor” – doesn’t really belong here, has no right to consider you his target market. He seems like an outsider, just hawking his wares in any odd spot where he can park his cart. He probably has paid a fee and has a permit. To my mind, that’s a vendor.
I believe the companies that provide financial support for worthy nonprofits are, themselves, also “worthy.” They’re not vendors, and they don’t want to be treated like vendors. Making them feel like vendors – worse, even calling them “vendors” – is a mistake your nonprofit doesn’t want to make.
I’ve had the privilege of working for a nonprofit membership association whose top leadership understood and appreciated the value its corporate supporters brought to the members. Over the years I was able to work with that leadership to develop meaningful partnerships with the companies we knew would come back, time and again, to invest their money and efforts on our behalf. It was a win-win relationship, and I think I learned a few basic principles about how to make your funding sources your partners – never mere vendors. Let’s give it a try:
1. Allow into your exhibit hall or sponsorship cadre only those companies with whom you are completely comfortable. If you wouldn’t be proud to put their logo on your home page, don’t invite their funding. And don’t accept it if offered.
2. Seek out companies that serve your constituents. You have an audience, a membership, a client base – whatever you call it. A nonprofit exists to serve a particular portion of the population. What companies provide valuable products and services to “your people”? They’re the ones you want to partner with. And you really don’t need any “strays.”
3. Don’t let your own attitude about fund development get in your way. You are not asking for or accepting charity from these supporters. You are partnering together to bring their expertise or superior product to your clientele. You take their money, and you open the door to that clientele. Both sides give; both sides receive. It’s a fair, even exchange, and nothing to be ashamed of.
4. Get to know your supporters. Invite conversations about their marketing goals and strategic plans. Look for ways you can be of value to them, not just ways their money can be of value to you.
5. Help your fund supporters develop meaningful relationships with your members or clients. Make introductions when you can. Seek feedback from your client base about the quality of product or service the company provided, and then share that positive feedback with other potential buyers within your group.
6. Openly express your respect for the company and its representatives – not just your appreciation for their money. Never call them vendors.
Now, will you share with us what you have learned about meaningfully partnering with the corporations who support your nonprofit? Or, if you represent a corporate supporter of nonprofits (a sponsor, exhibitor, etc.), will you give us your advice on how to develop a respectful, meaningful partnership?