Succeeding With Sponsorships
[Editor's note: This article is a summary of a presentation from Fund Raising Day in New York 2010, "Corporate Sponsorship: From Predicament to Partnership," which was hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals on June 11. Additional presentations and information can be found at frdny.org.]
An effective sponsorship program can help a nonprofit organization quickly turn chaos, like our country’s current recession, into a creative opportunity for success. To do so, a nonprofit must be able to articulate and demonstrate how aligning the mission of its organization or cause-related effort with the dollars and brand of a corporate partner will generate awareness, increase revenue and drive loyalty for both parties in a jaded marketplace.
Marketing your mission to the masses
The value proposition has changed. Sponsors want to be strategic partners. They want to fully understand a nonprofit’s marketing strategy and its actual impact on our communities. Sponsors want to know how partnering their brands with an organization's cause will enable them to gain leverage by expanding their customer bases or simply generate good will following a crisis.
Mission-based marketing is the key to a successful sponsorship program. Corporate leaders across the globe have long been able to garner top dollars for advertising and marketing programs by leveraging their missions to build their brands. Think of NASCAR and now FIFA. We often lose sight of the car or team amid the blur of corporate logos.
Nonprofits can benefit from applying this same principle in a subtle manner in order to increase their sponsorship revenues and build their brands. How you market your mission and promote the documented results of your program and initiatives helps you to better attract support from local and national corporate sponsors. Offering customization and personalization, instead of another boring gold, silver, bronze package, leads to a better variety of corporate sponsor options.
Whether you define the mission as the “overall mission of your organization” or simply the “goal of a specific initiative at a specific point in time,” no endeavor should be undertaken unless it can be directly traced back to the mission of your organization and tied to a specific call to action. How can you create a sponsorship program for every aspect of your program or organization?
Ask yourself, “Why do companies sponsor?” In my experience the top reasons are:
- To build brand and drive sales — launch a product or service and increase sales
- To generate good will — improve impression of brand/company in the community
- Due to personal experience — a person's life at the company has been changed by this organization or cause
The first three we can all usually agree on. Here are some additional reasons corporations provide sponsorhips:
- Their competitors are supporting the cause.
- Their competitors are not supporting the cause.
- Their customers have requested it.
- Their spouses, children, board members or other constituents tell them to.
- There is extra money in the budget at end of the quarter or year.
There are also spontaneous motivators — like buying a magazine at the counter of your local grocery store. Some sponsors are motivated by things we cannot ever begin to track.
Take your mission and place it side by side with the missions of your corporate prospects to create a value position proposal that includes case studies to highlight examples of how your program and events can help them achieve their goals. Feel free to reference other programs they have sponsored to show that you did your homework and fully understand what motivates these corporations.
Who are your targets?
A great area to consider is small-business owners who are likely to consider a combination of financial and in-kind options. They are driving our current economy and are known for being socially responsible.
The top six emerging sponsorship areas according to the IEG Sponsorship Report:
- Health & Wellness
- Green Initiatives
- Youth & Families
- Women’s Empowerment
- Social Entrepreneurship
Visit sites like Sponsorship.com to examine the profiles of the companies that have dollars available for sponsorship. Determine if your organization represents an area of interest, and be sure to differentiate your nonprofit/program from others in the marketplace.
From predicament to partnership
Right now there is a gap. Nonprofit organizations have merged, expanded and even disappeared. There's a reason why your organization has weathered the storm, and you should be publicly promoting your successes to your potential sponsors and strategic partners.
Sponsorship and strategic partnership programs can help you close your fundraising gap, but you have to be the creative force that makes this happen. To succeed at sponsorship fundraising, nonprofits must understand that cultivating corporate donors requires the same savvy relationship building as individual donors. It takes a commitment to understanding the value that the corporate brand will bring to your organization and being able to step up your marketing campaigns using social media, events, PR and personal communications to drive your message and mission home. Personal notes, invitations to upcoming events and even attending their events go a long way to moving your name up on the contribution list.
Succeeding with sponsorships
Collaborating for a Cause: iStar Charity Foundation hosts its annual iStar Charity Shootout on June 21 at Madison Square Garden. It partners the Jay and Kelly Sugarman Foundation with corporate leaders to benefit four great charities. They change the game by getting clients, donors and beneficiaries on the court each year. istarcharityshootout.org
Celebrities: Magic Johnson (magicjohnson.org) promotes health-related issues and champions entrepreneurship in minority communities with a roster of corporate sponsors adding to his own contributions, and Joe Torre (joetorre.org) leads the campaign to educate to break the cycle of domestic violence, and invites his celebrity pals to join in the effort.
Public/Private Partnership: American Express partners with many nonprofit organizations to promote entrepreneurship, but even more impressive is how it's moving millions to make a difference for women by working with Count Me In/Make Me a Million Dollar Business. countmein.org
Bold ideas can come from a variety of sources. Subscribe not only to the great industry publications, but also to the many e-newsletters and publications outside of the fundraising and nonprofit world that can help give you a competitive advantage. The sites below highlight the types of events and programs currently being sponsored and by whom, as well as offer peer and professional insights to help you succeed with sponsorships:
- New York Enterprise Report
Trends show that companies are moving away from supporting annual benefits and are looking for more concrete programs to support. The money for these sponsorships largely comes from marketing department budgets, followed by corporate foundation budgets. So remember these tips:
- Sponsors re-evaluate their budgets every six months, so you should as well.
- Maintain a running list of potential sponsors, and keep a file on them. Share this information with your board and contacts. Next on everyone’s sponsorship target list: BP — think Philip Morris and Altria post tobacco lawsuits.
- Keep up-to-date with new changes in IRS regulations regarding sponsorship contributions, and document everything.
- Be sure to share your wins beyond your boardroom; you never know where your next sponsorship lead will come from.
- Many consultants in sponsorship offer free consultations to evaluate your current approach and offer new suggestions.
- Consider attending IEG's annual conference each March for those looking for substantial multilevel or multiyear sponsorships.
Sponsorship is not a science — it’s a craft, and you have to be prepared to not take “no” for an answer. Get out there, leverage your mission and create your own success.
Ny Whitaker is president of Ny Whitaker, Inc., a consulting firm that provides mission-based event marketing services and sponsorship program development for small business and nonprofit organizations. She also teaches corporate sponsorships and events marketing courses at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Ny advises both sponsors and sponsorship seekers on the how to partner for success.