Publications & Products
Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 7.5


Cultivation of Corporations

Most institutions have longstanding relationships with the business community through channels such as research sponsorship, graduate recruitment, supply chains, conferencing and consultancy.

It is important to understand the breadth and depth of these relationships so that you can nurture and expand them and use them as the model to form new relationships. Most larger companies support charities, and corporate gifts can be an important source of income for education institutions.

Take Stock

To devise a corporate fundraising strategy, you first need to look internally and understand how your institution already works with businesses.

You might find it useful to talk to your careers office, purchasing/finance office, commercialisation/enterprise office and service providers, such as conferencing or training providers. Find out with whom they work and how those relationships work and explore synergy and opportunities for cross marketing between your own fundraising activities and these other industry focused activities.

Examine your alumni database. For which businesses or organisations do your alumni work and how senior (influential) are they?

You should also understand the particular strengths of your institution from an industry perspective:

  • Do you offer a business course that a certain industry sector appears to favour?
  • Do you have expertise in a specialist area that companies will value?
  • Do you have a track record of providing high-quality students for company placement schemes?
  • Are you able to offer the best conferencing facilities in your region?

You need to understand the areas of your institution that might appeal to businesses and be able to communicate this in a clear, concise, businesslike manner.

Finally, research the businesses – those within your immediate vicinity, those with have a track record of supporting institutions like your own and those with activities and values that align with your institution.

There is a huge amount of information in the public domain, such as company annual reports and online listing of companies that support charities. You may find you have a large blue chip company on your doorstep that you are not currently working with. Why not? Alternatively, a high percentage of start-up companies might be in your area. Can you tailor a strategy to appeal to this specific sector?

When you are researching and prioritising companies, remember to check your gift acceptance policies. If you are raising funds for a new medical center, for example, you may not be able to accept tobacco company funds.

It’s Not Just About Philanthropic Fundraising

A company will look at your institution and see a single entity. The officers of that company will expect to be approached in a coordinated way and to hear about all the opportunities to work with your institution – not just philanthropic ones. Your cooperation with colleagues working in other areas will be important to your success.

Often a company will begin a relationship with an institution on a business-to-business basis – using the conference facilities or supplying computer equipment. It is the job of the institution to broaden this relationship into other areas, such as encouraging the business to sponsor students and recruit graduates.

Be aware that corporations have a variety of departments that may be able to support you. For example:

  • Corporate foundations are typically similar to trusts or philanthropic foundations, providing a grant application and process.
  • The marketing and PR department may lead sponsorship donations.
  • Community and government relations may sponsor other activities.
  • Individual business leaders often have their own discretionary budgets.

Navigating these various channels can be challenging, as each corporation is organized differently, and you must be sensitive when enquiring about additional funding sources. Cultivating and stewarding a close relationship with a senior member of the company (especially if he or she is an alum) can be beneficial in mapping out these channels, in understanding how they work together and in having a champion who can broker relationships that best align with your institution’s opportunities – and potentially be a candidate for an advisory board position.

It is also important to make a distinction between sponsorships and philanthropic donations, as they are governed by different financial and legal regulations.

Philanthropic donations are altruistic, and the donor can expect no benefits in return. They are often made by a company foundation that has been created for this purpose.

A company sponsoring something, on the other hand, will expect something in return – such as publicity, event tickets and preferential treatment of some kind.

To understand the differences between the two and their associated implications in the UK, look at the Inland Revenue’s website,

Forms of Corporate Engagement

Here are some examples of how a company might support you. Not all the examples listed fall directly under the heading of fundraising, but they show the potential breadth of the relationship that you can develop.

  • Sponsorship of students, events, sports teams, staff posts, buildings, labs, teaching rooms, student facilities, equipment, etc.
  • Donations of equipment, expertise, prizes and services
  • Ticket purchases for events, such as on-campus concerts and sports matches
  • As lead donors in a campaign
  • Access to their own specialist research facilities
  • Kit deals
  • Graduate recruitment
  • Students mentoring, placement and employment
  • Providing teaching materials, such as case studies
  • Research collaboration
  • Investment in intellectual property commercialisation
  • Guest lecturers
  • Consultancy
  • Conferencing
  • Employee giving schemes
  • Adopting your ‘cause’ as their charity of the year

Action Items
  • Survey the corporate relationships already established with your institution, the business leaders (i.e., potential champions) that are a part of your network and other companies that are located nearby or are known for supporting institutions with priorities and strengths similar to those of your institution.
  • Prioritise the companies best aligned with your institution’s priorities and projects (again, the 80/20 Rule can be helpful – spending the majority of time on the top prospects). Be cautious of gift acceptance policies with corporations.
  • Work with other appropriate departments at your institution to create a coordinated approach and cultivation strategy for these top prospects.
  • Have a clear, succinct (i.e., business language) document that outlines the particular strengths of your institution from an industry perspective and the opportunities for a company to support.
  • After identifying, cultivating and securing a gift, don’t underestimate the stewardship phase, as corporations respond well to recognition and generally have other avenues of funding that can be explored.
  • Don’t forget to ask if a company matches employee gifts or charity income raised.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Role and importance of alumni relations
The cultivation process
Prospect research
Partnering with other advancement-related departments
Gift acceptance policies

Match That Gift!

Some larger employers will match charity income raised or donated by their staff, so if you have an alumnus as a donor or raising money for you, ask that person if his or her employer runs such a scheme.


CASE provides additional information about corporate relations, including corporate giving trends and corporate sponsorship ideas.

Rowley discusses the value of business partnerships.