“You must be an angel, because you look like you’ve fallen from heaven”
Have you been on the receiving end of a corny chat up line? Someone sidled up to my daughter and tried this one on her. It got an eye roll as it was so obviously cheesy. As she said to me later, “why didn’t he just say, ‘you look lovely, can I buy you a drink’?”. But in the age of Tinder and Bumble, at least it was less confronting than asking for a hook up straight out.
I don’t miss the dating game, but I do get excited helping charities make their first approach to a corporate prospect. Typically it’s via email or LinkedIn if it’s a cold contact and you need to craft that first approach carefully. What can you do to get the attention of your corporate target and avoid sounding like a cheesy chat up artist?
Keep it short
You’ve got 15 seconds before the person on the receiving end makes the decision to read your email, delete it or forward it to someone else. That means you’ve got to be short and succinct and grab their attention in a way that is authentic. A number of corporate clients tell us they may have hundreds of emails in their inbox every day, so they’re pretty ruthless with the delete button.
Don’t be tempted to give them an essay on your charity and your cause. Your number one aim from an introductory mail is to get a meeting. Don’t sell. They know you’re looking for something more than a coffee, that’s a given. The biggest mistake that we see all the time is partnership managers trying to do everything in one, initial email. Trying to explain your cause, introduce your charity history, outline your CV, describe your programs and make an ask is like showing up to a first date in a wedding dress. It’s a guaranteed turn-off.
Lead with benefits
A gallon of self-interest mixed with a teaspoon of inspiration is the right recipe for a first approach. You need to lead with something that is a benefit to your corporate prospect’s bottom line. It could be staff engagement and volunteering, wellbeing, content for their consumers or a hard-to-reach audience. You need to give them a commercial reason to engage with you and then add the inspiration and insight that comes with a partnership with your charity. It’s not about how wonderful your charity is, it’s about helping your corporate partner achieve their business objectives. You’re the vehicle, not the hero of the story.
Make it personal
Some of the worst emails I’ve received are from the LinkedIn marketing team. Not only do they clog my inbox but they’re so obviously a cut and paste format that is not personalised to my needs at all. Make sure you’ve done your research and you’ve at least got a working hypothesis of what might interest them. Don’t use a cookie cutter format with ‘insert corporate name’ or they’ll be reaching for the delete button quicker than an Australian swimmer at the finish line. If you’ve got a warm referral from a mutual contact, then reference it. ‘Jo Smith suggested I contact you…’ Even better, get your contact to make a warm introduction first. The more personal you can make the email, the more likely they are to respond.
Expect a response
I’m constantly surprised how many emails don’t finish with a clear call to action. Often, it’s something waffly like ‘we’d be pleased to discuss further with you at your convenience’. Be specific and gracious, giving the prospect a simple choice of yes or no. “If you’d like to learn more, I’m available on Tues, Weds and Friday for a Zoom chat. Which date works best for you?”
You may not get an instant response, because everyone is busy. One of corporate clients told us that she doesn’t reply until at least the second or third email from a charity. She want to see that it matters enough to the charity to persist, rather than a mass email broadcast. Tweak your introductory email and follow up on a different day of the week. You never know if the first one just landed on a bad day or a day off for your prospect.
The corporate dating game is more subtle than sidling up to a stranger at a bar. You’ve got to have more substance than a corny chat up line. Make sure your first move gets you beyond first base.