Most development teams dread cold outreach. It’s labor-intensive. And rejection…it’s like high school all over again.

The easier way is to network and land introductions to decision-makers.

I’m all for this approach—especially if it’s producing a solid pipeline of corporate partners for you. Networking, referrals, and word of mouth should be a focal point of your corporate development strategy.

But what happens when those sources dry up? Or they’re not producing the volume you need to hit your fundraising targets?

Many nonprofits describe this as “hitting a wall” in corporate development.

You’ve tapped your personal network. And your board has tapped theirs.

What we’ve found works best when this happens is to supplement your personal connections with strategic cold outreach.

No, this doesn’t involve spamming people. Or “spray and pray” methods where you email blast thousands of people with your unsolicited newsletters.

This is a targeted approach that requires upfront research and personalization. You have a reason for reaching out.

It’s what we specialize in at Blissful Prospecting that’s helped our clients connect with brands like REI, Victoria’s Secret, Hanes, Carhartt, Fabletics, and many more.

Here’s the five-step process for finding and connecting with corporate partners outside of your personal network:

Step #1: Build Ideal Partner Profiles by Modeling Your Past Successes

This approach works best when you model your past successes. This way you have practical examples of partnerships you can share with relevant brands.

If your goal is to partner with more apparel brands, it’s great to have a few examples of apparel brands you’ve partnered with.

Start by examining your most successful partnerships in the last few years. Find the partners that…

  • You have/had a long-term relationship with.
  • Donated the most corporate dollars.
  • Most resonate with and represent your cause/mission.
  • Were the easiest to pitch (didn’t take long to get on board).
  • Were the best case studies and examples of what you’d like more of.
  • Most importantly, you LIKE working with.

Once you have those partners listed, use a program like Apollo.io (free plans) or LinkedIn Sales Navigator (paid plans starting at $79.99 per month) to research the companies.

Apollo.io is great because you can upload a bulk list of companies into their system.

Look for patterns in the following:

  • # of employees (great indicator of their revenue)
  • Industries
  • Keywords they use on their website or social media
  • # of retail locations
  • Location of their headquarters

Hold onto this information.

Build Ideal Partnership Profiles (IPPs)

On a spreadsheet or word document, take the information you gathered and write out your requirements for an ideal partner.

Go a few steps deeper than the patterns you identified above:

  • What are your tangible requirements for a great partner?
  • What are your deal breakers?
  • What motivates these companies to look for nonprofit partners?

Here’s an example for a nonprofit that works with shoe/apparel brands:

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Search for Companies

Using Apollo.io or LinkedIn Sales Navigator, create a profile using the Ideal Partner Profile you came up with above.

Start looking at companies that meet your criteria.

This is known as an account-based approach in marketing and sales speak. It’s most efficient to build a list of companies you want to partner with first, and then to find the contacts at those companies.

Action: Build a hit list of 50 or more brands

Step #2: Build Personas

Now it’s time to identify decision-makers and champions at the brands on your hitlist.

Again, emulate your past partnerships. Who were you interacting with at those companies? What were their job titles?

We find that the best people to reach out to are typically in marketing, PR, and/or corporate responsibility. Founders/owners are also great if the company is under a few hundred employees.

We use Skip Miller’s approach in Selling Above and Below the Line to build personas. He recommends the following:

  • Separate personas into Above-the-Line (ATL) and Below-the-Line (BTL)
  • ATL personas are C-suite and VP-level contacts who are very strategic in their decision making
  • BTL personas are Director and Manager-level contacts who are very tactical in their decision making
  • Both are great to reach out to because they typically come together as a committee to make decisions

Here’s an example of a list of personas:

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Action: Build ATL and BTL personas for each Ideal Partner Profile

Step #3: Find Contact Information

Once you have the personas, you can start pulling contact information.

Again, I recommend staying in Apollo.io because everything’s there in one place.

Here are the tools you can use to find email addresses: 

Action: Find 2-3 contacts for each company you’ll be reaching out to

Step #4: Build Value-based Messaging

We use a framework we built called the REPLY Method for the email structure.

  • Results. Prospects care about the results you can create for them. With nonprofits, that usually involves how associating with you will make them look good. Leverage social proof. Mention other brands you’ve partnered with. Share case studies, testimonials, and examples of those partnerships. Link to the PR or social mentions they posted about your partnership.
  • Empathy. The brands you’re reaching out to are getting hit up by hundreds of other companies. You’re busy, but so are they. Acknowledge this in your outreach. Show empathy for their situation.
  • Personalization. Research brands prior to reaching out. Look at their website and find news articles, social posts, cool products, and anything else that you can to personalize the email. Show them you did your research.
  • Laser-focus. Keep your email short. People have small attention spans these days. Emails should be 3-5 sentences or less than 120 words. Voicemails should be less than 30 seconds.
  • You. Make the outreach about the prospect. No one wants to be Alfred, they want to be Batman. Show the brand how a partnership with you makes THEM the hero. Don’t go on and on about how great your cause is.

Action: Write an email sequence for each persona you’re reaching out to

Step #5: Reach Out

Once you’ve written your emails, it’s time to start sending them. To emphasize again—if you’re not willing to research and personalize the outreach…DO NOT BOTHER sending the emails.

You’ll look spammy, get your domain blacklisted, and tarnish your nonprofit’s reputation.

Sending emails is a lot of work. Fortunately, there are many tools that can help you automate some of the mundane parts of following up.

I recommend using a Sales Engagement Platform. These are tools that high volume sales teams use to manage and automate the activities associated with cold outreach.

You can use tools like MixMax if you’re using Gmail (plans start at $29/mo) or YesWare if you’re using Outlook (plans start at $35/mo).

Action: Send 6-8 emails in total to each prospect before giving up.

Your Turn

What are your biggest challenges in breaking out of your personal network to build corporate partnerships? Leave a comment and I’ll help point you in the right direction.


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