Stewardship: The Key to Keeping Corporate Partners Coming Back for Decades [SPONSORED]

Too small? You can enlarge this image by clicking on it.

Every organization defines stewardship just a little bit differently. They make it their own. They include activities that are both common to the fundraising sector and unique to their nonprofit at the same time.  It’s hard to come up with one single definition of what the word means, or create best practice tactics that work for everyone.

After 23 years working in several nonprofits, consulting for hundreds more, talking to corporate donors, designing CSR strategies, looking at constituent data, combing through research reports, asking questions, listening, following the marketplace and just plain observing, here’s my formula for effective corporate partner stewardship.

Finding the formula involves, first, defining the different layers to corporate stewardship, and, second, analyzing the percentage of time that needs to be spent in each layer.

Screenshot 2019-04-24 20.55.18.png

Explaining this entire infographic would take longer than this blog post! So let’s focus specifically on Return on Investment (ROI) – or as we like to say the Return on Partnership (ROP)

Your current corporate partnerships should make up about 80% of your annual revenue. In Catalist’s own 2018 Corporate Partnership Benchmarking Study, nonprofits reported that 85% of their annual revenue portfolio comes from their existing partners. In this day and age of big data and real time analytics, tracking, measuring and valuing your corporate partnerships (i.e. ROP) is now one of the biggest requirements to maximizing existing partners. Truthfully, partnership ROP comes up in every conversation we have with our corporate members.


“Corporations and nonprofits alike should not be afraid to focus on measurement and valuation of their programs – it can help them focus the team to identify what is working. If you really are partnering and cross-sharing information, you can show where there is an impact or not, and the relevant teams can help redirect.  As a brand, we only have a limited amount of resources and we want to invest wisely.”

- Jennifer Nickerson, City National Bank

So, how do you “measure” your partnerships effectively?

1. Invest in a Measurement Tool. The first step in partnership measurement is tracking marketplace reactions and conversations around the partnership. Use social listening tools to decipher media buzz around your cause/corporate campaigns in real-time and throughout the year, and/or during tent-pole times. Your tracking tool should be listening for any paid advertising, earned media and social activation that consumers, pre-identified or organic influencers, and all content publishers are producing around the relationship between your organization and corporate partner.

2. Align Internally to Demonstrate Impact. Partnerships are about more than just marketing rights and benefits. First and foremost, they must make an impact. Companies want nonprofits to communicate exactly how their dollars are impacting mission. Whether your partnership dollars are restricted or unrestricted, work across the aisle with your programs and mission team to ensure you are measuring for behavior change, mission influence and your impact on mission-served audiences. Applying pre-and post-campaign measurement tactics at the mission level will exponentially allow you to communicate impact and grow your partnership revenue year-over-year.

0 (1).jpeg

“Our 90+ corporate partners are asking us to measure our campaigns and be able to report back to them as a form of stewardship. They want to know what’s happening in the marketplace during their campaign. We measure social influences, how many people are talking about the campaign, and other meaningful data points. Our partners love it.”

- Julie Breckenkamp, Children’s Miracle Network

3. Collect From All. Many organizations have local affiliates, agencies or chapters that activate national partners at the local level. Others have various departments at the national level activating and fulfilling partnerships.  In order to report on the depth of stewardship your organization is committing to a partner, you must capture and categorize all actions – whether local or national, media or mission-related.

4. Report for All. Whether your partners are 5-figure, 6-figure or 7-figure donors, you must issue them a summary report that communicates the impact their support has made on your mission, any media support you committed to the partnership, the stewardship they received along the way, and how people felt about their commitment to you. Consider scaling your reporting against the size of the partnership commitment. For example, if they are a lower-level partner, create a templated wrap report that showcases your brand and mission, but allows for easy plug-and-play metrics per partner. For higher-level partners, develop more custom wrap reports that infuse storytelling, executive letters and deeper analytics.

5. Go Beyond the Metrics. Numbers and metrics are always great! However, the partnership teams that are expanding their existing revenue beyond status quo are those that can actually place value on what they’ve measured and tracked. For example, what benefit is behavior change to your corporate partner? How valuable were all of those website click-throughs? What is the value of a check presentation or kick-off event? How valuable is this partnership for YOU, the nonprofit?  Worth your time and resources? Go beyond just measuring the numbers, and consider defining the overall partnership value (or Return on Partnership) for both your nonprofit and your partner.

This post is written by Catalist co-founder Maureen Carlson. Catalist uses smart technology, insightful data and industry expertise to match companies with causes in partnerships that accelerate social change. Learn more about Catalist.