November 30, 2012 / By David Shurna

Five Lessons to Foster Strong Corporate Partnerships

Our goal at Global Explorers has long been to bring our youth educational programs to people of diverse backgrounds and abilities. From urban youth who might never have the opportunity to leave their city to disabled kids seeking transformative adventures, we want to push the envelope on accessible travel.  Accomplishing this successfully requires diverse funding partners - and this includes corporations. 

One key corporate partner that has helped expand the scope of our impact while at the same time developing our expertise to forge successful corporate relationships is AFAR Media.  In 2009, together with AFAR, we launched the Learning AFAR program which promotes cross cultural exchange by sponsoring travel experiences for students who cannot otherwise afford to experience another part of the world.  After defining our mission, we co-created a corporate sponsorship program that has enabled us to bring on such partners as Schlumberger, the Pearson Foundation, Wimmer Solutions, Elite Parking, and Keen.  And we're building sponsorship involvement annually!  

Here are five key lessons Global Explorers has learned thanks to this unique and exciting partnership endeavor:

1) Corporate partners want more than a logo on a website.  We engage our partners early on in discussions about their sponsorship goals. Though it's good to have things such as number of media impressions in your back pocket for those sponsors who really care about exposure, we have found that most companies are struggling to find ways to connect their employees to the heart and soul of their companies. Authentic opportunities to get involved with a nonprofit can help build that connection.

2) It's all about relationships. People give to people. Focus on building relationships, meeting people face to face and understanding the root issues that drive the desire for sponsorship. Remember that the relationship continues after you secure the sponsorship so think about ways to foster it and remind sponsors about why they are involved.

3) Get corporate employees involved. We find many of our sponsoring companies want their employees not only to know about the project but to have turnkey ways to get involved. Develop ways that are authentic and meaningful but do not require excessive staff support.

4) Corporations have a lot more to give than money. Realize that many companies that sponsor will have departments willing to help you out with in-kind contributions. We have PR departments help spread the word, graphic design divisions create compelling materials, legal departments provide consultation and much more.  Not only does this help us have a greater programmatic impact for our nonprofit, but it gets more members of the company actively involved in the project and helps build long-term commitment.  

5) Keep it simple but innovative. Don't get too complex especially at the outset. Set reasonable pilot project goals and grow towards the innovative vision of integration. Most companies understand that it will take years to develop the full impact of the sponsorship.