3 Most Common Barriers to Good Cause Sponsorship
Cause sponsorship is what we call it when charities, not-for-profits and associations engage in sponsorship (hospitals and education are covered under cause sponsorship, too). We work with tons of causes on their sponsorship programs and have noticed some themes come up repeatedly.
Let’s talk about the three most common (perceived) barriers to good cause sponsorship:
No Brand Awareness!
The first major concern that comes up all the time with causes is a lack of brand awareness. When I ask my clients to define brand awareness, they typically mean that there is a lack of awareness among (sigh) the “general public.”
First, you don’t want the so-called “general public” as your target market. Very few sponsors, if any, target the “general public,” and everyone defines it differently. I highly doubt that anyone is truly targeting or interested in a cross-section of the entire population regardless of gender, income, race, religion and interests.
Don’t have “awareness among the general public”? Good!
Do you know who is intimately “aware” of you? Your donors, your board, your volunteers, your members, your program users, those you have never met or heard of but who love what you do.
Think about it: does the largest bank in your country really need your organization to reach the general public? Definitely not! They do need your help reaching the people mentioned above, otherwise known as your audience, in a meaningful and impactful way.
Spend your time and energy getting to know the interests of your audience and why they care about what you do (and not why you think they care about what you do!). The more you know about your audience, the more interested sponsors will be. Claim that you can help them improve their brand among the general public by working with your cause? Get ready for a form letter telling you “no thanks.”
We Can’t Give Away Database Access
If you meet a sponsor who wants to buy your email list…run. I have yet to meet a sponsor who wants this, but people keep telling me they exist. A sponsor e-blasting your list, from their email address, without their permission is probably in violation of a number of privacy laws in your country. It’s also a horrible way to get new customers…and your sponsors know it!
That’s why, when they ask for access, they mean things like you telling your database about the work you are doing together. They want you to do what you do best, communicate to your stakeholders in a respectful way to create a particular action. Maybe it’s giving your sponsor their email address, or using a coupon, or visiting a store or buying a product.
There has to be something in it for the sponsor or they wouldn’t be working with you. It’s up to you to know what will work for your stakeholders while delivering results to your sponsors, that’s what they want to work with you (otherwise they would keep using social media ads and direct mail).
Don’t dismiss your prospects because they want a measurable result and never assume they want to buy your mailing list. Remember, they are talking to all of your competitors at the same time (anyone who has the same audience as you) and they are going to choose the property who can help them reach their goal. A logo on an email is not a good compromise! Make sure you understand what your sponsors want and what your audience reacts to. I think it’s safe to say that most people want to know which companies support their favourite cause and that you telling them is not an annoyance.
If you know that your audience will abandon you at the thought of working with a corporation, then you shouldn’t be putting their logo on your emails and website, you should avoid sponsorship all together!
We’re Too Small!
Every charity I work with, with very few exceptions, thinks they are small or “mid-sized” or that they have no budget for fundraising. I have worked $100 million/year causes who tell me they are “mid-sized” and so don’t have the advantages of a big shop when it comes to sponsorship!
The truth is this, nobody has advantages when it comes to sponsorship! Big shops with stellar brands that companies throw money at simply give their fundraisers huge targets to hit every year. It might be easier to close the deal, but their reward is to close more deals than anyone else in the business – no matter what happens in the economy.
Big shops also spend months, years even, to get certain types of sponsors approved. Policies take years to develop and are often out of touch with the needs of sponsors. While working in a small shop, I beat one of the biggest charities in Canda (many many many times) in pitches by selling our size as an advantage.
My CEO came with me to meetings and would tell prospects that I have the authority to approve everything and anything and where something is outside my scope, all I have to do is stand up and shout across the office to my CEO for instant approval.
We were able to customise everything and bring decision makers to the table for every major meeting. We were never held back by bureaucracy and knew our donors, volunteers, program users and audience very very well. Our sponsors like and trusted us and made referrals all the time.
Is that to say big shops are untrustworthy or can’t be nimble? Of course not! What I am saying is that working in a small shop is only a disadvantage if you decide it is. If instead you sell it as an advantage, you will do far better. My colleagues who have worked in a big shop are nodding their heads in agreement right now!
Remember, companies are looking for specific, niche audiences far more often than they are looking for giant, generic audiences. The more generic you go, the less your assets are worth so you need a ton of them along with a huge audience.
If you want to succeed in sponsorship sales, look to the Greeks and “Know Thyself.” Know your audience, what they value, why they support you and how they make decisions. Forget about numbers and quantity and instead focus on quality and watch your cause sponsorship program change for the better!
Chris Baylis is an expert in sponsorship valuation and sponsorship strategy. Chris works with brands and sponsorship properties to define their sponsorship goals, determine market value of their sponsorship assets and create strategies that work.
Chris is the Managing Director of The Sponsorship Collective, a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and international speaker and consultant on all things sponsorship marketing.
Title image courtesy of IFC/Roadshow/Warner Bros.