I recently moderated a panel discussion at the Mid-South Nonprofit Forum which was hosted at the University of Memphis by FedEx, AutoZone, and First Tennessee; and brought together over 200 local nonprofit leaders for a day of workshops and discussions to share best practices and ways to enhance organizational effectiveness. My panel focused on “Doing Business with the Business Community” and featured prominent women executives working in corporate philanthropy: Jenny Robertson, Director of Corporate Citizenship and Reputation Management at FedEx; Jenny Koltnow, Director of Communications and Community Relations, Customer Satisfaction with AutoZone; and Kim Cherry, Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications at First Tennessee.
The panelists provided fascinating insight into their respective companies and how they engage with nonprofits. The main topics where how strategic funding areas were determined, how CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) teams were comprised and the best methods for establishing relationships with them, proper timing and amount of the asks, and preferred communication frequency and materials. There was a plethora of valuable information, perspectives and guidance shared on how best to partner for success, which I will highlight in future columns, but one bit of advice from Jenny Koltnow resonated.
Jenny encouraged nonprofits to align their story with the corporation in which they are soliciting for support. Her example was Impact America Tennessee's program, SaveFirst, which trains college, graduate, and law students how to provide free tax preparation services and savings opportunities to low-income, working families. When building their relationship with AutoZone, Impact America tied their ability to help working families claim tax credits and get much-needed money back to the reality that these same families use some of that refund to make personal auto repairs. In other words, the nonprofit tied their story and audience to AutoZone's story and customers.
AutoZone is one of the most philanthropic companies in the Mid-South, but in order to sustainably give, they must focus on their core business as a leading retailer of aftermarket automotive parts and accessories. By creatively tying your nonprofit story to a corporate sponsor/funder’s story, you will raise the likelihood of support and maybe even a long-term partnership. Helping each other create a mutually beneficial environment will lead to success.