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What Your Board of Directors Needs to Know About Sponsorship

by | April 17, 2024

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a fundraiser complain about their board of directors…or a board of directors complain about their fundraiser, I’d be a very rich man! Every single problem that I see stems from a lack of understanding of the sponsorship process and so this post is part therapy for fundraisers, but is also an instructional tool to share with your board members.

In no particular order, here is what your board of directors needs to know about sponsorship:

Sponsorship is not intuitive

I cringe every time I hear a sentence that starts with “you know what you should do?” or “you know who you should contact?” at a board meeting. There is a prevailing belief among board members that the head of fundraising had never thought of contacting the biggest bank in the country, or the biggest employer in the city.

Not only that, but every other charity, not-for-profit and hospital in the country has had the same thought. Being a good cause isn’t enough, you need a strategy to work with these folks. Well meaning? Of course! Board members care about the cause and want to help, but they aren’t steeped in the sponsorship process like we are so they think of sponsorship as an intuitive process.

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Board members, try this!

Next board meeting, ask your head of fundraising and sponsorship what is the single best thing you can do to help raise more money.

Sponsorship is not fundraising and it is definitely not philanthropy

Board members join boards because they are passionate about the cause. It’s natural that they would then try to sell the cause by approaching companies for donations. The problem is, sponsorship is a form of marketing, it isn’t fundraising! Fundraisers do it, but it is still a borrowed activity from the marketing world.

Board members often blur the lines between business and philanthropy…but your prospects rarely do, if ever. It is imperative that your board members know that when you are talking sponsorship, you are talking about selling a product.

Board members, try this!

Think about your audience, not your cause, when trying to decide who is a good sponsorship prospect. Think about who wants to market to your audience or membership (or both!) and have a conversation about those prospects at your next board meeting.

They don’t need a sponsorship package and don’t need to make a sale

Board members don’t want to cold call companies and try to make the sale. Good! That isn’t their role. As a board member, you don’t need a sponsorship package, either. All you need to do is identify three or four people that you can introduce to your organization.

That’s it! Don’t worry about making the sale – that isn’t your job. You have a professional fundraiser on staff for a reason.

Board members, try this!

Trust your fundraising and sponsorship sales team and work with them to keep their pipeline full by making introductions. Make a new introduction every month! Don’t know anyone? Then reach out and ask them for coffee to get to know them (but don’t bring a sponsorship package with you)!

Sponsorship isn’t about logo placement

You’ve heard it a thousand times! I bet you’ve even said it! “let’s just slap a logo on XYZ Asset and ask XYZ Company for $10,000.”

You know what a logo on a sign, on your recognition page of your website or in your annual report is worth? 1/3 of a penny…if you’re lucky. Logo placement is a terrible way to sell sponsorship. Should it be part of your sponsorship offering? Of course! But the best way to find the perfect sponsorship assets for your prospects is to ask them, not to brainstorm at a board meeting and assign arbitrary values to things.

The best person to have those conversations with your prospects, by the way, is your fundraising staff!

Board members, try this!

Ask your head of fundraising and sponsorship to do a short presentation on what your sponsorship prospects are looking for in a sponsorship package. Or better yet, offer to run a mini sponsorship summit or business breakfast and hear directly from your prospects!

Companies don’t have “lots of money”…even the ones that do

Something else I hear a lot of at board meetings is that the reason for approaching a particular company is because “they have lots of money.” It may be true that a company has lots of money, but the way they got the money wasn’t by making tons of donations or bad marketing investments. In fact, the more money they have, the harder it will be to get them to give you some!

If you want a company’s money, you need to prove ROI and simply calling something a “win win” isn’t going to cut it. You need to be able to prove that you are a better investment for their marketing dollars than the other options out there.

Board members, try this!

Invite your head of fundraising and sponsorship to identify your top ten prospects based on your audience. Ask them to do some research into their marketing investments and then present it to the board. Then have a conversation about how you as a board can help shape your organization to offer similar (or better!) marketing opportunities for your prospects.

Fundraising and sponsorship sales are hard work…really hard. Conversion rates are tiny and competition is fierce, but there is one thing that will put you ahead of others in this space: trust your fundraising staff and look to them to teach you rather than offering them advice at your next board or committee meeting. Not only will you have a happier fundraiser, but your revenue will go up!

A Sponsor Is Not a Mentor

Besides confusing sponsors with donors, it’s also easy for inexperienced boards of directors to assume a sponsor means someone (or an entire company) working in a mentorship role.

And while it’s true that sponsorship can entail some elements of mentorship, it is in and of itself not a mentorship.

For example, a sponsor will be happy to offer you feedback on your ideas and to collaborate together to create the best assets and activations possible. They’ll share their business expertise along the way, just like a mentor does.

However, mentorship is offered for free, while sponsorship isn’t. The greatest mistake any charity, business, or organization can make going into sponsorship is assuming that they will just get money or promotions if they ask for it, and in exchange, have to offer nothing else to the sponsor.

Board members, try this!

Sponsors seek marketing outcomes; that’s how you receive cash or promotions. Understanding what your short- and long-term goals are will help you decide what kind of sponsor you need and how to begin finding them.

If you work with a mentor along the way, or if your sponsor offers mentorship, even better, but if you need one first before you seek the other, start with the mentor.

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Sponsorship Is About More Than Selecting the Company with the Deepest Pockets 

Board of directors who know nothing about sponsorship often select big brands to work with. It sounds great in theory, right? These big brands will attract lots of positive attention to your event, program, or opportunity.

However, here’s the problem with that line of thinking. If you’ve had the thought to work with Brand A, so has every other competitor in your niche or industry.

It’s not only them. Businesses and organizations from all over the world want to work with major brands, so you can expect that Brand A is inundated with requests. What are the chances they’ll ever get around to yours? It’s low, very low.

The other problematic part of choosing a sponsor based only on name recognition and perceived financial value is that you’re not using the most important criterion for prospecting: audience.

Board members, try this!

You need to know your audience. That includes customers for for-profit businesses and donors or attendees for charities and nonprofits.

I don’t just mean know their names, where they come from, what they do for a living, and where they live. Go deeper into all those areas, including specific cities and towns, job titles, and income levels.

And please, don’t only stop at the demographics and geographics. Dig deep into the psychographics, such as the customer or donor’s brand preferences, purchasing behaviors, motivations, opinions, thoughts, and beliefs.

Lo and behold, you’ll soon find what kinds of brands your audience prefers, and those are the ones you should target.

You Can’t Just Ask for Sponsorship Two Weeks from the Event

Just because you realize you need a sponsor now doesn’t mean they’re available on such short notice. If you try asking, I’m sure you’ll get a resounding no from all prospective partners.

In this case, it’s not that you chose bad prospects. You could have the best prospects in the world, but they’ll still turn you down. Even if they didn’t, there’s no feasible way to make an actionable sponsorship strategy come together in such little time.

Board members, try this!

Begin planning for your next sponsorship opportunity long before you think you need to. I’m talking long before you think you need to, ideally immediately after your current event, program, or opportunity ends.

No, it’s not too early considering that it can take forever for sponsorship decision-makers to get back to you. You’ll have that additional time built in.

Skipping Valuation Means Leaving Money on the Table

Many times, board of directors don’t value their sponsorship properties either because they didn’t realize they had to or because they’re unaware of how it’s done. However, I can’t stress enough that failing to value means missing out on money, and often thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

Why is that? Valuing tells sponsors the baseline value of what your opportunity is worth. It’s not a sponsor’s job to tell you; it has to come from you.

That’s why valuations are so important. Even if you do it, if you’re incorrect in your methods, or if you copy valuation information directly from a resource you found online, you still risk missing out on large sums of money.

Board members, try this!

Here at the Sponsorship Collective, we’re valuation experts. We have many, many blog resources for learning about how to value, with this one an excellent place to start. You can also schedule a call with me or a member of the Sponsorship Collective team to plan your valuation strategy.

Failing to Renegotiate Is a Huge Mistake

Do you let your sponsors go at the end of a working relationship? This is one of the biggest mistakes your board of directors can make, as you’re once again leaving large sums of money on the table.

It’s worlds easier to renegotiate with an existing sponsor than it is a new one. You don’t have to spend time searching for them, and you already know the kinds of assets and activations that work for them, making future planning and valuing easier.

Board members, try this!

Produce a post-event report after every sponsorship deal and use it to set up a meeting with your sponsor. Discuss the best parts of the event, program, and opportunity and what went wrong so you can plan more efficiently for next time.

If the sponsor is interested (and has the bandwidth and budget) to extend your working relationship, this initial meeting will set the groundwork for what’s to come. Even if they can’t continue the sponsorship arrangement, you will have case studies and data to use for finding your next sponsor.

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How Do I Convince My Board of Directors to Approach Sponsorship Differently?

It can take some doing, and you might have to plan for several conversations, but you can potentially get your board of directors to see the light regarding how to approach sponsorship. However, be advised that sometimes, they will think they know best regardless.

Do I Need to Value for a Renewed Sponsorship Opportunity?

Yes, you do! You can’t reuse the assets and activations that worked for the prior sponsorship opportunity since the sponsor will have new needs and challenges.

Wrapping Up

Boards of directors are decision-makers in most businesses. Despite their wealth of knowledge, they may not be as well-versed in sponsorship. These 10 mistakes are critical for boards to understand and overcome keep sponsorship plans flowing smoothly forward.