Working with non-profits and arts organizations, my most practical advice goes mostly unheeded. Most of you should not be bothering at all with corporate sponsorship. Why? Local decision making is increasingly rare, as banks, law firms, health care organizations, and other community engaged companies consolidate regionally and nationally.
The corporate pie is increasingly small, and non-profits are compelled to pursue corporate marketing and advertising budgets as true corporate philanthropy is just about extinct. These marketing sponsorships are the most difficult gifts to secure, harder even than competitive grants, where at least the expectations and funding interest are generally clear. Imagine you have dollars to invest in local media and with non-profits for corporate marketing exposure. Everyone is coming at you with their VERY BEST IDEA, all day long. We can hardly compete.
So there are better ways for you to raise money. The $5,000 you chase for months from a local law firm via meetings, complex proposals, and endless negotiations could be secured from a major donor via a simple luncheon over Cobb salads and Arnold Palmers. In 90 minutes. Or if you aren’t ready for $5,000 individual solicitations, why not a series of non-profit porch parties, via the excellent Gail Perry?
So quit chasing sponsorships. Not yet ready to do that? Great. Let’s worry less about the singular Sale and focus instead on a true Partnership between two entities. What’s the difference?
- Sales are pursued by Closers. Quit hiring a commission based salesperson to go out in the community without a net and Sell. Selling is for suburban lifestyle magazine advertising. Corporate engagement folks need a different set of skills. Good ones are relationship focused, educating and connecting the right partners with the right opportunity.
- Sales are Transactional. Too many sponsorship deals fall into the Once and Done camp. You pursue the law firm’s marketing budget to sponsor your Kitten Mozart Series for $25,000. Eight meetings and six proposals later, the commit to $5,000. Everyone is bummed. They don’t have a good experience. They don’t renew. That’s the pits
- Sales are Outcomes Focused. Far too many non-profits suffer from AYI (are you crazy?) budgeting, with philanthropic revenue targets based on expense budgets. What this means is your corporate people are going out there By Any Means Necessary. Getting the deal and moving on.
What does a true Corporate Partnership look like?
- Partnerships are renewable and long-lasting. This is the most critical of all. Sponsorships take forever to secure. If we are going to bother with this, it should be towards a long-term relationship. Have $10,000 to invest? For me, better a two-year partnership at $5,000 per year than a one-year deal for $10,000. That gives us time to dance and make magic together, strengthening the first year’s results.
- Partnerships are Activated. Non-profits truly struggle with this critical step. A proposal is offered and an investment is made. Now what? What are the mutual expectations? How are we going to announce the partnership? How can we over deliver? We’ve all seen this fail after a sales is closed, even for the most basic of benefits. What is the value of free tickets to the concert if they are forgotten in the desk of someone’s overworked administrative assistant.
- Partnerships are Inspiring. The very best partnerships build loyalty and love between organizations. The best partnerships are fun. When is it working? When the board member who works at the company brags about the partnership and wants to grow it for next year. When the CEOs greet each other and grin at the event, recognizing a mutually beneficial win for like-minded entities.
Quit treating Sponsorships as a Sale. If you cannot, quit pursuing partnerships. Your major gifts program is a much better return on investment.