The first post in this series outlined nonprofit corporate sponsorships, explained some of the pitfalls, and covered how you can benefit from such a relationship. This post covers aspects of making your case and managing the relationship. Again, since this is about developing a business relationship instead of a philanthropic relationship, some of the language, goals, and objectives are different. It isn’t more complicated than managing philanthropic relationships, but it is different enough that care must be taken.
1. Are you a leading brand?
Since you need to market your organization to your prospective sponsor, can you measure up? Are you the only organization of your type in existence? Are you the number one or number two organization of your type? Think about this a bit.
- What do you have that makes you the only one who has it?
- Do you have the largest budget, gifts, endowment, age, success rate, people served, facility, etc.?
- Can you add another delimiter to one of these to become the only one in your hemisphere, continent, country, state, county, or city?
- Can you combine two or more of these qualifiers to become the only one to provide it?
The objective is to be able to go to a prospective sponsor who is an ideal fit for you and convince them that you are an ideal fit for them. One of the best ways to do that is to show them that you are a perfect match and are number one in your field. Then to drive home the point, make your case by demonstrating how you do it and who it impacts. Facts and figures matter most. Remember this is marketing, not philanthropy. An executive is putting their self on the line by making the call to sponsor your organization. Your job is to make it abundantly clear how the relationship will benefit them and make the executive proud of their decision.
2. Do you have a sponsorship track record?
Nobody wants to be first. Cutting your teeth on your first sponsor will include the usual miscues, trips, fails, and falls. Don’t make your first sponsor your ideal sponsor. Learn first, then go after the real prize. This is a case where crawl, walk, run is paramount.
Because a sponsorship is a business decision with an expected ROI, you need to deliver. Start small and learn from your mistakes. Fail quickly and recover. You will likely lose some of your first sponsorships as you learn how to make it work for your organization. Don’t make that first loss the biggest frog in the pond. You won’t get another chance once you fail.
Once you have an ideal sponsor, albeit a small one, use the relationship to your advantage with other prospective sponsors. Who is the next rung up the ladder from your sponsor? Don’t look for a competitor, look to continue to create a symbiotic ecosystem of sponsors who will benefit from being seen together. Once you have a second sponsor, go for a third, and so on. Understand that all good things come to an end and for reasons that you cannot control some sponsors won’t renew. So, always be looking and developing relationships grooming prospects to become the next sponsor.
3. Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships take a lot of work. Can you handle it?
You will be responsible for seeing that your sponsor has a great experience with your org. Are you ready? Who in your org owns the sponsorship? Who is the one person who is the primary point of contact within your org? If the answer is your ED, President, or CEO, you’re doing it wrong. Contact with the head dog is a bonus opportunity to be shared with care. Your sponsor needs a handler. The handler is ultra responsive, jovial, convivial, pleasant, kind, honest, accurate, and always on. Sounds a lot like a fundraiser, doesn’t it? This person will be the manager responsible for maintaining the relationship and overseeing your marketing team. They are the client champion, making sure that your team delivers and the sponsor is happy.
You will be providing marketing and PR. Make sure your marketing and PR team is on board and able to deliver. There is no shame in deciding that your internal team is too taxed to handle sponsorship communications along with their regular job. Chances are it’s true. Get outside help if needed. Add to your in-house team if possible. Perhaps share responsibilities with the sponsor’s communications team (more on that in part 3 of this post). But be sure to put your best people on the sponsor’s team. It’s not worth the risk to put junior staff or even new experienced staff on the team. They need to be intimately familiar with your organization and cause since they will be facing a learning curve with the sponsor’s organization and market.
In summary, it isn’t a giant step away from your current efforts, but it is a step in a different direction. With some planning and honest introspection regarding your organization’s standing in the field, you can either make a case worthy of a sponsor or understand your shortcomings. If you find shortcomings, it isn’t the end of the world, just something to remedy before beginning the hunt for your first sponsor. In the next post we will look at some issues regarding legal implications, budgeting practices, and control issues.