How to Approach Corporate Philanthropy in 2021: Interview with Luke Toebelmann

March 15, 2021 Brian Isaac

A new era of fundraising is finding its feet in 2021, and we're always excited to learn from the industry's young innovators.

The best fundraisers today are expanding their reach and raising more money by working with the corporate sector. They leverage corporate partnerships and strategies to push the boundaries of traditional fundraising.

This week, we were extremely excited to talk with Luke Toebelmann, Corporate Partnerships Manager at Brotherhood of St. Laurence and winner of Young Fundraiser of the Year at FIA's 2021 Awards for Excellence.

In this behind-the-scenes interview, you'll learn more about his approach to fundraising, corporate philanthropy, and how he got to where he is now.

Can you provide a description of your current role and your experience in fundraising?

LUKE:

I’ve been working as a fundraiser since 2015. My introduction to the sector begun through community and event fundraising and I am coming up to four years of working in corporate philanthropy.

Currently, I am the Corporate Partnerships Manager at the Brotherhood of St. Laurence’s (BSL). BSL is a 90 year old organisation that exists to alleviate poverty in Australia. BSL’s work is innovative, evidence-based, has a national reach and our program portfolio is extremely diverse. That is, we support many cohorts of people experiencing disadvantage from early childhood education, youth unemployment, migrant and refugee communities, the list goes on, BSL is working on the front line where support is needed most and this creates opportunities for corporates to really make an impact.

Essentially, my role is split into two key focus areas – external and internal. The ‘external’ part of my role is working directly with corporates – whether they be current or prospective partners. The ‘internal’ part of my role is working closely with colleagues across BSL to collaborate on projects, learn from each other about our respective areas of expertise and ultimately, develop trusting working relationships that lead to getting results.

What do you enjoy most about working in the nonprofit sector?

LUKE:

The impact and the people.

Nothing beats seeing the smile or hearing the story of somebody that has been positively impacted by your work. When I think about the highlights of my time in fundraising, I immediately think of my time spent in remote Indigenous communities, chatting with families and seeing young people with big smiles on their faces.

Throughout my time in the non-profit sector, I have constantly been surrounded by great people. People that care, have empathy and are intelligent. To know that I am supported in my role, both professionally and personally, is something that I don’t take for granted.

How would you describe your overall approach to success when it comes to corporate philanthropy?

LUKE:

My approach to corporate philanthropy is to build real relationships and develop genuine two-way, mutually beneficial partnerships.

I love speaking with businesses to get an understanding of what it is that they want to achieve and helping them to find a solution. For example, a company may have identified a business need to create a more diverse workforce but is not sure how to go about it. Having the opportunity to introduce them to BSL’s brilliant range of employment services is really fulfilling. The corporate finds a solution to its business need, BSL facilitates its specialist employment services (supporting the business and the employee) and disadvantaged jobseekers are offered new employment opportunities. It’s truly a win-win!

I also understand that trust takes time to develop and that some corporates are new to philanthropy. I am always happy to work with new partners at lower levels, knowing that as we deliver impact and build trust, opportunities will continue to grow.

 

"My approach to corporate philanthropy is to build real relationships and develop genuine two-way, mutually beneficial partnerships."

 

Is there a specific experience or influence in your career that brought you to where you are now?

LUKE:

I moved into the non-profit sector after travelling around Australia and seeing the level of disadvantage across the country. I had been working in events and engagement programs for five years, so I felt I had the transferable skills to make a career move and was lucky to land a job as a fundraiser.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed or unfocused?

LUKE:

I love to run. It’s my time to think and unwind, and it’s where I am most creative. I’ll often come back from a run and have a clearer perspective on whatever situation or project I’m currently working on and the best way forward.

What general advice would you give to corporates exploring partnering with a nonprofit or cause?

LUKE:

This is a good question.

I think it’s important to recognise that all businesses are at different stages of their philanthropic journey. On one end of the scale, there are businesses that have social impact embedded within the company culture and overall strategic direction, then on the opposite end, there are businesses that are making their first-ever philanthropic gift.

Regardless of your company size or philanthropic journey, my advice would be that if you’re committing to partnering with a cause, truly commit. Go into the partnership understanding that in order to create impact, the business is going to need to commit time, energy and resources, including dollars and people.

For businesses that are unsure about where to start, reach out to a cause that aligns with your values and let their expert Fundraising team guide you through the process. After all, this is what they do every day!

 

"...it's important to recognise that all businesses are at different stages of their philanthropic journey."

 

Do you have a favourite podcast, book, or media you’d recommend to others looking to grow in fundraising and social good?

LUKE:

Honestly, if I get a chance to read or listen to a podcast, it’s usually around the theme of ‘sport’. However, I do like to benchmark and understand what others are doing in the sector so I keep a keen eye on corporate philanthropy related reports and white papers. I also try to attend as many professional development webinars and sessions as possible. The pandemic has made attending PD sessions much more accessible!

 

We hope you enjoyed this conversation with Luke Toebelmann!

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