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How to Use Local Business Partnerships to Grow Your Donor Base Affordably

While big grants and major donors shimmer like gold on the horizon, the reality for most small nonprofits is that sustaining revenue through large gifts is a mirage. Fortunately, there’s a solution: individual giving. And this solution is a reliable one. According to Giving USA, in 2019, giving by individuals totaled around $309.66 billion, representing an increase of 4.7% over the previous year. These gifts made up just under 70% of total giving. Individual gifts represent a big opportunity for small nonprofits.

There are several ways you can tap individual gifts, but one of the most effective ways is using local business partnerships. Local businesses can act as a funnel for new donors, and your organization has a lot to offer these businesses in return. Your partnership can provide a boost to their brand image, team-building opportunities, and a concrete way to implement their corporate social responsibility policy. 

3 Foundational Pillars of an Effective Partnership

A strong partnership with a local business has three essential characteristics. 

A Shared Audience — You’ll see the most success from partnerships where the business and your organization share an audience. For example, if your nonprofit is a pet shelter, a pet supply store would make an ideal partner. If you serve low-income families in your local area, a grocery store may be a strong partner. If you have the good fortune to work for a cause that’s popular, you’ll probably find success with a spectrum of businesses that have a more general audience. 

A Cause They Care About — The real key to a partnership that generates gifts is to connect your partnership’s message to a cause the audience cares about. Even if a business’s audience isn’t in perfect alignment with your organizations’ typical audience, you can often frame the project in terms that resonate with them. For example, let’s say your organization helps to connect entrepreneurs who are people of color with affordable small business loans, and you want to create a partnership with one of the municipalities that many of your entrepreneurs call home. You may want to create a campaign specifically for this partner, focused on the entrepreneurs who live in their municipality. 

Mutual Benefit — While you might think that the benefits of participating in a partnership with your organization are obvious, you’ll want to clearly point out what exactly is in it for the business. Create messaging that lays out each of the benefits and explains why these benefits will make a difference to the company’s wellbeing.  

Forms a Partnership Can Take

Guest bartending is what many people think of when they hear the term “local business partnership,” but this is only one of countless forms a partnership can take. Here are just a few ideas.

Local Media Partnership — Partnering with a local media outlet like a community magazine, newspaper, or radio station can provide you with free or reduced-cost advertising. This type of partnership is especially effective for promoting a specific project. Media coverage will help improve awareness and drive interested traffic to your project’s fundraising page.

Grocery Store Partnership — This type of partnership has traditionally taken the form of a checkout-giving campaign, which isn’t practical during the current pandemic. Modify this strategy by taking it virtual. Ask the grocery store to promote your nonprofit via their social channels. If your organization could use donated grocery items, and ask the store to match customer gifts with an equal value of donated products. 

Remote Volunteer Day Partnership — Since many companies have employees working from home, a Remote Volunteer Day is an ideal way to help them build their employer brand. If a business is looking for ways to attract new talent and retain the people they have, they’re likely to welcome a Remote Volunteer Day. To create this partnership, you would come up with an idea for a volunteer opportunity that employees could participate in remotely. The reward for your work will be a slew of social media posts on the company’s social pages and likely many of the employees’ personal pages. And if you engage employees in a compelling way with your partnership, you may also encourage them to become recurring donors. 

Company Fundraiser — Find local companies whose leadership and employees are likely to resonate with your mission and suggest a company fundraiser, with the organization matching employee gifts. Be sure to get donors’ contact information so you can follow up with a thank you note and add them to your fundraising software for updates and other communications. 

An Untapped Opportunity 

Many small nonprofits overlook corporate partnerships, thinking that they wouldn’t be able to attract the interest of these companies. But local businesses are often a perfect match for small nonprofits, since they typically share a desire to improve the community they’re in. Use your creativity to brainstorm ideas for local business partnerships that rest on the three foundational pillars we’ve shared here, and you’ll build an effective source of individual gifts.

Download Raising More with Less: 3 Strategies to Make Your Virtual Fundraising Sustainable for more ideas on how to stretch your fundraising investment further.  

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