Back to Oppelt Insights

How to Talk So Businesses Will Listen

May 11, 2021

Remember the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together?” Well, it’s true. Most people feel most comfortable with other people like them – with their same values, preferences, beliefs, or interests. If you are a nonprofit professional trying to get the attention of a for-profit business, then you need to approach them based on some commonality – be it similar values, preferences, beliefs, or interests. People are more likely to relate to people like themselves.

The question, then, is, “What values, preferences, beliefs, or interests do I, as a nonprofit leader, have in common with a for-profit executive?” And the answers may surprise you.

Free Online Training

Uncovering commonalities is just one aspect of getting ready to approach your businesses community. For detailed information about other concerns businesses have before entertaining a big donation request, take my free 20-minute training The Top Three Answers to Know Before Approaching Your Business Community at

Accenting Comparable Values and Goals

Good Citizenry

One goal you have in common is responsible citizenship. You both want healthy communities. You both want the communities you operate in to thrive. Both of you want neighborhoods that are free from crime with good schools and transportation systems and access to shopping, parks and recreational facilities. Both of you have employees who live in the surrounding community. And customers and clients. It is easy to start a conversation about good citizenship with a company. All you have to do is talk about your nonprofit’s mission as good citizenry. Just don’t make it all about your agency. Find out how they contribute to the community vitality and talk about that too.

Financial Health

Another goal you have in common is financial health for the entities you lead. For example, you both want to realize positive net income, or profits. You both realize that if your organizations have more expenses being paid out than revenues coming in, you will soon be out of business. Their profits may go to the owners and yours back to your mission, but you both ultimately want to be in the black. A discussion on meeting your respective budgets in the current economic environment may further your relationship with a business executive.

Financial Growth

In the same way, you both want your organizations to experience financial growth. You both want to realize more profit - you so your agency can meet more mission; them so their company can bring in more income for the business owners. Although the end use may be very different, you still both want financial betterment. I know that financial betterment is your motivation in asking for a donation. Will any part of what you’re offering help them to better their finances? Nonprofits often have strong connections to law makers, who are also, in many cases, industry regulators. Perhaps a company is interested in furthering that connection. I have had people come to events just to network with the guests of honor. If a business is interested in networking opportunities available through your nonprofit, a discussion about your nonprofit’s connections may solidify the relationship.

Standing Out in a Crowd

The pursuit of financial betterment for their company may not be focus on the area of financial growth. It may focus on market growth instead. They want more customers. You also want more customers, you just call them clients and donors. That means you both have target markets you are trying to reach. In the same way you talk about meeting your respective budgets, you can also establish commonality be talking about the challenges of reaching your specific target groups.

Another marketing concept they will be interested in is branding. All this means is that they are trying to make their company stand out in a crowd. So are you with your nonprofit, especially with donors. Both of you are trying to be heard above all the noise. What techniques do you use to set your nonprofit apart? What do they do to set their company apart? Will partnering with your organization improve their brand? How does partnering with them effect your agency’s brand?  Having the discussion is another way to establish commonalities and further the relationship.

Communicating in Ways They Prefer

When you meet with executives, dress in business attire. Let your common bonds show in what you wear as well as what you say.  Make a visual impression, as well as a verbal one.

Speak using their terms. Use the word “profit” instead of “positive net income”. Talk about target markets, branding, and market visibility. When you are talking about how much need your nonprofit is meeting put it in terms of market penetration. Instead of presenting a case for support, call it a value proposition. Show that you understand them. If you need to, research common business and marketing concepts. Read my article Speaking the Language of Business Professionals. Make the connection with company executives. Use language they comprehend.

If you leave printed materials, make sure they are brief and attention-getting. Use diagrams graphs, or infographics. A picture is worth a thousand words. Use text sparingly, most people write too much.

Use your organization’s brand colors and font. And make it relevant to them and their concerns. Base your presentation on their values and priorities. Asking for donations from businesses is not just about your needs, it’s about meeting theirs too. It’s an exchange relationship where both of you give and receive something of value.

Wrapping It Up

Talk with businesses so they will listen. Go where they are and approach them based on commonalities. To establish common bonds, look like them and talk like them. Understand the business perspective, their priorities and concerns, and what’s important to them. Then describe your agency using their worldview. Start where they are. Start with the familiar then move to the unfamiliar. They will better understand you and what you’re trying to say. And they are more likely to engage in more conversation. And continue the relationship.  Then, you can ask for a financial commitment.

I want to move my fundraising to the next level