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What Companies Wish You Knew Before Reaching Out for a Sponsorship

by | November 28, 2016

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The rules of dating have changed a lot over the years, but one constant remains. 

Sooner or later, you gotta make an ask.

Personally, I’m a little old school; I think the only way to ask someone out on a first date is in person. But that is neither here nor there.

However you do it, you’ve got to ask at some point. And so it is with sponsorships.

Hopefully, you’ve warmed up your sponsorship leads before you dive in with a proposal. But even if you have, there’s still that moment of the initial ask.

And that’s where many nonprofits sabotage themselves.

Nonprofit Sponsorship: One Size Does NOT Fit All

Just like asking someone out on a date, you’ve got a few options: you can offer to take them to their favourite restaurant, and go see that play they’ve been dying to see for months. Or you could throw out a generic pickup line and an offer to eat at Olive Garden.

Guess which one will probably work better?

The only time generic is good is when you’re trying to save money. So why do so many cause sponsorship folks send generic proposals to leads?

“People seeking sponsorships need to focus more on the business’s goals and align themselves with those goals,” says Linda Schwab, Director of Events and Sponsorships for ThinkLA.

Every business has the same generic goal: to make a profit. But the challenges they face to reach that ultimate goal are as varied as the businesses themselves. They’re not looking for one-size-fits-all solutions; they’re looking for an advantage over their competitors. After all, if there was an easy, generic solution to their problems (which every business has), everyone would already be doing it, right?

“I think one size fits all no longer works,” says Schwab. “We live in a much more sophisticated time where companies are looking for R.O.I., not just contributing to a charitable organization. So you really need to find new models of working on them. Just putting a company’s name on branding is not going to work.”

The problem with generic proposals is that they signal to businesses that you don’t plan on (or really care about) making sure they meet their goals. To you, they’re just another logo to throw on a brochure.

Advertising has grown infinitely more complex in the past decade. Companies can now target their market with extraordinary accuracy on social media, and consumers have more options to tune out advertising than they’ve ever had before. To reach consumers, companies are looking to make every dollar count.

It’s not enough to get their logo in front of an audience; they want a deeper connection.

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Sponsorship Recruiting: Offering a Tailored Fit

The challenges a business faces change every quarter. If you know what those challenges are, you’re in a great position to tailor your offering to meet them.

“I think that all sponsorship solicitation need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” advises Schwab. “This takes more time and it’s more labor intensive, but you’ll get sponsorships that are much more favorable.”

For example, let’s say you’re trying to connect with a business that sells furniture. Every year in the late summer, this business make a big push to sell cheap dorm furniture to college students. They want to connect with that audience and get them into the store between August and the end of September.

Putting their logo at a gala attended by wealthy donors is not going to help them do that. Instead, think about the assets you do have to connect with that audience. Perhaps your organization has a student chapter that helps support your cause amongst their peers. That group would be in a much better position to help your sponsorship target reach college students. What can you do to leverage that access?

Knowing this information is vital to creating a sponsorship proposal that businesses can’t refuse. But how exactly do you ascertain that intel?

Well, you’ve got to ask.

Sponsorship Sales: Having an “In”

Before you can learn about a business’s individual needs, you’ll need to have some sort of starter conversation with them, and this is another area that many nonprofits struggle with.

You could spend hours sending cold emails to prospects, but that can be a lot of work without much reward.

“The best way to secure a deal is through personal contacts,” says Schwab.

Utilizing your organization’s network can be a challenge. Board members are frequently asked to reach out to their networks, but they don’t want to feel like they’re constantly hitting up wealthy friends for favors.

ThinkLA is in a unique position as a trade association that many other nonprofits don’t find themselves in. Linda says she had to “throw away all the traditional ways (she) learned,” in order to build a program that works for them.

But their unique methods could help nonprofits of all types seeking corporate sponsorship.

“We operate purely on a volunteer committee model where we assemble volunteers for each event we do that then go out and solicit sponsors,” she explains. “Our committee members may have unique relationships with these prospective sponsors so they can make personal asks and get to the decision maker, where for instance I could not.”

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This underscores the value of a strong volunteer recruitment and retention program. In many ways, it resembles peer-to-peer giving. Rather than seeking donations from their personal network, volunteers seek introductions to decision makers at businesses.

“They could send an email that will get a response, where my email will go into a black hole,” says Schwab. “Finding volunteers that have relationships is vital.”

Effective Sponsorship: Give Them What They Want, Not What You Want

If you want to get a decision maker’s attention, you need to speak to what’s on their mind.

It’s easy to simply focus on what your goals are, but the result of that sort of thinking is a generic proposal. Decision makers want you to start focusing on their needs. If you’ve got the numbers to back up your offer, there’s practically no reason for them to turn you down.

Armed with that confidence, you’re ready to ask away.