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Corporate Fund Raising In Transition

by Dr. William F. Vartorella


In today's fast-paced, ever-changing corporate culture, you may have only minutes to make your nonprofit's pitch for company donations of cash, equipment, or volunteer services.

Sure, you've done your homework. Made sure your programs meet the company's marketing mission and corporate goals. Not requested more than the company's "average" grant/donation based on research and experience. Maybe even kept the request below $5,000, just to keep it out of the jurisdiction of a lengthy review process.

Problem is, who do you approach for the final pitch?

Most firms have a "corporate contributions committee," although they rarely seem to convene to hear personal appeals from the heads of nonprofits. More often than not, you'll be directed to someone doubling
as either middle management or special projects director.

And herein lies the problem.

There are two kinds of corporate types who may be involved. Both seem to be successful and opinion leaders. The fact is, they aren't and you need to recognize quickly "Which is which."

Scenario #1: The "Up and Out" Executive

The "up and out" executive looks something like this: A male, late 50s or early 60s, this person has all the trappings of power -- corner office; lots of awards on the wall; newspaper clippings; clean desk. He fits the old-style profile of the traditional donor.

Yet, for reasons that are murky, he now is relegated to the position of special projects director. Responsibilities are vague; power is non-existent. Time for a reality check: At his age he should be vying for the executive suite -- CEO, CFO, etc. Instead, he's on the wrong side of the power curve. Much of his time, frankly, is spent on final preparations for his separation agreement -- benefits package, the gold watch-maybe early retirement, or the emergency "golden parachute."

The most you can expect from the "up and out executive" is a reasonably enlightened "listen" to your proposal. Don't be surprised if you get a "get-off-the-grass grant" -- which is jargon for a corporate donation that has more to do with saving time than serving your client base. You end up with small change and a deceptively dangerous short-term relationship. This executive is a "poser."

Scenario #2: The "Up and In" Executive

The "up and in" executive looks like this: A new-style executive, perhaps female, Hispanic, Asian, or African-American, this person is driven by corporate objectives.

Napoleon's dictum, "Take anything but my time," has real meaning in this office. Awards are replaced by profit-and-loss statements, ringing telephones, and an airline ticket to Timbuctoo.

In the first scenario, the executive sought praise and respect, while this executive seeks performance and results. She is looking for a big, bold, high-profile idea that shows off her company and what it can do in the community. She has never heard of a "get-off-the-grass grant" and wouldn't waste money on it if she had. Unlike the first executive, she is ready to take ownership of an idea and run with it. This executive is a "player."

Strategies for Nonprofits

Naturally, the two types of executives need to be approached differently. In scenario #1, ask the executive specifically whether others will play a role in the decision-making process. The answer is usually an unequivocal yes. This is really an opportunity to build consensus and a relationship with the "movers-and-shakers" who will soon replace this executive.

The goal here is to look long term, to become part of the team.

Your proposal then, should be streamlined, with a three-year "fuse." Your goal is to carry your project beyond the tenure of this interloper.

In scenario #2, carry two proposals in your briefcase. The first is the request at hand, namely a sustainable, easy-to-measure, short-term project (annual giving, etc.). The second is a one-page "blue-sky" summary of how her corporation can support community growth through a bold initiative.

Remember, she is being groomed for a corner office. Your success is her success. After you make your brief "pitch" (very brief, in her case) for the short-term project, test the water.

"We believe this meets your marketing goals (read: mission statement) today, but where do you see your company moving in the early 21st century?" If you have been shrewd, you have some inkling of what her answer might be. If so, part of her opportunity to participate is lurking in your briefcase. Thus, "I just happen to have a copy of our nonprofit's vision statement for the next decade. Its program(s) may interest you."

In each case, it is important to read between the lines. With corporate culture in transition, (and barbarians at the gates), you must do everything in your power to position your nonprofit's support for the long haul. Be on the look out for rising new-style executives in corporate America who take a much more focused view of traditional values and how these will play out in terms of corporate philanthropy.

True, corporate contributions are flat or dipping slightly in comparison with 1987 dollars and as a percentage of pre-tax income. This is not to imply, however, that executives are not prepared to offer volunteer services or in-kind donations of equipment as part of an interim strategy.

How you evaluate corporate cultures on a case-by-case basis will have a fundamental impact on the well-being of your nonprofit. Napoleon's dictum is timely in another sense: You have to move now to plan for the future, before it -- and your nonprofit -- become obsolete.


This article first appeared in the FUND RAISING INSTITUTE * MONTHLY PORTFOLIO, July 1994 .

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About the Author:

Bill Vartorella (Ph.D., C.B.C.) is executive vice-president of Craig and Vartorella, Inc., a U.S.-based global consulting firm which provides strategic planning, market & donor research, and fundraising assistance for nonprofits and NGOs. He is the author of 75 articles, book chapters, and professional papers ranging from archaeology to utopian experiments. His firm specializes in projects involving biodiversity, health care, archaeology/paleontology, sustainable futures for rural communities worldwide, museums, education, and nonprofit board development.

Vartorella has trained more than 6,000 (six thousand) executives from NGOs at seminars and world congresses held in Eastern and Western Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. His firm maintains special funding databases for heart research, archaeology, dance, scientific exploration, and biodiversity.

He can be reached at or by telephone/fax at 803.432.4353. Craig and Vartorella's web site address is

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