Securing corporate giving and sponsorship is difficult, to the point that most non-profits would be better suited to seek funding elsewhere and simply not invest precious time and resources into the effort and focus elsewhere (see the $5,000 low carb lunch date). True corporate philanthropy, of the sort where a company will give nobly as a pillar in the community, is almost gone entirely with regional consolidation and downward pressures on profit.
Now, at best, non-profits are after a shrinking pool of increasingly specific competitive grants or seeking out marketing dollars, competing directly with football teams and Simon Mall properties.
But I was in the Northeast not too long ago, having coffee with the sponsorship manager of a performing arts center with an impressive and diverse roster of sponsors, from series supporters (law firms and health care) to hospitality partners (restaurants, limo services, and caterers).
“How did you secure all that sponsorship for your place?” I asked, knowing firsthand the challenges of attracting philanthropic support for a Performance Arts Center, where the patron too easily relates to the organization via the transaction of buying a ticket for Jerry Seinfeld or Charlie Daniels rather than establishing a relationship via a subscription and cultivation towards an eventual annual fund gift.
“Everyone makes sponsorship about the Sign” our Man explained, “Not me, man. I say, the Sign is For Free.”
Brilliant. The Sign is for Free should be the motto of every performing arts sponsorship shop. Why? The external recognition of signage, advertising, logos in the program, and on the banner are nothing – NOTHING – compared to what the sponsor could purchase directly through traditional television, radio, or print advertisement and probably not even close to what the minor league baseball team can offer for the price. Advertising is a mean game, played by grownups for big stakes. We cannot compete by making our proposals about Public Recognition.
So why do we make all of our sponsorship pitches about the Recognition (the sign)? Mostly because we don’t know how or cannot be bothered to uncover the larger opportunity or the unmet need of the sponsor that would make a partnership with us viable, perhaps even desirable.
For our Man in the Northeast the mission is clear. “I build the proposal around what they really want to accomplish business wise or who they want to reach. Do they want to attract clients? Reward employees? Steward existing customers? Once you know what they want, make the proposal about that thing. The sign is an extra. The sign is a freebie. We throw in the sign for free.”
What drives your sponsorship program? Is it the signage? I can tell you that your corporate recognition is almost certainly an ugly baby compared with your competition. My logo in black and white on page 34 of your program book? Gosh. A small banner over there by the coat check dude? Thank you, no.
Instead, seek out partners who value what you can singularly offer.
An affinity with a wealthy, affluent audience? Minor league baseball doesn’t have that.
The opportunity to mingle with like-minded companies for mutual benefit? Advertising in the Sunday newspaper won’t accomplish that.
Positioning a corporate partner as a community leader taking the initiative to maintain arts in our public school? A banner at the Fashion Mall will not achieve that goal.
Stop talking about the sign. The Sign is for Free.