Category Archives: Strategic Partnerships

Corporate-nonprofit partnerships in the land of impossible expectations

5 must-haves to fortify partnerships against the elements

By Diane Knoepke, Vice President, The Alford Group  Read Diane’s Bio

Almost every company is a good fit for at least a handful of nonprofits, and every company is a bad fit for quite a few nonprofits. The inverse is also true: almost every nonprofit is a good fit for at least a handful of businesses, and every nonprofit is a bad fit for quite a few companies.

With increasingly discerning audiences, a volatile political climate, blurred lines that used to seem bright, and the unprecedented speed of change and information, what must nonprofits and companies do to successfully partner with one another?

How to fortify partnerships against the elements

Any partnership without a little bit of risk is also likely a partnership without any value or interest. Of course, we all know there are good risks and bad risks. Below you will find ways to make sure the risks you take are planned and smart and likely to have great returns. Here are the five must-haves for a successful corporate-nonprofit partnership:

#1 Inclusionary criteria: the WISH LIST 

These are the positive indicators of a good fit. Your respective current and/or target audiences match up in interest, consumption habits, lifestyle, or other priorities. Your inventory and goals are complementary: you have content, they have distribution; you have the purpose, they have the reach. You train people, they need talent; they want to showcase their technology, you have a living laboratory for technology-enabled design. And so on. These are the reasons you put potential partners on your wish list.

#2 Meaningful purpose: the WHY 

Thoughtful, strategic partnership elements take the relationship beyond a transaction. This is about creativity, customization, and deep understanding of what success looks like for each of you. What are you each trying to accomplish, and can you help each other do that? If you can, are you willing to do so? Designing a partnership in response to these questions is where we really find whether partnerships are good matches that can drive social and business value simultaneously. Then even if some audience members don’t like the partnership, each party has a clear story to tell about why the partnership is in place and what you are working on together.

#3 Exclusionary criteria: the NOPES

This next one is a topic that keeps us all on our toes. Name almost any company in the world, and while the proportions may be different, there will be a group that thinks the company is terrific and a group that thinks the company is evil. For many years, nonprofits listed a few “sin categories” (tobacco, gambling, spirits) or, based on their particular work, some controversial categories (oil and gas, pharma, fast food) that were not good fits based on their missions. And certainly companies list types of organizations that are ineligible for partnership – perhaps religious organizations or political organizations in some cases.

While some of those category restrictions still exist, the category or type of organization is rarely the real thing anymore. So, we are advocating for guidelines that aren’t just about industries or sectors but include solid measures to determine whether the partner is in “good standing” based on criteria that are meaningful to the audience. Maybe it’s that they haven’t had any environmental violations, maybe it’s that they are actively promoting diversity and inclusion and meet certain criteria to demonstrate that.

#4 Scenario planning: the PREMORTEM

No matter what guidelines and guardrails are in place, things can always happen in the midst of a partnership. That’s why I like premortems. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s an exercise invented by psychologist Gary Klein where you imagine yourself in the future, after the project (partnership) you’re considering has ended in spectacular failure. We’re assuming the partnership has died, it’s over, and the end result is a disaster. Our nightmares came true. So, from that perspective, we think of all the reasons why this failure happened – what went wrong? And then, once we’ve listed all the reasons it died, we think of ways we can avoid the failure.

At last week’s IEG Sponsorship Conference, I facilitated a couple of roundtable sessions on this topic and we crowdsourced a partnership premortem. The results of that premortem, (1) all the spectacular failures that could kill a partnership and (2) some of the key ways to prevent those failures, are in the image below. This is a great exercise to do with a facilitator in your organization, and a terrific way to get your internal skeptics engaged in fortifying your partnerships.

#5 Out clauses: the EJECT button

Finally, occasionally those failures do happen despite everyone’s best efforts, and you need to be protected. Every organization should have agreements with their corporate partners that include a mutual out clause in case the company – or the nonprofit – hits a snag that could reflect poorly on the other partner. Don’t go in without installing an escape hatch just in case.

Because they’re worth it….

Meaningful corporate-nonprofit partnerships are, in some ways, harder than ever to build. And since the audiences for the partnership ultimately determine the success and sustainability of the partnership, they need to buy in to, and ideally even like, the partnership.

And those audiences who notice what nonprofits are doing related to corporate partnerships may be concerned about inappropriate corporate influence, or the charitable organizations they support “selling out,” or they may say they don’t want to see company logos or promotions alongside the good works of their beloved nonprofit.

We have seen a lot of scrutiny of companies, their business practices, the organization’s behavior and even the personal attributes of the company’s CEO. And the same is true for nonprofits as they are under increased scrutiny and many are stepping forward and “getting political” where they have avoided strong positions for fear of controversy in the past. So stepping forward in partnership and finding a good fit can feel daunting.

But many private and social sector organizations are doubling down on corporate partnerships right now because well-designed partnerships between companies and nonprofit organizations have greater potential to drive social and business value than they have ever had before.

So sure, it can be tough out there, but the rewards are worth the struggle.

Prospect Research: The Breakthrough Guide to the Basics

Prospect research can be a complex subject, but it’s vital to growing and developing your nonprofit’s donor base.

With over $373 billion donated last year, giving is on the rise, which means that prospect research is more important than ever for capitalizing on your donors’ generosity and building strong relationships with them.

In this guide, we’ll cover all of the basics, from the definition down to the nitty-gritty details of how prospect research can work for you!

Specifically, we’ll answer these questions:

Let’s get started!

What is prospect research?

Prospect research is the process of learning more about a specific donor or a group of donors so that your nonprofit can cultivate and manage them more effectively.

Prospect research is often used to identify and learn more about potential high-level donors who are giving below their true capacity. Major donors and planned gift donors, in particular, are often the subjects of this research.

To actually perform this important research, nonprofits can either:

  • Pinpoint an existing donor and fill in missing information that can give the organization a better sense of the donor’s giving capacity.
  • Screen a group of supporters, such as event attendees on an RSVP list, to identify new donors who may have high giving potential.

In both cases, the nonprofit seeks to gain a better understanding of their contributors by finding and assessing key data fields. Let’s talk about this point in more detail.

What data does prospect research target?

Nonprofit CRMs are full of data fields that compose your donors’ profiles (or those of your volunteers and board members). Some data points can be quite telling when it comes to understanding your donors.

Specifically, you’ll want to learn more about a donor’s ability and affinity for giving. That means that you need to understand how much your donors can give and their willingness to do so. Both of these factors are vital for gaining a comprehensive understanding of who your donors are.

We can break down these characteristics into specific data points.

A donor’s giving ability can be understood through:

  • Real estate ownership.
  • SEC transactions.
  • Business affiliations.
  • Political giving.

While this information could be captured in a wealth screening, it’s not enough to know how much your donors can give. It’s also important to know how invested they are in your cause, so that you can make an appropriate ask (and in the case of a new prospect, ensure that they want to give to your nonprofit in the first place!).

That’s why it’s important to analyze a donor’s giving ability in tandem with their affinity.

A donor’s affinity for giving can be understood through:

  • Past gifts to your nonprofit.
  • Past gifts to other nonprofits.
  • Philanthropic involvement.
  • Personal interests and connections.

With this data, your nonprofit can better understand your donors’ value to your organization so that you can make targeted asks that don’t leave money on the table.

Prospect research takes the fear out of fundraising; not only will your team know who to ask, but they’ll also have a better understanding of how much to ask for. This insider information can inspire confidence in your frontline fundraisers.

Now that you understand what prospect research is and what kind of information it identifies, let’s outline how a nonprofit can actually perform prospect research.

How does prospect research work?

To actually perform prospect research, your organization will need to invest time, resources, money, or a combination of the three. There are several strategies to choose from, depending on the size and stability of your organization.

To get started, let’s outline your options!

Prospect Screening Company

A prospect screening company can be ideal for larger organizations with the means to handle a lot of data.

Screening companies compare your donors against thousands of databases to fill in gaps in your prospect profiles and reveal information that you wouldn’t have known.

Then, these companies rank your prospects according to their potential, so your nonprofit can start strategizing.

This DonorSearch resource breaks down the questions you should ask before seeking out a screening company, so that your organization is as informed as possible!


Consultants are experts who can lead prospect screenings or otherwise advise your nonprofit about all things prospect research.

Consultants are ideal for organizations who need to analyze a large batch of data all at once.

Since they’re temporary hires, your organization can save money in the long run by working with consultants only when you need them.


If you’re a small or new nonprofit, you may need to take on the task yourself. Public databases and resources can be utilized by talented team members to find out more information about important donors.

Though this method can be time-consuming, it saves funds where they’re tight.


Established organizations may have a full team assigned to prospect research that works internally.

This model is popular with universities, where donor pools fluctuate with every graduating class.

Why is prospect research important?

All of your donors are valuable, and you should be grateful for their gifts! However, developing your donor base is vital to making progress toward your mission.

It’s much more cost-effective to retain your donors than it is to acquire new ones; prospect research can help you make the most of the donors you already have and reach out to only your most likely prospects, saving your resources.

Plus, major and planned gift donors really keep nonprofits afloat. Their gifts will constitute a large piece of the fundraising pie, and prospect research is key for finding these high-impact contributors in the first place.

After all, major donors may be hidden in your database. It’s not unusual for donors with high giving capacities to give smaller gifts to online fundraising campaigns, such as large scale crowdfunding initiatives. This is often the case because they’re not comfortable sending large gifts over these channels.

Without prospect research, you’ll never know which donors have more giving potential. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll reveal themselves without a direct ask. That’s why it’s important to look into your database, especially as online fundraising grows in popularity.

Most importantly, nonprofits can use prospect research to build stronger donor relationships. You need your donors to accomplish your mission; the least you can do is meet them halfway by learning about who they are.

How can I use prospect research?

Aside from identifying major donors, prospect research can also enhance your fundraising strategy on the whole. After all, the more data you have, the better you can take your donors’ preferences into account.

Let’s break down the ways in which prospect research can elevate your fundraising strategy.

Determine your campaign

Understanding your supporters can help you create engaging fundraising campaigns and events that will bring in a lot of donations.

Prospect research can reveal donors’ interests to provide these insights. For example, if you notice that donors have given substantially to charity auctions hosted by other organizations, then you might want to adopt this event into your annual campaign.

As such, prospect research can help you narrow down your fundraising ideas and determine the campaign that works best for your donors.

Maximize your communications

Part of prospect research is filling in important data fields that tell you about your donors.

These data fields include a donor’s communication and giving preferences. In other words, how do donors want to interact with your organization and how do they want to give?

You can send donors more effective communications that they’ll actually respond to if you pay attention to their preferences.

For example, donors may prefer to communicate with your organization via:

  • Email.
  • Traditional mail.
  • Phone calls.
  • Your website.
  • Text messages.
  • Social media.
  • In person conversations.

Knowing how your donors want to speak with you can help you send them the most targeted, effective appeals.

Additionally, you can also use prospect research to determine your donors’ preferred giving methods so that you can craft the most effective multichannel marketing.

If, for example, a donor prefers to send checks to your organization, but enjoys the ease of online communications, you may find that an e-check or direct debit strategy would work well for this individual. If you find these giving patterns across your donor data, then you can use what you’ve learned to appeal to your donors on a mass scale.

Build your donor network

Some of the most important data that prospect research can uncover are your donors’ personal and professional relationships.

If you learn that your donors are friends with other high-value prospects, then you can leverage those relationships to gain an “in” with a new donor.

Similarly, a donor’s business affiliations can help you identify opportunities for corporate philanthropy. Donors who work at matching gift-eligible companies can be informed of the application process, so that they can double the impact of their future gifts.

Even more so, your organization can seek out partnerships with companies who can support your future fundraising events.

If many of your donors work for a company, then the CEO may be more inclined to lend a hand with in-kind donations, event support, or traditional (but invaluable) monetary donations.

To learn more about the top matching gift companies, check out this 360MatchPro resource!

Now that you have the basics of prospect research down pat, it’s time to apply what you’ve learned so that you can develop your understanding of your donors.

Then, you can take an informed, data-driven approach to fundraising, build stronger donor relationships, and and ultimately raise more for your cause!

The Alford Group is pleased to partner with DonorSearch, a prospect research, screening, and analytics company that focuses on proven philanthropy. This article was contributed by Ryan Woroniecki, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch.

Collaboration is Easy to Discuss and Difficult to Do

CollaborationEvery day the news carries another story about the work in Washington, DC to negotiate a deal on the debt limit and serious debt reduction activities.  The issues are familiar – potential spending reductions and potential tax increases.  One side will not budge from its position of no new taxes – and the other will not budge on its position of achieving results with new taxes and limited spending reductions.  We know they need to collaborate to solve this – yet they are providing a good example of what collaboration is not. Over the next few weeks we will discover if they do learn the meaning of the word.

In the meantime, in our own communities, we have the ability to collaborate every day – and yet in the not-for-profit world I tend to see more competition than collaboration.  How can we set an example to work with other not-for-profit organizations that have similar missions, values, and services?  Is there a chance to provide improved services to the community utilizing fewer resources and thus improving efficiencies?  Do organizations ever attempt to discover the answer to these questions?

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