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August 10, 2020
Why Companies Aren't Returning Your Calls
By Joe Waters

Joe Waters
Joe Waters
Nonprofits that want to recruit business partners need skill, patience, forethought, the right ammunition, and, most importantly, they need to know as much as they can about their target and why it keeps giving them the slip.

Prospecting for businesses is like hunting. Your first shot is your best shot. Spooked by the initial noise, businesses will hide or get as far away from you as possible.

Here are five reasons why you're missing the mark with companies.

1. They don't have the money
Everyone thinks that companies have a lot of money to give away. And maybe they do. But the actual giving numbers tell a different story. According to Curt Weeden, the author of Smart Giving is Good Business, the average company only gives away 0.80% of its pretax profits #147; less than half of what businesses donated a generation ago. Many companies give a lot less than one percent. Fast food giant McDonald's only gives away 0.32% of its pretax profits. That's $30 million in donations from a company that spends nearly a BILLION dollars a year on advertising

Annually, U.S. companies donate $16 billion. That seems like a lot until you realize that individuals—mainly average Joe's and Jane's—give away hundreds of billions of dollars to charities each year. Plus, when you deduct the in-kind products companies donate to charities—. for which they receive a generous tax deduction—the corporate coffers for charity is a piggy bank.

I'm not suggesting you give up on companies. They have massive wealth, but you won't find it in the community relations or corporate giving department.

2. They've never heard of you
I like to say that persuasion occurs through identification. When people can identify with your attitudes, interests, beliefs, background, etc. you'll have a better chance of convincing them to do something. So nonprofits shouldn't be surprised when they call a company that knows nothing about them and no one calls back. Shocker!

That's why it's critical that a nonprofit build its brand #147; what people feel when they come into contact with your organization. To this end, nonprofits should (1) have the biggest, boldest impact they can, and (2) powerfully communicate that impact. It's the latter that most nonprofits ignore.

Nonprofit professionals have to wear many hats (development, operations, accounting), but publisher may be the most important one of all. Thanks to social media, blogs, and email marketing it's easier than ever before. But you have to do the work. If a company has never heard of your organization, that's your fault.

3. They don't know what's in it for them
The typical nonprofit pitch has you asking the business to help you. Businesses get calls like this all the time. They've learned to ignore them. Instead, lead with how your nonprofit will help them. Do you have a large supporter base? Do you serve a desirable demographic (e.g., women)? Do you run a large, successful event (e.g., cause walk, run or ride)? Does your nonprofit have a strong emotional message (e.g., sick kids)? Explain to your prospect how your cause intersects with their business goals. Believe me, they know what you want. But they won't expect you to have something for them.

4. You're not making it easy for them
Business owners are busy people. They shouldn't be planning your fundraiser. The only thing a business partner should be focused on is the fundraising. It's the one thing you can't do because it happens in their business. But most nonprofits expect the opposite. They expect to return to work while the business handles all the details of the fundraiser. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Not only do you need to be the expert on the best practices for the fundraiser, but you also need to shoulder most of the work.

One of the reasons large nonprofits are so successful with businesses is they devote time, money, and people to fundraising with businesses. You might think that lets you off the hook, because you can't compete with the big shops. The good news is you don't need a massive staff and budget. The bad news is that you can't just skate along like you have been devoting no resources to fundraising with businesses. Any business owner, big or small, will tell you that to make money you have to invest in yourself and get behind the wheel of your own success.

5. You're not pitching the right ideas
Nonprofits ask businesses for two things: straight cash and sponsorship money. But these two strategies are like playing the slots in Vegas #147; long odds and small payouts (Review point one). Besides, they're not appropriate for businesses which can't afford to write a check or sponsor an event or program. That's why nonprofits need to evaluate each business' assets to pick the best fundraiser. A movie theater has different potential than a restaurant or a department store. Nonprofits need to understand these businesses—and the opportunities and challenges they offer—as well they know their own organization.

Go where the money is, be a magnet for opportunity, and focus on the needs of your business partner. Load. Aim. Fire.

Joe Waters blogs at He's the author of Fundraising for Businesses: 40 New (and Improved!) Strategies for Nonprofits. Email him at .
March 2014
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