By Elisa Shoenberger, Benchmarking Analyst, Grenzebach Glier and Associates
We’ve recently started working with the Corporate and Foundation Relations (CFR) office. However, up until this point my focus has been researching individuals, not organizations. I want to be helpful for this office but I’m not even sure where to start doing research or what to provide to my CFR development officers. They mention that they could use some profiles and leads for some projects. Another gift officer mentioned looking into contacts at a local big corporation. How do you suggest I begin tackling this shift in my work?
Corporate and foundation research can be very tricky. It’s often a topic not talked about as much as other areas of prospect research. But there’s a lot of potential work that you can do in this area. Plus it’s one of my favorite areas about prospect research that I talk about!
Corporations and foundations are often handled within the same development officer department but the prospect research strategies can be very different based on the information available. A common place to start exploring foundations is with their 990 forms. The 990 form is a required filing with the IRS for all foundations. Helpful information that can be found in these forms are things like board of directors, foundation assets, and a list of that year’s dispersed gifts including the amount and the receiving organization.
There are some great paid websites out there that have searchable information and 990 forms like Foundation Search and Foundation Center. If you’re constrained by your budget and don’t work at a higher education institution, your local library may have a subscription you can use. Luckily, we aren’t limited to subscription services or the hope of access through local libraries. Free options include Guidestar, which provides 3 years of 990 forms and the Charitable Bureau of Statistics which also provides some 990 forms. It is important to note across all of these services that there are lag times in the availability of current 990s forms from the IRS. It is typical to have the most current filing be two years old.
Researching for corporations is a bit more complicated since they do not have 990 filings unless they also have a foundation. In most cases, they won’t have a foundation and so you’ll have to rely on other financial filings to analyze their potential. If the company is publically trade, they will have financial statements that they are legally required to make available. However, if the corporation is held privately, it gets trickier. You’ll have to rely more on personal connections through your fundraisers or donors to glean information on the corporation’s interest and capacity as well as researching the latest news regarding the company’s recent business dealings. If you’re trying to maximize your time, look into websites that help aggregate information like Dun & Bradstreet, Crain’s, etc. to provide you with a summary of relevant news.
Now that you know where you’ll begin to look for information to provide to your CFR development officers, it’s important to consider what information is important to present it to them in a profile. A few key areas that you will want to include are giving (to your organization or to a similar organization), mission statement, and financial position if possible, and key players in the organization. For foundations these critical elements can be found on the 990 forms. Play close attention to the mission statement if they have one. This may help you determine if the foundation would be interested in your work. Spend some time reviewing the gifts over the last three years to get a sense of what nonprofits they support, is the giving consistent, and is their giving geographically specific? For corporations, you will be interested in answering similar questions such as what their funding interests are, their geographic preferences, and the eligibility of your organization for their funding opportunities. Present the information as you would with an individual profile and provide a rating. Ultimately, your assessment should be an integral part of your report to development officers and should help drive their strategy.
So that rating…how do you rate an organization? Like individual ratings, each nonprofit has their own way of handling it. Some nonprofits handle CFR ratings by basing them on the yearly giving to a similar organization while others may base their rating on past giving. If your institution hasn’t come up with a rating for organizations, you may want to work with the CFR team to come up with one that works with your nonprofit’s needs and makes sense to the CFR team.
In addition to creating ratings, the CFR team may also need assistance is developing new prospect leads to support a certain project, institute, or program. This, like finding new major gift donors, is very time consuming but is simple and straight forward. You will need to begin building a list using the same strategies outlined above but on a larger scale. This is where the paid websites are useful. Not only do they have a wealth of data on the giving of foundations and some corporations, but they also provide search functions that help focus and refine your search. Guidestar for example has filters like geography or name searches that can help narrow down the number of organizations to review from their 990 forms. While this is a project that will be have a broad focus it is still important to remember to limit how deep you go into any given foundation or company at this stage since you have a lot of ground to cover. As a way to manage and track your findings, one suggestion would be to keep a spreadsheet containing information about giving guidelines, application requirements and dates, and why they are included on the list for each new foundation/corporation you research. This will help track those you have identified and a potential program or initiative that they could fund.
A key strategy for identifying new leads for CFR is finding connections to an organization through your current board members or donors. As we know, personal connections can be a critical part of fundraising. You are looking for a champion of your cause so start with your current champions and work outwards! The first place I would look is in your own database for business information. This may not be the most up-to-date information but it’s a good starting place. Also review your current board and see if anyone might be at the target company or an affiliated one. There are some services that do the linking between board members and other affiliated person with organizations like Rel Sci or Prospect Visual that makes it easier and saves time but you can still do this without these paid services. Reviewing LinkedIn and company websites for higher education organizations has an advantage since they can filter or search on degree from their institution. Non-higher education organizations may have to be more creative in how to use these search functions to determine who to reach out to.
The challenges for prospect researchers in the corporate and foundation world are significant but hopefully you have been given a starting point to begin tackling them!