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ICON Teaser: Making The Shift to Sponsorship—Initial Things To Consider

Resource Center - Foundation

Shaun G. Lynch, CFRE, is a marketing and fundraising professor at the Concordia & McGill Universities, president of Adventum Philanthropic Marketing and to top it off, he’s an AFP International Conference speaker. He distinctly explains the correlation between how fundraisers treat donors and how corporations treat “customers”. Once you recognize the relation, you can easily understand what appeals to a corporation and how you can leverage that understanding to garner a corporate sponsorship.   

"Companies aren't donating, so let's try asking for sponsorships instead. We'll offer to display their logos so they get exposure at our event."

And so it begins.

Another nonprofit desperate for funds decides to jump into the sponsorship pool, expecting companies to leap at the opportunity to promote themselves.

Trouble is, our fictional charity is not alone. Far from it. In fact, enough nonprofits are now engaging in sponsorship (or what passes for it) to turn the pool into a buyers' market. Savvy companies are beginning to realize that they can call their own shots.

So if you think you want to make the shift to sponsorship, it’s wise to learn how to do it properly!

The first and most important thing to understand about sponsorship is that it's not about your cause.

It's about selling stuff.

When a company pays to sponsor an organization or an event, its primary objective should be to increase its sales as a direct result of that transaction. A contribution that does little or nothing to enhance sales is not a sponsorship. It's a corporate donation.

So if you want to move into the sponsorship realm, you have to be thinking in terms of developing offers that are built around opportunities for companies to sell their goods or services in direct relationship with your organization. In that previous sentence, I used the word "sell" intentionally. An effective sponsorship should have as its objective to be more than just brand exposure. It should lead to a measurable increase in sales.

This means that nonprofit organizations that want to get into sponsorship, as opposed to corporate philanthropy, need to have a strong handle on the rudiments of commercial marketing.

As it happens, if you're an experienced fundraiser, you already know those rudiments. You just have to tweak them a bit. 

Corporations Work Just Like Us With Different Terms

For instance, in the philanthropy world we often speak of "donor-centered" fundraising. Commercial marketing works the same way, only it's "client-centered." Before you try to sell to a customer, you need to get to know that customer's motivations—what factors are driving the customer to feel a need for the product or service. You then have to build a relationship with that customer, both before making the sales pitch and, even more importantly, after the sale is made. That's because you want the customer to come back and convince others to do so as well.

In philanthropy, we call that process of relationship-maintenance "stewardship."

See, you already know this stuff!

In practical terms, when approaching a prospective sponsor, you want to be talking in terms of how a relationship with your organization or event will help the company to tap into the purchasing motivations of its customers and deepen its relationship with them.

Notice that this has nothing to do with the good charitable work that your organization performs. It's all about the sponsoring company's relationship with its customers. Corporate donors want to hear about the good work you do. Corporate sponsors want to hear how partnering with you is going to help them to sell to more customers, and sell more to the customers they already have.

If this sounds heartless and mercenary at first blush, don't be put off. Ethical marketing is just like ethical fundraising. The best companies succeed when they put their customers' interests to the forefront— the same way that the best charities succeed when they focus on their donors' interests.

Step-by-step Shift to Sponsorship

So, in a nutshell, the process works like this:

  1. Develop an understanding of your own constituency—its demographic qualities, its geographic location, its purchasing tendencies, etc.;
  2. Identify companies that are looking to sell their goods or services to that same constituency;
  3. Meet with those companies to gain an understanding of their sales process and the nature of their relationships with their customers (this is called a "discovery meeting");
  4. For each company you are approaching, prepare, ideally with the company's collaboration, a personalized proposal for a sponsorship that includes opportunities for the company to interact in a meaningful way with the constituency to which it wishes to sell its goods or services (this is called a "leverage plan");
  5. Once a deal is signed, work with the sponsoring company to ensure that its marketing objectives are met.

Of course, that description of the process is an oversimplification. There is much more that goes into sponsorship planning and management than what is described in that list. And I haven't even touched the critical element of identifying properties to sponsor and setting pricing for them!

To learn more about how to make sponsorship work for a small organization, I invite you to join me at the AFP International Conference in San Antonio where I'll be leading a workshop titled "You're Never Too Small for Sponsorship!" In that session, you'll get a detailed overview of the sponsorship process. You'll also have the opportunity to begin putting together key elements of your own sponsorship program so that you'll already have a leg up on implementing it before you even leave the room. If you can’t make it to San Antonio, check out a recording of the session—available soon through the AFP Online Knowledge Center

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