What Your Board of Directors Needs to Know About Sponsorship

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.

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.

What is a good sponsorship prospect? Check out my Ultimate Prospecting Formula!

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)!

Can you turn coffee into a mutually rewarding partnership? I show you how in my FREE ebook!

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!

Head over to LinkedIn to share YOUR #1 tip for board members!

Prospecting Strategies and Shortcuts (Academy Members Only)

We do an entire module on prospecting in The Sponsorship Academy, not to mention monthly sponsorship action plans and monthly coaching on involving your board in your sponsorship strategy. Not a member? Join us! Members, log in now and let’s keep the learning going!


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.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+


  • Maryann Kerr

    Hi Chris, I will share this with a Board where I am a board member…however a question….sometimes with small organizations in small centres….the “sponsorship” actually does seem like philanthropy to me. Often it is a $5-10K “gift” that is treated like an event sponsorship but actually has little to no marketing benefit for the company…shouldn’t we just start calling these event donors? Thoughts?

    • cbaylis

      Hi Maryann,

      If your sponsors are really just donors, not wanting any marketing benefit at all…then why tie them to an event? If all they want to do is give a gift, then making it into sponsorship is of no benefit to them and certainly no benefit to the property. The last thing you want to do is to teach your donors that the only time they can give is when there is an event and that they can only give in exchange for something.

      That said, whenever I make the following suggestion, things shift a bit! Take away all of the marketing recognition and go out and ask that same “sponsor” for an unrestricted gift in exchange for a thank you , and nothing more. Could you do it? Would they still give the gift?

      If the answer is yes, then no need to blur the lines anymore. If the answer is no, that you likely wouldn’t get the gift without at least some marketing value…then you have a sponsorship deal. Your partner may not be comfortable telling you that the “gift” is self-serving, or it may benefit them in some way if you believe they are doing you a favour or just being nice but if the money is dependent on ROI, then it is indeed sponsorship.

      If ROI is not a motivation, stop asking for sponsorship and instead ask for a major gift…at least then you can tax receipt it!


  • Chris! I have a board meeting in 10 days time, so your post was both
    insightful and timely.

Leave a Reply

Scroll Up