I never thought I’d agree with Donald Trump. Not with his ideas about disinfectant cures for COVID, why Nazis are good people or how global warming is a Chinese conspiracy. But he’s always advocated thinking big. It’s fair to say The Donald never had ambitions as small as his hands.
We discussed partnerships recently with a leader at a large corporate. He described how an aspiring non-profit manager didn’t so much pitch for support, but ‘gingerly passed a piece of paper across the table’. If you want to be in contention for meaty, million-dollar sized partnerships, you need to channel your inner Donald Trump and think big.
A cautious approach, that tries not to be rude in asking for too much, is never going to inspire corporates. Whether in person on in print, you look too much like Oliver Twist with his empty bowl, fearfully asking for a little more. Talk about your big challenges and invite your corporate prospect to help you solve them. It may mean breaking them down into bite sized chunks initially, but you need to paint a picture of how they build towards a bigger solution for that pressing societal issue. Spell out what you really need and get your corporate prospect to rise to the challenge.
Does your pitch set out an ambitious vision for the future? Or is it a patchwork of a document written by committee. You know what I mean- the kind that’s had edits from multiple stakeholders and has jargon of all kinds cluttering the narrative. When we worked on a pitch for a partnership with EFTPOS, we had unsolicited and unhelpful input from about 5 different departments. We argued over everything from program structure to the font size on the document. The end result reeked of compromise, not ambition. You need to take charge of the narrative and set out ambitious goals for the partnership, beyond a large cheque. Save the Children UK set out a bold vision to eliminate preventable deaths for children under five and invited corporates to be part of the solution. What is the ambitious journey you’re inviting corporates partners to come along with you?
Aim for the top
Big partnerships are rarely decided by staff at middle management. It’s great to nurture champions at what Paul Keating called the ‘mezzanine level’, and those relationships can be very useful in helping you navigate the internal dynamics of big and complex corporates. But staying in your comfort zone with more junior staff leaves you stuck with junior sized partnerships. If you want to break into the million-dollar partnership club, you need to include decision makers at the most senior level. That means peer to peer relationships with your non-profit’s leadership and board and the corporate’s senior people. Don’t be afraid to ask for senior level support, especially if you’d like their strategic thinking, and expertise. If you get the corporate’s senior leaders engaged, you’ll dramatically shorten the timeframe to a decision and budget commitment.
The potential for a million-dollar partnership is in your hands. Don’t be cautious and timid, be bold and ambitious. Think like The Donald and think big.