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On Collaboration, Communication, and the Future of Corporate Fundraising: An Interview with Crystal Daniel

On Collaboration, Communication, and the Future of Corporate Fundraising: An Interview with Crystal Daniel

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Crystal Daniel is the Director of Philanthropy, Corporate Partnerships at the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She’s passionate about equity, inclusion, access, feminist philanthropy, and social change.

Tell us about your professional journey in fundraising. How did your career evolve, and how do you feel you’ve changed as a result of that evolution?

My professional journey in fundraising began in 2001 as a prospect researcher. Prior to working in the charitable sector, I worked for a few years at a management consulting firm that analyzed companies, specifically in the technology sector. Working there sparked my interest in business, analyzing companies, marketing and building relationships.  As a volunteer at a few charities, I enjoyed seeing the positive impact charities had on improving peoples’ lives and being a part of that, so I decided to pursue a career in the charitable sector. I thought that my background working with companies would be helpful in raising funds to support vital charitable programs and initiatives.  

I’ve been fortunate to work for health and arts organizations and for the last 10 plus years, I’ve worked for feminist organizations that recognize the critical needs of women, girls, and gender-diverse people. I’ve always been passionate about inclusivity and social justice and equity issues. Empathy, kindness, fairness and justice guide me because every person has a story that informs their personal journey. I’m a Black woman and a mom, and my work is deeply rooted in my lived experience. Intersectionality is at the core of the work that I do. Progress has been made in advancing equity issues but we collectively have a long way to go.  I feel that my resolve has strengthened in being a part of the solution to address systemic issues facing women, girls, and gender-diverse people at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

What's the best piece of advice you would give a new fundraiser working in the corporate philanthropy/corporate partnerships space?

The best advice I would give a new fundraiser working in corporate philanthropy is: ask questions of yourself, be open to learning by taking courses, research, gain knowledge about areas of interest and attend events. Expand your social circles by volunteering, joining groups and associations. Ask questions: why am I working for this organization? What does this organization do that inspires and resonates with me? The enthusiasm and passion you express will translate when you work with corporate partners.  Be curious about companies, and the people and communities that are served. Find the connections between them. Every day is different for me. Any given day, I work with multiple corporate partners and prospects in completely different sectors (finance, retail, manufacturing etc.) and different-sized companies, so it’s important to be adaptive, responsive, manage your time, respect other people’s time, pay attention to detail and have a strong understanding of the corporate landscape.

Are there any big shifts or changes you've noticed when it comes to institutional funding in Canada in the last few years — or any that you think are starting to materialize for the future?

There are a couple of shifts that I see working in corporate philanthropy. Companies are increasingly focusing on DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) and ESG (environmental, social and governance) initiatives which include climate commitments, community engagement, charitable giving and diversity at the board and senior leadership levels. Expectations are increasing from the broader community – customers and employees.  Employee engagement activities are gaining momentum with the growth of employee resource groups where shared experiences and engagement opportunities are explored.  I see issues related to community social investment. DEI and ESG will continue to grow and materialize within companies.

I’d like to see more companies do two things: Firstly, make more unrestricted gifts where the funds go to where it’s most needed within a charitable organization. I would like to see that approach to funding organizations because charitable needs are so great from an operational perspective that it permits organizations to address those critical needs. The second way is to embark in long-term, multi-year partnerships with charities (i.e. 3+ years), as it demonstrates company commitment to providing sustainable funding to the organization, which gives time to address issues, identify program impact, and measure systemic change.

Tell us about a big "win" in your role as a fundraiser. What key challenges and/or lessons came from that experience?

As a major gift corporate fundraiser, patience and strategy are key in this role! I’m an introvert and a naturally curious person and I love to learn about and relate to people. My ability to nurture and build relationships helps me a lot in my work. When I secure a corporate gift, it’s not on my own; it’s a collaborative team approach and it’s essential that I work with my colleagues and senior volunteers at the Foundation. When I enter conversations with partners, I always think about how the donation will improve lives and how the funding will help support the community programs. I enjoy connecting the dots and seeing how things work together. I’ve recently worked with a corporate partner that took close to one year to secure a significant corporate gift (which is not uncommon for major gifts to take 12-18 months for a donation). The process included lots of research, meetings, brainstorming, coming together and negotiation so that both organizations are aligned with our goals and objectives.  When the partnership was confirmed, it was very gratifying. I’m an intuitive, strategic person and I feel very positive about this partnership.

What do you do about some of the challenges you face in corporate philanthropy and how did you overcome them?

When I work with corporate partners, I understand that there will be challenges from time to time.  It comes with this type of work. Building corporate partnerships is a dynamic, fluid process and expectations must be managed. There are highs and lows in this type of work.

Some of the challenges I’ve faced throughout the years include staff changes, funding priorities change, and budgetary constraints. I’ve been in discussions before where we were on the path of confirming the partnership and funding priorities shifted in another area completely where the alignment changed so the partnership didn’t go through after months of discussions. It’s disappointing but it happens. As a corporate fundraiser, it’s important to communicate, plan and have a prospect pipeline for potential partners, pay attention to trends and be prepared for various scenarios if a partnership doesn’t materialize.

Part of your role at Canadian Women's Foundation is stewardship of corporate partners. Many fundraisers think of individual giving when they think of stewardship. How do you go about stewarding institutional donors like corporations and foundations?

Stewardship is about engaging the company, its employees, and communities. It is so important to building a long- term partnership. Communication is key to building a rapport and trust.  I listen to my partners and ask questions to gain valuable insight about the best way we can work together and grow. I think about what we can do within the Foundation that is aligned with our mission and values and what my partner would like to achieve. I work with amazing, passionate, hard-working colleagues that are supportive and willing to work together to ensure our partners have a great experience working with us. There is a lot of collaborative work with philanthropy, public engagement, operations, community initiatives and our senior leadership team. It’s important that employees have opportunities to learn more about our work in the gender justice space and how it aligns with the company’s objectives to maximize the partner’s experience. Some examples are having employee representation on committees, getting employees together in forum to hear what’s on their minds related to gender equity issues, providing tools for calls to action, extending invitations to events to hear about our work and see the impact of where their funding goes, and providing impact reports that share stories but also show how the programs we fund help the participants achieve their goals. 

What are your go-to sources for fundraising knowledge and/or inspiration? 

I recently started working out again after a very long time so during my long walks or gym-time, the podcasts I listen to are of course, the Canadian Women’s Foundation podcast, “Alright, Now What”?, Let’s Imagine by Imagine Canada, and The Giving Black Podcast. Some of my subscriptions include, Imagine 360° Newsletter, Community Centric Fundraising’s The CCF Rewind and from a business/corporate perspective, I read various national business publications — the Globe and Mail and BNN Bloomberg. Also, I’ve gained a lot of inspiration from sports, so in my free time to unwind and chill out, I watch all different types of sports. I’ve been a huge tennis fan since I was a kid, and I’ve spent many years watching my son play soccer.

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