I am often asked for assistance in finding just the right sort of sponsorship sales manager for performing arts and non-profit organizations. More than any other fundraising position, this is the most like straight sales, the most outwardly focused.
It is not an easy gig. Organizations don’t plan ahead, pushing the season announcement to very late in the year, and are reluctant to take on creative new activation. Your local Symphony probably won’t allow a Kiss Cam sponsor.
There are also, to be sure, shockingly bad recognition programs in place for far too many non-profits (and especially those who claim creativity) to the point where it is a bit embarrassing for all concerned when discussing the specifics of a deal:
“We can put your one inch logo in black and white down there under the mean spirited warning to the Arts Morons about No Flash Photography during the Performance. This Primary Presenting Sponsorship costs $25,000. Should we write this up as a three year or five year commitment?”
And yet many non-profits have inspired sponsorship programs that successfully integrate corporate recognition in creative ways. This all starts with an inspired hire. If you can, hire this guy who has tripled sponsorship sales for the minor league Indianapolis Indians by managing upward, by creating new inventory, and by being a consultative salesperson:
The Indians hit it out of the park in this hire. You probably cannot afford him (though you probably could have right out of his internship) but what can be learned?
- Seek out the minor leagues and the youngsters. Who are the smaller players in your market? Who can you hire away? Look, I would rather have someone working their way up in professional life than someone on the way down. Millennials are generally smart, creative, positive minded and are too often underemployed. They’ve come into a still recovering job market and many of them are still in the service industry or hustling in three different jobs. Sounds like someone who could sell sponsorship to me. What I see instead are failed or worn out non-profiteers or former realtors who want to try something new. That’s not your hire.
- Be creative in adding inventory and programs. Take a hard look at your current offerings. Why can’t there be meaningful introductory sponsorship at $1,000. If you say its because there isn’t the staff resources to fulfill signage, I am going to shake my finger. If your sponsorship sales person comes in with a creative and new idea, do your best not to start with “No”. Managers have no real appreciation of how punishing a No can be to their revenue producing staff. Sales is hard enough. Do they need to hear No from you as well?
- Empower your sales effort to be creative and consultative. Some of the very best sales people I know come from media sales and many of them have a consultative approach to selling something as straight-forward as media advertising. Rather than coming in with a laundry list of what $5,000 and $10,000 buys you, better to listen first. Learn about the prospect organization, its specific needs, and then after suggest where you might creatively help. Your proposal is much more likely to get read if it reflects a customized concept based on a conversation. But many non-profits don’t do this. All they can say instead is, “Let our Board Guy call their Guy he knows who works in HR and BLAH BLAH BLAH.:
Listen, Sponsorship is a sales position for your organization. Your sponsorship manager is going to hear No a lot, is going to have to fight through layers of decision makers, will need to be tireless and enthusiastic, and probably should be an extrovert who loves the thrill of the chase and the singular joy of Winning.
If you do hire a youngster, you will need to invest in her, train her up, inspire her loyalty, reward (financially and otherwise) her efforts. Most non-profits won’t want to invest in someone in this way. But you should. Let your competition hire the Career Burn Out. You go hire the media sales person and create urgency, creativity and fun in your program.
Add seriously think about that sponsored Intermission Kiss Cam. I love the Kiss Cam at sporting events. It is sweet, genuine and fun. Why can’t we have one at intermission at an outdoor Summer Pops show?