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7 More Sponsorship Mistakes Charities Should Avoid

by | November 6, 2023

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Before you dive in, if you are interested in charity sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for charities” series:

Charity sponsorship is one of the easiest areas to fall victim to mistakes. You can be so far removed from everyday business dealings that it can be difficult to connect on that level.

In this post, I shared a handful of charity sponsorship gaffes. Today, I’m back with seven more egregious errors that can cost you.

Let’s get started.

1. Not Understanding the Language of Sponsorship

The language of charities and nonprofits is funds. You work with donors large and small who generously give.

The language of sponsorship is marketing. That’s why many charities struggle to shift into sponsorship. 

It’s like having a conversation in Japanese when all you know how to say is konnichiwa.

It’s not a conversation. You can’t communicate when you don’t speak the language. It’s a helpless feeling, and it’s one charity and nonprofit sponsorship seekers know too well.

You may have promising beginnings with sponsorship prospects, but it always ends the same way: with silence.

What to Do Instead

To work with a sponsor, you have to think like a sponsor, and that means familiarizing yourself with marketing outcomes.

This isn’t as hard as it may sound, as many marketing outcomes sponsor companies want are pretty standard stuff. 

Your other clients might have some of these same goals, and for that matter, so could you!

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For example, let’s say your sponsor wants to increase leads. You might not deal with leads in the traditional sense at your nonprofit or charity, but you strive to boost your donor count. 

You can understand what a sponsor wants to achieve and begin to map out how they’ll get there.

2. Treating Sponsors Like Donors

Getting carried away with the money mindset when working with a sponsor can harm your business relationship.

Many new sponsorship seekers fall into the trap of treating sponsors like ATMs. It’s usually caused by a lack of understanding of how sponsorship works.

You must remember that sponsorship is a two-way street. It’s not like a donor relationship, where they give out of the goodness of their hearts.

Sponsors aren’t giving at all. They’re paying for a service (provided by you) that benefits their marketing goals.

What to Do Instead

The next time you find yourself sliding into the mindset that a sponsor will just give to you, snap yourself out of it. This will take time, patience, and catching yourself frequently.

Remind yourself that a sponsor expects to get something of value before ponying up the cash. 

Consider what you can offer a sponsor based on a discovery session to help them with their marketing struggles.

3. Not Learning About Sponsorship Before Trying It

I’ve made clear that sponsorship is an entirely different world to charities and nonprofits, but that’s no excuse not to immerse yourself in it. I’ve worked with some truly extraordinary clients who are involved in charities or volunteer positions.

They knew zilch about sponsorship but had sponsorship duties thrust upon them and had to learn. 

Some of these clients ended up becoming so masterful at sponsorship that I’m still seriously impressed every time I have the pleasure of talking to them.

You can’t patchwork a sponsorship proposal or prospect for sponsors without purpose. Well, you can, but it will end disappointingly. You’ll be no closer to finding a sponsor than you were before you started.

I’m not saying sponsorship is easy. If you read my first set of charity sponsorship mistakes, you’ll recall that was on the list. 

Sponsorship is difficult until you understand how it works, and even then, it’s still tough, as you’ll always have new challenges awaiting you.

What to Do Instead

Commit to learning about sponsorship for the betterment of your charity or nonprofit. This sponsorship opportunity you have before you now could give rise to others, so the sooner you learn, the more you can expand your events and funding.

How do you even begin to learn? I have countless free resources on the site, including my Sponsors on Demand course and templates. I upload YouTube videos and have amassed hundreds of blog posts.

I also have a Facebook group you can join, so you have plenty of free resources for learning.

You can also always book a call with me.

4. Pushing Your Cause to the Moon

Why do donors decide to give to your charity or nonprofit? You enamor them with your cause.

I can’t blame you for thinking the same thing would work for sponsors. Well, at least not until you began reading this article, that is. 

By now, you should have discovered that a sponsor won’t agree to work with you only for your cause.

However, even once charity-based sponsorship seekers get over that initial hump, they typically defer to their cause when the going gets tough. It’s a habit, I know.

If you page through a sponsorship proposal written by a charity or nonprofit, it’s all about their cause. If you look at assets and activations, they might be centered around their cause.

That’s great if your cause by chance can secure the marketing outcomes your sponsor wants. However, based on the charitable organizations I’ve worked with as clients, that’s rarely the case.

I would say it’s almost never the case.

And that’s okay. Your cause doesn’t have to fly around like Superman, achieving everything under the sun. Your cause can simply be your cause, and your assets and activations something else entirely.

What to Do Instead

Put your cause in the backseat. Better yet, put it in the trunk.

I know it feels foreign to strip away what’s such a core part of your nonprofit’s identity, but when you do, it forces you to think differently.

Now that your cause is off-limits, what can you give to sponsors? What kinds of tangible and intangible goods, better known as assets? What kind of experiential marketing opportunities aka activations?

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The gears are spinning, right? I’m sure all sorts of ideas have just flitted through your mind. That’s good!

You don’t have to eliminate your cause entirely in your sponsorship materials. However, you do have to seriously dial it back. As harsh as it is, every time you feel yourself relying on your cause like a crutch, ask yourself “who cares?”

It’s a tough question to answer when you have many donors who undoubtedly do care, so maybe modify it a little. Ask “why would my sponsor care?”

If you can’t think of a good answer, it’s time to set your cause aside. It doesn’t fit.

5. Presenting Broad Audience Data

Do you know what your sponsors wished you talked a lot more about instead of your cause? Your audience.

That’s what a sponsor really wants, access to your audience.

Now, audience is a tricky thing for charities and nonprofits, which likely explains why it’s glossed right over. You hear the word, “audience” and you think paying customers, right?

However, you don’t have paying customers. You have donors.

What to Do Instead

Those donors are your audience. They might donate to you, but they spend money elsewhere, so your sponsor wants to learn about them. It’s not only your donors but other stakeholders, event attendees, and parties associated with your charity.

Find them. Learn about them, and I mean really learn about them. Dig beyond the basic demographics and psychographics to get to the core of who they are and understand what makes them tick.

Okay, maybe not that personal, but you must know brand preferences, event attendance, occupation and industry (including job title), income, number of family members, and data along those lines. The more data, and the more specific, the better.

Put your audience data front and center when writing a proposal instead of your cause. Your proposal should include only a few sentences about your cause and what your charity or nonprofit does.

Focusing on audience is speaking the language of marketing, which means you’re communicating in an alluring way to sponsors.

6. Not Prospecting

People generally know what prospecting means, but not so much when it comes to sponsorship. 

Prospecting is how you research sponsors. It has nothing to do with how much money they have (as I talked about in my initial article on charity sponsorship mistakes), and it’s unrelated to name recognition.

Instead, properly prospecting for sponsors is all about your audience.

Before I get into that, let me tell you the downsides of not prospecting.

  • You’ll end up working with any sponsor who seems interested, not one that necessarily adds value to your event, program, or opportunity.
  • You have no idea how your audience will react to the sponsor.
  • You don’t know if you have assets and activations that can help the sponsor because they didn’t come to you through your audience.

What to Do Instead

Okay, so why is audience so integral to sponsorship prospecting? Your audience will tell you the kinds of sponsors they want to see at your events.

It’s in the audience data you’ve collected to hyper-segment your event attendees and donors. Those brands your audience mentioned using are your prospects, at least, the first wave of them.

From there, you can broaden your list by researching competitors and potential advertisers, but your hottest prospects are the brands your audience mentions using directly.

These are brands your audience would be jazzed to see at your next gala or event. An enthused audience reacts positively to your sponsor’s presence, achieving the marketing outcomes you promised.

7. Letting Your Sponsors Go

Sponsors come and sponsors go, right? They don’t have to! 

If your nonprofit or charity regularly hosts events, programs, or opportunities, having a consistent sponsor will benefit you greatly.

Your audience can expect that sponsor’s presence, which could increase attendance. You can announce the partnership early, giving media publications more time to report on it. This can also draw more attendance as people become curious about your event.

From an event-planning perspective, you’ll also appreciate having long-term sponsors. Budgeting is simple when you have a certain amount of funding accounted for. You can also simplify your sponsorship-seeking routine, which I’m sure will be music to your ears.

Letting your sponsors go after one partnership is huge wasted potential!

What to Do Instead

You must broach the topic of long-term sponsorship right away. I mean right away, as you never know what a sponsor’s plans are.

Sponsors have busy schedules and cash allocations. If they run out of time or money for you, their hands are tied, even if you two worked fabulously together and they’re as interested in continuing the relationship as you are.

I recommend compiling a wrap-up report, also known as a sponsorship fulfillment report. Think of this as a report card detailing everything your event was and wasn’t. And yes, it’s okay to mention that your event wasn’t perfect. Your sponsor was there; they know.

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Sending a fulfillment report is more than a courtesy. It also helps your sponsor remember the accomplishments you two achieved. It’s good to jog their memory if it’s been several weeks since your event, although ideally, you’ll start producing these reports within 48 hours.

Renegotiating for an extended sponsorship deal requires you to redo all you’ve accomplished, including surveying your audience for fresh data, finding new activations and assets, determining their value, and writing a new sponsorship proposal.

However, the process will go along swimmingly, as you know what your sponsor likes and doesn’t, so it’s easier to predict how you can serve them through this extended partnership.

Stop Making These Charity Sponsorship Mistakes

There you go, another set of damaging charity sponsorship mistakes. Your sponsorship program doesn’t have to end in shambles. It’s okay to admit you don’t know anything about sponsorship and learn to do it the right way.

You’ll spend far less time and money than if you guess and feel around in the dark, hoping you land on something good.

Book a call with me to begin discussing your charity sponsorship goals.