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Monkey Business: What Monkeys Can Teach Us about Corporate Fundraising

This is a guest post from Sharon Jackson from Jackson Gray Consulting.

What can monkeys teach us about corporate fundraising?

“Monkeys play by sizes” – Ghanaian Proverb

For many years I trained fundraising staff across Africa. On my way through, I gathered an eclectic array of sayings and proverbs from my colleagues, which I often used to more precisely and colourfully illustrate some of the tips and pointers I sought to share.

So what have monkeys got to do with corporate fundraising?

Well, my Ghanaian friends tell me that when monkeys play, they follow a strict rule; they play by sizes. Big monkeys play with other big monkeys and pygmy marmosets play with other pygmy marmosets. Whether you approve or not, the same behaviour is very often seen in the human world. The wealthy mix with the wealthy, high achievers converse with other high achievers, captains of industry ‘hang out’ with other captains. Corporate fundraisers might privately dream of challenging this status quo, but professionally they will ignore this rule at their peril.

When I was the Executive Director of One to One Children’s Fund, I needed to find a company to sponsor our annual gala event at short notice. I spread my net wide but was told repeatedly by CSR teams that the events budget had already been fully committed for that year. In the end we secured the funds we needed because our Board Chair was in touch with the MD of a large investment bank. The MD was not constrained by the CSR budget or a specific agenda and targets. He was in a position to consider the opportunity we presented to him and empowered to respond.

So often the key to securing substantial and/or long term funding from a company is to first identify  the ‘right person’ within that company - and then to find the ‘right person’ within your own organisation who can help you to gain access to him or her.

So to start with, who is the ‘right person’ in the company?

In order of preference I would suggest that it is:

  1. The owner and/or founder of the company
  2. The person who runs the company and makes all the biggest decisions/ has the greatest budgetary control
  3. A senior staff member with decision-making powers and budgetary control, and with the ear of either of the people above
  4. Other senior staff members with decision-making powers and budgetary control

And then, who is the ‘right person’ within our own organisation to help make that initial contact?

Once again, in order of preference I would assert that it is:

  1. The person with a pre-existing relationship or connection to your target within the company
  2. The person who moves in similar circles as your target and who is perhaps making a substantial donation themselves
  3. The most senior person in your organisation

This person could be a Board Member, staff member, volunteer or committed supporter.

I can already hear the mutterings of beleaguered fundraisers, expressing frustration at their own lack of adequately sized monkeys. Many charitable organisations complain that whilst their boards and senior management bring great expertise, they do not bring funds or connections.  

Being the Board Chair of a charity which, just five or six years ago, would have described themselves in exactly these terms, I would challenge this. Most people have more connections than they realise. They need help to think through their networks and require assurances that you won’t jeopardise some of their treasured friendships.  So how can you do this?

  1. Work with your board, staff, volunteers and any others who are close to your organisation to map their networks. Meet with key people on a one-to-one basis to talk through who they know and who they could get to.
  2. Go slowly and build confidence. Work with your introducers on one connection at a time and in ways which make them feel comfortable. Managed well, most will soon discover that helping to connect their favourite charity with their address book can be hugely rewarding
  3. Pro-actively share details of people and companies you are seeking to connect with. Occasionally you will find that you uncover a connection that has been over-looked.

Not every cultivation will lead to substantial corporate funding or a long-term partnership, but at the very least you will start to grow your web of contacts and ambassadors, who may in turn lead to the funds and support you need. Growing this web could be vital to building a successful corporate fundraising programme.

To foster this growth you might also seek ways to bring your new-found connections closer to the organisation. There are many ways this can be achieved but two of the most popular include:

  1. Create a Development Board – a committee of wealthy and / or well-connected individuals who are willing to take on a formal responsibility for helping to secure financial support. Many arts organisations already rely on Development Boards and Events Committees to fill their annual gala event, but these same people could also open doors into the corporate world.
  2. Appoint key advocates and critical friends as Special Advisors – sometimes giving your introducers a more formalised role with your organisation helps them to feel more valued and more empowered to speak for the charity.

At this point I should highlight the importance of using your database to record details of each individual and company you are seeking to cultivate. Start as you mean to go on. As you build a diverse and complicated web of connections and prospective funders, you will soon reach the limitations of your memory and will rely increasingly on the accurate and up to date information you have recorded.

Of course, identifying who should be playing the game, and with whom, is just the beginning. There are many rules, strategies and tactics to be considered in the quest to securing corporate income for your organisation.

Sharon Jackson MInstF has worked in fundraising for over 16 years, with a focus on major donors, foundations and corporates. She is the principal partner of Jackson Gray Consulting and currently works with a range of arts, conservation and international development organisations. Previously, she was Executive Director at One to One Children’s Fund and Head of International Market Development at ActionAid International. She has managed Major Gifts programmes at ActionAid UK, WaterAid and Harvest Help, and has consistently delivered significant and sustained income growth. She is Chair of Trustees at Find Your Feet, Advisor to Build IT International and Trustee of the Brian Murtagh Charitable Trust.