Just a couple of years ago, whenever I represented Haven Ministries at local gatherings, it was not uncommon for people to say, “I’ve never heard of you.” This was frustrating. I would think of our long track record and all the press releases. I would recall our countless fundraisers and constant advertising. Then I would offer a quick introduction to our work with the homeless and the poor in our rural county. Invariably I would hear the next question: “There are homeless in our community?”
Despite our best efforts, we were one of many small, nonprofits competing for the attention of donors in this region of the Chesapeake Bay and our message was struggling to get beyond our loyal base.
Today, when I attend meetings and introduce myself, the response is almost always an excited “I know who you are, and I know all about Haven Ministries.” Instead of introductions, I am fielding questions on our latest initiatives. What changed? Business partnerships!
Our investment in a business partnership program has moved us to the forefront of our community. We are now recognized as a community leader in “doing good.” People want to be a part of what we do. So, how did we do it?
Our first step was to invest in business development. We hired a business and communications director and handed her the responsibility of finding corporate sponsors for our largest fundraising event at the time, Run4Shelter, a 5k, 10k and half-marathon. After walking door to door and asking store managers to sponsor the race in exchange for their logo on a t-shirt; she quickly realized there was no long-term benefit for the business owner. After receiving one rejection after another, she went back to the drawing board and a new plan was created to allow businesses a greater return on investment. In exchange for a certain level of financial commitment, businesses would receive advertising in social media, print media and all marketing, not just for “Run4Shelter,” but for all upcoming events on our calendar.
Our investment in a business partnership program has moved us to the forefront of our community.
The success of this Business Partnership Program depends on building relationships. The first order of business was to join existing networking and social groups to connect with local business leaders. This was time-intensive. Many nonprofits are hesitant to invest into the human resources necessary to pull it off. Hiring a business and communications director was an investment decision. We needed to be consistently in front of business leaders, and that couldn’t be done with staff focused on other areas of ministry.
The second step in the Business Partnership Program was to increase the quality and frequency of events that business partners could attend and at which money would be raised. Haven Ministries created a Friends Group, a team of volunteers who love to organize creative events people desire to attend. Haven Ministries offers at least 12 events a year where business partners receive high visibility. This visibility came in the form of free tickets for clients (per high-tier commitment), business display tables, and inclusion of promotional items from each business in gift bags for attendees. To keep the cost low on all of these events, the donation of the food, venue and entertainment is often exchanged for an in-kind business partnership.
The third step was an increase in advertising opportunities. All of our business partners are highlighted on our website and marketing materials. We frequently write articles about our programs and events and always list our business partners. In local print publications, we purchase ad space solely to highlight our business partners. This constant advertising keeps Haven Ministries and our business partners in front of community members. Since advertising is part of the exchange, many businesses are able to earmark advertising funds toward their Business Partnership Program commitment, and often find they can even increase their commitment level.
The Business Partnership Program has positively impacted Haven Ministries by moving us closer to realizing long-term goals. It keeps our name in the news in a positive light, and has developed relationships vital to expanding our nonprofit into other areas of service.
Without the Business Partnership Program, we would probably still be going door-to-door soliciting sponsors instead of building long-lasting relationships. This program has given us an unparalleled platform to openly share our Christian values in diverse settings. My testimony of hearing God’s call to serve the poor and being an obedient (although reluctant) servant has been heard many times at secular meetings, on the public TV station, and through secular radio station interviews – all thanks to our business partners.
Krista Pettit is Founder and Executive Director of Haven Ministries, a nonprofit in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland that operates a homeless shelter, thrift store, resource center with financial assistance, street outreach program, warehouse with a job training program, and two food pantries. She is a mother of two children and wife to a United Methodist Church Pastor, Chris Pettit.