Developing a Plan to Approach Companies

Perhaps you already have a list of companies that could donate to your organization. If not, we’ll be helping you with that in our December 6 webinar. Once you have that list, the next step is to determine who the real decision makers are in each company and how you can get in front of them to present your case.

Remember that the decision maker might not be the person who has the most visibility in the company. It could be the CEO, or it could be a community relations director, or head of a corporate foundation. It could be an employee committee. So do your research first. In most cases, it will benefit you to build a relationship with the CEO. Even when there is a foundation, an employee charitable giving committee, or a community relations department, the CEO most likely will have a great deal of influence over these other “decision makers.”

Let’s focus on determining the decision makers for the top ten prospects on your list. You can use a worksheet in my workbook to help.

Once you’ve determine if there is a corporate foundation, you can focus your research efforts on the foundation. You can make up a grid using the following questions:

  • Does this foundation support our type of organization?
  • Does this foundation give the type of funding we seek (i.e., operating, capital, endowment, program)?
  • What are the minimum, maximum, and average grants?
  • When do we apply?
  • When is a decision made?
  • Who are the trustees?
  • Is the CEO among the trustees?

You will want to know if the CEO is a trustee. Also try to determine through informal research how much influence the CEO has over decisions of the foundation. This will help you prepare your cultivation efforts.

For companies that have a single decision maker, your job might be a bit easier. At least you only have one person to research and one major relationship to develop. You can develop a worksheet or use the one in my book to help you determine the information you need to know:

  • Who is the decision maker
  • How accessible is this person?
  • Who is the gatekeeper
  • Do we have an existing relationship with the decision maker?
  • What do we know about the decision maker’s interests and habits?

Determining the Company’s Areas of Interest

The information you’ve filled in on you grid for those companies that have a corporate foundation will help make it easier to determine whether the company’s interests match your organization’s needs. For those companies without a foundation, this research might be but harder, but not impossible, to gain.

Following are some ideas you can use to research the company’s interest:

  • Check the company’s website to see if it has a community relations or corporate philanthropy section and see what kind of projects it has funded in the past.
  • Obtain the annual reports for organizations with missions similar to yours and see if the company is listed as a donor.
  • See if any of your staff members or board members work for or have relatives working for the company who might be able to get the “inside scoop” on the company’s interests.
  • Schedule a meeting with the decision maker(s) to talk about the company’s interests and see if there is a good fit.

This last item, of course, assumes that you can get to the decision maker, which brings up the subject of gatekeepers—often the bane of a development officer’s existence. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Getting Past the Gatekeeper

There are several ways of getting past the gatekeeper. You can

  1. contact the decision maker personally, or
  2. making friends with the gatekeeper so you can get to the decision maker.

Some hints on getting directly to the decision makers:

  • Find out what service clubs, professional organizations, community activities the decision maker is involved in. Then join and get active in those groups yourself.
  • Get a colleague (board member, volunteer, staff member) who knows this decision maker to make an introduction for you.
  • Try calling early in the morning or late in the day. Sometimes the decision makers answer their own phones before the gatekeepers arrive or after the gatekeepers have left for the day.

Making friends with the gatekeeper is always a good idea, because there will certainly be times, even if you have already established a relationship with the decision maker, when the gatekeeper gets “in the way.”

First, treat the gatekeepers with respect. Don’t treat them like second-class citizens, lowly employees, or people who just make your life miserable. If you are in the office in person, pay as close attention to the gatekeeper’s office or work space as you would the decision maker’s. Are there family photos, mementoes, hints about the interests and activities of the gatekeeper? Does she like to golf? Does he have a large family that is involved in sports? (Family photos often give these clues.) Did she graduate from the same university you did? All of these cues are good conversation starters. When calling on the phone, be cordial and ask about how the gatekeeper’s day is going, but don’t waste time with too much chitchat before getting to the reason for your call.

Make sure the gatekeeper knows who you are and the purpose of your visit or call. Don’t try to fudge a solicitation call by saying you are there to get advice. But, if you are really are there to get advice, make that known.

Acquaint the gatekeeper with your nonprofit and its mission and programs. The gatekeeper might have a family member who receives services, works at your nonprofit, or sits on the board. The more the gatekeeper knows about your organization, the more likely it is you will get past this person to the decision maker.

Okay, so now that you have a good idea what the interests of this company are, you can enter them onto a grid through which you will track the best “matches” for your organization so you can focus your energy on those companies that are the most likely to provide support.

Please note that you might have several programs that meet the interest of this funder. So leave plenty of room on your grid for multiple programs.

For more information, check out the Raising More Money from Your Local Business Community training in The Nonprofit Academy.
About Linda Lysakowski

Linda is the author of numerous books including Fundraising as a Career; Capital Campaigns; Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign?; Raise More Money from Your Business Community; Fundraising for the GENIUS, and The Matriarch. She co-edited YOU and Your Nonprofit and The Nonprofit Consulting Handbook; and co-authored The Leaky Bucket; The New Donor; Nonprofit Strategic Planning; and Quick Guide to Developing Your Case for Support.

Linda is one of just over one hundred professionals worldwide to hold the ACFRE designation. She has helped trained more than 34,000 development professionals worldwide and is Acquisitions Editor for CharityChannel Press and For the GENIUS Press.


  1. Hi Linda, we are a small gymnastics organization in Brandon, MB, Canada and we are currently trying to approach companies to get support. I wanted to post and thank you for this article, I found it very insightful and I'm going to share it with Kimmy, our director of PR at the gym.

    Just a bit of background, we usually fundraise face-to-face at our local mall and throughout the community door to door using our great supportive local volunteers. However we are looking to start tapping into our social media followers and start collecting money online. We recently tried out a software to help with this, Donorhut (I added their link in post fields). I'm curious if you have heard of it, or if you have any experience with fundraising online. I only ask because your advice above is very inspiring and insightful and I'm hoping to pick your brain to help us expand our reach from our usual face-to-face methods. I apologize if I'm going off-topic on your comments section, I'm not very experienced with blogs. Anyway Linda, thank you very much for the post, I'm hoping this will help us attract the attention of some local and hopefully regional businesses to help generate support for our gym! All the best, Phil.

What would you add?