A direct marketing bridge to… cause-related marketing and sponsorship

What, you say?  Corporate is a completely different silo in our organization from direct marketing.  It’s not even like major gift officers where they are working from the donor files we create – corporate relationship folks are working directly with C-level execs from companies, not people who started out as $15 donors.

Au contraire, mon ami.*  Direct marketing can be useful in helping secure relationships with companies that didn’t know they wanted to partner with your organization.

The first step is to append your file with as much data as you can get your hands on, if you haven’t already done so.  You are looking for:

  • Demographic data – age, sex, income variables, etc.
  • Political data – which candidates someone gives to is a matter of public record. This has almost nothing to do with reaching out to corporations but is something you should have on file from a data perspective, as people who donated to political campaigns are significantly more likely to donate (and donate more generously) to nonprofits.
  • Purchasing patterns
  • Interests

Ideally, you would also survey your list(s).  This is done most inexpensively online and can help you get a feel for the demographics of your online supporters and event participants.

From this, you may already see some potential partners emerging.  If your core constituency has an unusually high percentage of people who drive motorcycles, your corporate development folks, armed with these data, can make a more effective pitch to those companies.

This list, and your information about it, is your gold mine for the corporate world.  Assuming that there is not a strictly philanthropic reason for them giving to you, they are generally interested either in what partnering with you will do for their brand among a certain segment or segments of their customers or potential customers or in what your constituents could be persuaded to do with them in a cause-related marketing relationship.

Even in the first instance, your list is your gold mine because companies will assume that if you have, for example, heavy support among 35-55-year-old women, their 35-55-year-old female customer base might think highly about their support of you.

There are a couple of key factors in these relationships, though.  First is never to give up control of your list.  You can allow the partnering company to mail, phone, and even email your list (assuming your privacy policy allows it) with an offer for a cause-related marketing or affinity promotion done jointly with you.  But it needs to be your list, with your control over when and how it is communicated with, with no ability for your partner to simply absorb it into their list of information about their customers or into a prospect list.  In fact, you will want to introduce some dummy constituents into any files you share, even under an NDA and the strictest legal contracts, to make sure a list not used without your knowledge or consent.

The second is to make sure as the nonprofit, you are not responsible for the heavy lifting.  These cause-related marketing programs abound, with people more than happy to give you 10% of their sales, as long as your constituents enter promo code RIVERRUNpastEVEandADAM.  As a nonprofit, you are only ever able to acknowledge the relationship, state the nature of the relationship, and thank the company for their support.  You are not able to, and should not be able to, sell a product effectively.

And any partner that truly values you as a nonprofit will not ask you to do so.  The ideal relationship is one where the company values their relationship with you and promotes it as you thank them and appreciate their support.

Direct marketing can also help you acquire cause-related marketing.  Remember the ability to target specific individuals with your advertising? Look for your corporate sales team’s target list and market your programs and efforts to this audience.  They will think you are massive and omnipresent, when in reality you only could be with their support.

Additionally, your email list can help get you contacts at key companies, by looking at the .com portion of the address.  You don’t necessarily need to have the CEO on the list; the right janitor who believes in your cause may be willing to help you navigate to the right person at their company or help arrange a lunch and learn with the corporate staff.

So your direct marketing list and tactics can help you in the cultivation, success, and execution of corporate programs.  Good luck with this and please share any success stories in the comments!  Thanks!


* French for “That’s some straight up bull”

A direct marketing bridge to… cause-related marketing and sponsorship

A direct marketing bridge to… major gifts

Direct marketing specialists and major gift specialists seem to be opposites in style and approach.  One is impersonal, mass-market, with knowledge of the aggregate not the specific – the marketing equivalent of the Air Force; the other is all about personal relationships, forged one on one, with intimate knowledge of that one person you are pitching – the equivalent of boots on the ground Army or Marines.  This can often cause them to be rivals in the same ways the service branches are; they can also work together to accomplish a mission together like the service branches.

As a direct marketer, developing a small budget to a major gifts program is part defensive.  I once worked with a major gift officer who would mark a donor as no mail, no phone, and no email the moment they got on her radar screen.  Not only did this deprive us of the only real source of revenue we had from these donors, but it also deprive the donor of the information that was tethering them to the mission and tugging at their heart strings.  And when she left, we had no way of differentiating real unsubscribes from these unsubscribes of pseudo-convenience.

This is going to happen if you can’t create a positive experience for potential major donors in your direct marketing program.  Yet it can happen and it can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the nonprofit.  There are only two reasons to stop communications with your potential major donors in this way: 1) if they ask you to or 2) you have a relationship with that donor to the point that there is a substitute communications strategy and ask framework in place.

So your role in direct marketing is to build the relationship with the donor over time.  This doesn’t necessarily mean a slower cadence; rather, it means different types of pieces, including a donor newsletter telling them about their accomplishments – the true impact of their giving.  It can also include higher-touch, higher-value communications – handwritten notes or cards, invitations to special events or briefings, or the like.  These can enter the communication stream gradually as your relationship builds.

Direct marketing is also a great vehicle – in fact, a primary vehicle – for identifying those donors who may be receptive to a major donor ask.  While some amount of wealth is certainly a necessary condition for a person to be able to make a major donation, the more important thing to the organization is the tie to the organization.  People often forget this.  If I had a nickel for every time a nonprofit brainstorming potential targets thought of hitting up Bill Gates or his foundation because of a friend of a friend, I would be blogging about what yachts are the most fun to waterski behind.


If this man is your major donor strategy,
you do not have a major donor strategy.

What you are looking for is:

  • Giving history – long, repeated, multiple gifts per year, and increasing gift amounts
  • Participation – telling a story, coming to an event, volunteering
  • A clear passion for at least one aspect of your mission either from his/her giving history or participation

The one exception to this is people who make unusually high (whatever this is for your organization – probably between $100 and $1000) first gifts.  This is probably a person who has been interested in your cause for a while or has an important reason to start giving now – they may be ripe for personal interactions as much as your loyal long-term donors.

Looking at this compact list, you can see that you can not only help solicit major donor prospects, you can help create them.  This is by incorporating upgrade strategies into your communications.  If you have well-defined recognition for different levels of giving (and you should), you can make those aspirational, especially for those on the cusp of reaching them, by making the ask for the next highest level of recognition.  Those recognition levels should also be a prominent part of your mail, phone, and online communications, as well as your acknowledgments for these donors.

Finally, remember to thank extremely well.  If you are at lost as to how, check out 50 ways to thank your donors.  Some are usual, some are a bit nutty, but they may spark some ideas to giving your major donors and potential major donors the love they deserve.

A direct marketing bridge to… major gifts