Before you dive in, if you are interested in charity sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for charities” series:
- Resource Page for Charity Sponsorship
- Charity Sponsorship Mistakes
- 7 More Sponsorship Mistakes Charities Should Avoid
- Cause Marketing versus Corporate Sponsorship
In my experience running the Sponsorship Collective, charity sponsorship is a tough act for many sponsorship seekers. It can be difficult to delineate between donors and sponsors, especially if you’ve only ever worked with donors before. However, your sponsors speak the language of marketing, and recognizing that will allow you to spearhead your sponsorship efforts.
Today’s case study features an interview I did with Christine Thompson. She is a fundraising expert at a land trust whose company had always been involved with sponsorship. However, she too fell prey to the outdated, gold, silver, and bronze tiers.
Today’s post will reveal which best practices you must follow if you’re in the charity sector and wish to secure sponsorship, just like Christine has done.
Charity Sponsorship Best Practices
Before I get into the collection of best practices, let me tell you a bit about Christine. She has 24 years of experience in fundraising, with her latest title that of Gift Manager.
Her company hosts a walk-and-run fundraising event and has for the past 15 years. She’s always secured sponsors for the event, but she knew she could afford to scale up, even though the event is small.
That’s when she decided to seek out my services, as she knows she had good sponsorship opportunities like naming rights but was still making mistakes with her sponsorship processes.
The following best practices are designed to prevent you from doing the same!
It’s All About Relationships
I also used to deal in the charity sector for years, so speaking with Christine was truly a delight. One thing we could both agree on is the importance of relationships.
Donors aren’t simply people who give you money. They’re believers in your cause. They understand that you’re doing good in the world, and they want to back you so you can do more good.
Sponsors aren’t donors, and I might make that clear a few times, but only to drive the point home. Nevertheless, the premise isn’t all that different. They want you to do more good, but with the purpose of driving outcomes for them, such as increasing their audience or boosting their sales.
In either scenario, perceiving your partner as a walking, talking ATM ends badly. People are smart and can tell when you’re using them for their money.
In sponsorship, it’s even more integral that it’s about an equal partnership with plenty of give and take. You must provide marketing outcomes, and in exchange, your sponsor offers payment, promotions, in-kind items or gifts, or maybe even a combination of the above.
Don’t Be Overly Reliant on Your Cause
Charities are usually bound by noble causes that have driven them to this level of success, grown a donor pool, and attracted people to events.
However, this is me once again reminding you that sponsorship isn’t philanthropy. You cannot operate with your sponsors the same way you do with your donors and push your cause above all else.
A cause–even a noble, dignified one that you champion–is not going to convince a sponsor to work with you.
When you stop and think about it, why would it? Is your cause going to increase the sponsor’s lead gen? Will your cause boost their brand awareness? How about conversions into customers or more sales? Can it do that?
In almost every case, the answer is no. That’s why sponsors aren’t as gung-ho about your cause as you are. They care most about audience, as your audience could help them with those core objectives.
A receptive audience can increase brand awareness, lead gen, conversions, and sales.
Putting your cause in the backseat goes against the very fiber of working in charities and fundraising. That’s why so many charity sponsorship seekers struggle to do it.
However, if you don’t, you won’t generate the kinds of quality sponsors you seek. You might even end up without any sponsors.
No Guessing Your Value
It’s easy for a traditional company to know its value. You’re consistently tracking earnings and forecasting a financial future. However, it’s tougher for a charity.
Nevertheless, it’s a must. In our interview, Christine told me that she better understood her company’s value through my program because she hadn’t realized how many parties had to be included as part of her valuation.
You can’t guess at your value. Sponsors want to see your work, and if you can’t show them how you arrived at the number you’ve deduced that you’re worth, you’re not going to proceed further with that sponsor.
You can’t copy someone else’s numbers either. I’m all for researching other sponsorship valuations to see how they’re done, but you can’t take someone’s numbers and pin them to your sponsorship property.
They valued their property, which isn’t identical to yours. And if it is, then you’ve copied far too much.
The best sponsorship opportunities are completely unique and tailored to the individuals you’re striving to serve.
Even if you have five sponsors for an upcoming fundraising event, you’d value five times, as your sponsorship properties should vary from one prospect to another.
Be Clear That You’re Seeking Sponsorship
Christine mentioned a unique problem she has when pursuing sponsors that I’m sure will be familiar to many of your reading this.
She finds a contact at a company she’s interested in discussing sponsorship with. Once the contact hears about her company and what she does, they try to redirect her to their donations department.
However, Christine isn’t look for donations from this company, but a sponsorship opportunity.
Especially when you’re new to sponsorship, it’s easy to kind of just go where the wind takes you, right? It happens solely due to inexperience. Yet taking that kind of attitude can secure you another donor but not a sponsor.
Discovery Sessions Are a Must
Does this sound familiar to you?
You find a prospect you’re interested in working with for your next sponsored charity event. You offer them a logos. Granted, it’s a bunch of logos, but it’s still logos.
It’s the safe way, right? After all, you assume you know what the sponsor wants, especially if your charity organization has a history of sponsors and has offered them the same thing for years.
Christine told me that once she began holding discovery sessions with her sponsorship prospects, she challenged all her assumptions about her prospects. More so, she learned so much more about her prospects than she thought possible.
Let’s rewind for a moment and talk about the discovery session, shall we?
When you get your prospect on the phone or through an email, you have one goal: to meet for the discovery session. The meeting can take place any way that’s convenient, such as by phone, a video meeting, or even face to face if you two can both manage it.
During a discovery session, you ask the prospect questions. You should have already done some research into them already, but you can’t find out everything by reading LinkedIn profiles, press releases, and website “about” pages.
You need to know the nitty-gritty details of who their audience is, what challenges the company faces, and why they haven’t yet successfully overcome those challenges. This information is integral in creating assets and activations that are tailored to your sponsor.
Corporate Sponsorship Is a Viable Route
I see many nonprofits who are afraid to seek out corporate sponsorship because they believe it can influence their mission or the perception of their brand.
These are fair concerns and can possibly occur unless you strive to do sponsorship well. If you’re mindful about it, you can achieve your mission.
You must set clear boundaries and policies, but the attitude that some charity organizations have about “selling out” if you work with corporations is unnecessary. It impedes sponsorship progress among these organizations, especially newer charities who assume that corporations are off the menu.
Christine told me that she’s very mindful of the corporations she speaks to and will seek them out specifically. She knows the values her company follows and does not pursue sponsors that deviate too far from her charity mission.
That’s something I recommend whether you’re only in the corporate sponsorship game part-time or you exclusively deal with corporations.
No Gold, Silver, and Bronze Tiers
You Must Know Your Audience
I saved what is arguably the biggest best practice for last. This isn’t unique to the charity sector at all, as I recommend corporate, motorsport, and really any type of sponsor do this. What is it?
You must know your audience.
This is admittedly more difficult for charities to do than corporations. If you’re part of a corporation, your audience is comprised of your leads and customers. However, as a charity organization, your audience isn’t so clear cut.
So who is your audience? Think of all the people you do business with, from donors to investors and partners.
Now that you’ve identified them, it’s time to get to know them. I recommend issuing a sponsorship survey with questions like the ones in this post. The point of the audience survey is to ask detailed demographic, psychographic, and geographic questions of your audience that you can use to segment them.
Hyper-specific niches are what sell sponsorship. It doesn’t come down to your cause, or your organization, or even the contents of your sponsorship proposal. It’s all audience.
Now, you may wonder how a corporate sponsor, for example, would be interested in your audience. After all, there is a pretty big disconnect between your audience and theirs.
Perhaps in the types of audiences you have, yes, but not elsewhere. If a sponsor wants a specific audience segment and you happen to have that segment or access to them, a sponsor might want to work together.
Many charity sponsorship seekers I speak to have never segmented their audience. Some don’t realize that you have to, and others just don’t know how.
However, it behooves you to learn your audience so you can keep introducing them to the kinds of opportunities they’re interested in and count on their continued support.
Speaking with Christine Thompson was an eye-opening experience. It’s been many years since I’ve been involved in the charity sphere, and it was a refreshing walk down memory lane to hear about her insights.
Although a lot of the advice I give on the blog is catered toward corporate sponsorship, charity sponsorship is just as viable if not more so. You may choose to work exclusively with other charities, or you might decide to throw in some corporate sponsors into the mix.
What matters less than the type of sponsor you choose is ensuring you follow the basics of sponsorship process. You must have a well-defined audience, even if you don’t have the traditional audience of customers and leads.
You must also know your value. Communicate with a prospect with the goal of scheduling a discovery session and use that meeting to get to know the sponsor and their problems.
Oh, and be clear that you don’t want another donor when you seek out sponsors. Some companies will hear of your charitable background and assume that’s what you’re interested in. Good luck!
- About the Author
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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