The Dos and Don’ts of Acquiring Corporate Sponsors

The Dos and Don'ts of Acquiring Corporate SponsorsBuilding relationships with the corporate sector that translate into corporate sponsorship can be a valuable form of earned revenue and unrestricted dollars for your organization. The right sponsors can become long-term partners, and structured properly, these deals can mean tremendous visibility for your organization.

The negotiations and nuances can be tricky, so building your competencies will enable you to acquire the best partners. Here are 17 tips to get you started.

DO educate yourself about what corporate sponsorship is and why corporations deploy it. For your organization, sponsorship may be a form of earned revenue. However, for businesses, sponsorship is an extremely powerful marketing vehicle characterized by a well-designed experiential component. To fully leverage sponsorship, deepen your knowledge.

DON’T sell generic packages, like Gold, Silver & Bronze. You’re leaving a lot of money on the table and sending the wrong signals to prospective corporate partners.

DO know what sponsorship is not. In both nuanced and more significant ways, sponsorship is different than corporate giving, corporate philanthropy, membership, being an exhibitor, advertising, and cause marketing. This may sound like hair-splitting, but the distinctions can mean tremendous lost revenue.

DON’T underestimate your value. If you don’t believe that what you have to offer is valuable, how will you be able to convince someone else? Too many mistakes are when organizations are blind to their treasures.

DO use a healthy dose of creativity to develop opportunities. Creativity fuels marketing and causes existing and potential customers to pay attention.

DON’T treat your sponsors like ATM machines. A fantasy organizations sometimes have is that corporations will pay for their event, program, initiative etc. The business sector may be an important part of your business model, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

DO develop a compelling fee strategy. Base your fee structure on value, rather than your costs or some arbitrary valuation formula.

DON’T undervalue in-kind sponsors. Sponsorship is an exchange value for a fee. If a sponsor provides that fee in in-kind value, substantially relieving your budget, what you’ve received is as good as cold cash.

DO build organizational competence. The individual responsible for sponsorship cannot be a lone wolf. The organization must decide strategically to develop sponsorship as a revenue source, and everyone must operate in alignment with that decision.

DON’T fool yourself about who’s making the decision. If the person with whom you’re speaking or working is not authorized to make a payment, reprioritize a budget, or is unclear what business outcomes the company seeks, you’re most likely not speaking with the right person.

DO begin your business development effort at least 1 year out. The sponsorship sales cycle is long for several reasons, one of which is because you want your sponsors to derive full value from all you have to offer.

DON’T assume sponsorship is the best revenue source for your organization. Corporate sponsorship is a powerful marketing medium for businesses and a great source of revenue and visibility for organizations. However, without the right conditions in place, you could be wasting your time and undermining your future value. For example, start-up organizations rarely have sufficient value to offer. Holding off until the organization is more established and has the appropriate capacity is generally a better course.

DO leverage your relationship capital. The broader your organization’s network, the more easily you’ll be able to meet the right people who can influence decisions about your sponsorship program. Get out of your office and regularly meet people in the business community.

DON’T disregard your mission to accept a sponsor. The right partners are in alignment with your mission. Do not twist yourself into a pretzel, compromising your integrity and values. Spend time to find the right partners.

DO develop clear policies to guide your program. Avoid being blindsided by internal and external forces by having these policies in place and part of your strategy.

DON’T let fear undermine your efforts. Fear can show up in several places throughout your operation — setting fees, negotiating, prospecting, executing, and initiating relationships are just a few. The results will always be weakening, if not detrimental.

DO set integrity and quality relationships as your standard. While you have no control over how your partners interact with you, you can control your intentions and standards. Strategically your relationships should be set on high levels of importance, trust, and integrity, setting the foundation for long-term partnerships.

Leveraging Interest Groups to Communicate Your Mission and Vision

Nonprofit Social Media TipsNo money to get the word out on your nonprofit’s initiatives? No problem. Leverage your allies.

Consider that your stakeholders, that is, donors, clients, sponsors, board members, staff and volunteers that are involved with a nonprofit, become spokespeople for it simply by their association with the group. Making the most of their individual and collective voices is a smart and economical way for nonprofits to spread the word on who their organization is and what it’s doing.

Maximize messaging.

One way for a nonprofit to maximize its supporters’ potential impact is to encourage them to talk about and promote the organization and its efforts during their interactions with people outside of the charity, such as with family, friends and colleagues. Another means is to recruit available staff and volunteers to participate in opportunities on the organization’s behalf where their presence, and possibly voice, could heighten the nonprofit’s visibility, such as through business happenings and networking events, social media platforms, community outreach initiatives, awards programs and print, radio and televised media opportunities.

While it’s easy to see that the potential reach of a nonprofit’s supporters is far and wide, the organizations need to be sure that their supporters follow a defined direction in their outreach efforts or else the organization’s message could become lost, muddled or even distorted. For those reasons, nonprofits should provide their allies with a clear understanding of the organization’s key messages and talking points, so they’ll be able to effectively communicate the organization’s mission and initiatives to others when opportunities arise.

Remember, too, that while people involved with a nonprofit may be able to promote the organization in general terms, their message will be more effective if it’s aligned with a specific cause or initiative. Recently, for instance, one of Astor Services for Children & Families’ supporters used crowdfunding to alert others about a marathon she was running to benefit the organization. The initiative also was posted on social media and in the news media, helping her to surpass her goal by more than $1,000.

The idea is for organizations to start their outreach with a core group of stakeholders from which to branch outward, allowing the same message to be conveyed through many different means, in the hopes that it goes viral. After all, the more communities’ businesses and residents connect with a nonprofit, the more likely it is that they’ll take up the organization’s cause through financial contributions, volunteerism and other means.

Strive for balance.

At the same time, nonprofits should look for a balance in what is shared about them, how it’s communicated and how often. Social media, for instance, provides an easy way to communicate news in a readily accessible medium, but it can be overdone, causing people to bypass posts instead of reading and sharing them. Still, it can be difficult to know how much is too much. Data analytics on social media posts can be helpful in showing what’s been most effective in terms of opened, shared and commented news. Personal preferences can also help guide a nonprofit on what’s a suitable amount of news to share, including specific supporters’ feelings on what’s appropriate.

It’s also important to keep in mind that different demographic groups respond to news items and media outlets differently. That means it’s essential for nonprofits to know how to direct their messages to appropriate audiences, what the interests of that group are, and what they’d be likely to react to and read. It’s also key for nonprofits to know who, of their supporters, are the best people to deliver the organization’s news to each of their audiences. Some supporters, for instance, are happiest and most effective when they serve as ambassadors and help to fortify connections. Others may be more inclined to take the role of askers, where they ask probing questions of others, or serve as an advocate or advisor. Knowing what each ally’s comfort level and strength is can fortify a nonprofit’s position, as can being responsive to incoming interest in its cause.

Something else for nonprofits to think about is the general public’s knowledge of their cause. Autism, for instance, is a national issue that is so largely recognized that local nonprofits dedicated to the issue might find that minimal funds for their outreach efforts suffice. Other, lesser known groups that don’t have that kind of movement might need to dedicate more funds toward their effort to connect with others.

Adapt to changes.

By utilizing their allies’ reach, nonprofits can increase the span of their marketing efforts at a minimal cost, helping ensure that more of their money goes directly into their programs and services. For many, however, as their organization grows and expands its services, so will the pool of people it serves, necessitating a greater investment for its outreach programs to connect with target audiences. As always, it’s a matter of balance.

Big, small or no budget, effective outreach efforts require ongoing attention to successfully reflect the regular changes that a nonprofit and its communities experience. At Astor, we constantly go back to the data and hold up the mirror to see what’s working and what else we can do.

Back to the Basics: Getting Started in Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

P2P Fundraising TipsDo you feel like your organization has exhausted its fundraising opportunities? Does making your ever increasing budget feel like getting blood from a stone? Has your organization considered peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising as a way to expand your donor pool and your bottom line? Read on for a P2P primer and how to get started in P2P!

At its core, P2P fundraising allows organizations to tap into their supporters’ networks of family, friends, and coworkers. Without P2P, an organization’s donations are generally limited to their existing constituency and those who they can reach through various marketing methods. Through P2P fundraising, organizations greatly expand their universe of donors, while empowering their supporters to contribute more to causes they are passionate about. Even better, your supporters make better fundraisers than your staff because their donation asks are more likely to result in a donation. Your organization needs to ask hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people for a donation before receiving a gift. However, through their authenticity and personal connection, your supporters are likely to generate a donation by asking a just handful of their contacts for their support.

P2P fundraising has existed in various forms for years. Did you know the Girl Scouts were selling cookies to support troop activities in the early 1900s? Though providing something in return, the Girl Scouts understood that their girls were their best advocates and could make the biggest impact on fundraising through P2P methods. Around 1970, CROP Hunger Walks organized by Church World Services, and WalkAmerica, the predecessor to the March of Dimes’ March for Babies really got things rolling for fundraising walks. Since then, other popular events have emerged centered mostly around walks, runs, and cycling events.

From the Pan Mass Challenge benefiting the Jimmy Fund at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, to the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, many larger nonprofits turned to P2P fundraising to generate a significant amount of revenue. When online P2P fundraising was introduced in the late 1990s, popularity and revenue generated through these campaigns exploded. Today, with advanced social media tools and an increasingly peer-enabled world we live in, P2P fundraising is more important than ever! And it is not limited to larger organizations – organizations of all sizes and missions can get in on this lucrative fundraising venture!

What Types of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Are There?

Though there are many different types of P2P Fundraising that exist today, below are the four most common types of campaigns for your nonprofit to consider.

Proprietary Organizational Events

These events are developed and executed by the organization, and are likely the ones you are more familiar with. Though these events tend to be runs, walks, or rides, like the aforementioned examples, you will also find other types of events such as bowling tournaments, dance marathons, and even jump rope events. These events are also touted as a way to spread awareness about the organization and the cause. As they tend to take place at yearly intervals, proprietary events can foster loyalty to the organization.

Third Party Events

Third party events take advantage of existing events, typically athletic or endurance types of events, to engage fundraisers. For example, nearly 175 different non-profits have participants run and raise money through the Chicago Marathon. The obvious advantage of this type of P2P fundraising is that the organization doesn’t have to put on the event itself. The disadvantage can sometimes be that the connection with the organization is not as strong, as runners may sign up with a non-profit to gain entry into the event. More work is needed to form a connection with the cause and the organization.


This type or P2P fundraising in facilitated by the nonprofit, while the actual planning of the personal campaign is handled by the fundraiser. For example, charity:water encourages their supporters to set up a fundraising page for their birthdays and ask for donations in lieu of gifts. This type of fundraising also includes memorial and tribute pages, dare campaigns (I’ll shave my head if you help me raise money), or events such as bake sales, athletic endeavors, or parties. This type of fundraising is limited only by your organization’s willingness to cede control and the creativity of your supporters.


Peer-2-Peer Fundraising TipsThis type of fundraising is gaining in popularity in other types of business and is very similar to crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is the practice of financing a particular project by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people. Movie producers crowdfund the making of their movies, entrepreneurs crowdfund business ventures, newlyweds crowdfund honeymoons. This is the next generation of P2P fundraising!

This type of fundraising has been limited to major donors in the past. For example, when financing the construction of a new building, large donors are sought out for naming opportunities and sponsorships. In this model, P2P fundraisers are recruited to help raise a certain amount of money for a particular project in a certain amount of time. Like do-it-yourself, there is no event for the organization to produce, and it has the benefit of allowing supporters and donors to be very involved and excited about financing a project. This could apply to funding a certain type of research, feeding a certain amount of people during the holidays, providing shelter to fire victims, and so much more!

Is Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Right for Us?

Though exciting, P2P fundraising is not a fit for every organization for a variety of reasons. Before you get started it is wise to do a self-assessment and some evaluation.


Every nonprofit is looking for the silver bullet of fundraising, but we all know there usually isn’t one. Like anything else, raising money takes time, effort, and budget. Before starting off, ask yourself these questions.

  • Do we have staff available to dedicate to these efforts? There should generally be someone or a team who is ultimately accountable for generating revenue through this campaign. This is typically a fundraiser, not a member of the marketing or IT team, though those functional areas will also be critical to setting up the campaign. If your organization is smaller, is everyone’s plate already overflowing?
  • Do we have budget to invest in a new campaign? There is a lot more involved than just setting up a website and letting your supporters go to it. Costs for marketing, event costs, and supporter resources are just a few things to consider.


Looking around the industry and your own organizational niche can shed some important light on what the market will bear when it comes to introducing a new campaign.

  • Take a look inside: Does your organization already have a P2P campaign? Have you ever tried one before? If so, how did it go? The past is not always the best predictor of the future, but it can provide hints on what went well and what did not, providing you with ammunition to improve upon existing or prior campaigns.
  • What is working in the industry: As you evaluate different types of P2P campaign, talk to others who have been involved in managing these campaigns. What are the primary pros and cons from their point of view? What would they do differently? Observe their campaigns online and in-person and look for insights that can help you. Remember, there is no better form of flattery than “borrowing” techniques that are working well for others!
  • What is working in your local area or with your direct competitors: Can your immediate market sustain a new fundraising effort? Are there other programs like yours that already exist? If so, what spin could you put on a new campaign that will set it apart from the competition?


Internal and external expectations can go in several different directions, but here are the two most common, but very opposite, possibilities.

  • No buy-in: You are very excited by the prospect of starting a P2P campaign, but you are having difficulty finding any other champions within your organization. Starting a new campaign of this magnitude takes commitment throughout the entire organization. Continue to build your case until you have solid buy-in, particularly from senior management.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Your board chair saw the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge or some other P2P campaign and believes that you too can bring in a windfall with very little effort or investment. This kind of attitude is setting you up for failure. As noted above, adequate resources and staff time must be dedicated to a campaign like this – and not just at the beginning. An ongoing commitment and the realization that most “overnight successes” are actually years in the making.

Get Started!

Peer-to-peer fundraising is one of the most rewarding experiences for both participants and staff alike. If you’ve done your homework and are ready to take the plunge, you will not regret your decision!

To see how your existing event stacks up against similar P2P campaigns, or to see what may be possible for a new one, be sure to check out the recently released Peer-to-Peer Benchmark Study from Blackbaud!

Five Misconceptions about Fundraising

Fundraising TipsFundraising and nonprofits go hand-in-hand like a horse and carriage, with one powering the change for the other. In this comparison, fundraising provides the means that allows nonprofits to carry out their goals with speed and efficiency.

However, with more than 10 years of fundraising and consulting experience, the team at Clarkson Davis has recognized several pitfalls with nonprofits and how they approach fundraising. Many of these misconceptions can lead to putting the carriage before the horse, making fundraising harder than it needs to be.

The following points are the most common pitfalls associated with nonprofits and socially focused organizations attempting to reach their financial goals:


CEO doesn’t have volunteer fundraising support
No matter how strong or effective a CEO is, raising money – especially for large-scale capital fundraising campaigns – takes a significant amount of time, energy and connections.

Major donors typically give to an organization, but most often they give funds to a peer who is also giving to the organization. Peer to peer fundraising is the most effective and efficient way to raise money.

Solution: Take the pressure off the CEO by building a team to support him or her. A team will distribute responsibilities and resources, alleviating the pressure off one person, while also drastically expanding the network of connections.


Volunteers think of raising money like closing a business deal.
Fundraising is inherently relational and not transactional. Successful business leaders often approach their fundraising like they approach their business deals.  They focus on closing the deal. 

However, giving money away for a cause is not an easy decision like buying a tangible good or service, so more time and attention needs to be spent to get the donor comfortable enough to make a meaningful contribution.

Solution: Educate volunteers to “put themselves in other peoples’ shoes.” A simple training explaining how executives make financial decisions and reasons for giving will cover the basics volunteers will need to know when fundraising.


The Board approves, but doesn’t give to the capital campaign.
We see far too often boards of directors that approve capital projects, but when asked to make a contribution above and beyond their annual gift, they are reluctant to do so.

Having a strong board leader who is also on the capital campaign committee is imperative to

  1. gaining 100 percent board participation for the project and
  2. raising as much money from the board as possible.
    We have one client whose board gave more than five times their collective annual gifts, and they hit 100 percent participation.

Solution: If you are able to select the board leader, pick someone who will inspire giving through leading by example. If not, providing tangible results like participation rates and the total funds collected can encourage the board to give to meet or exceed these markers.


The capital campaign budget only includes the hard costs of construction.
Many times, nonprofits will only think of their capital campaigns in terms of construction and design costs. They have not thought through the need to expand their operating budgets to include increased staff and program costs that will result from a new building (assuming the expansion of programs).

Taking the time to build a multi-year operating budget that can be partially financed in the capital campaign can be critical to ensuring the sustainability of the organization.

Solution: Plan out foreseeable costs, especially plans for growth. The process of writing out the budget will also highlight other costs and fees that might not have been originally considered.


The organization is not “campaign ready.”
Organizations who want to embark upon a capital campaign must be sure to have the following issues addressed: clean donor records, a meaningful and relevant vision supported by a business plan that supports the capital campaign, a well-respected and competent leader and board of directors, and a diverse and consistent donor base who are actively involved in giving to the organization.

Solution: Stack the cards in your favor by building a solid base for fundraising efforts. Once an organization has a clear vision, competent leadership and a network of donors to contact, all that is left is to put the fundraising plan into motion.


Fundraising doesn’t need to be difficult, and if you can avoid these pitfalls with your campaign, you will be well on your way to reaching your organization’s goals.

Dos and Don’ts of Charity Auctions

Dos and Don’ts of Charity AuctionsCharity auctions, run properly, are a tremendous fundraising opportunity with the right items and organization.  We consider auctions part of the evening’s entertainment … So make sure they are engaging and fun!  Auctions can make upwards of $1 million (this involved auctioning a Ferrari), but on average, you can expect to raise $10-20,000, a significant contribution to the cause.

If realtors emphasize “location, location, location,” we’d like to emphasize “merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.”  Here’s what we’ve learned over the years, from personally managing charity auctions ourselves (silent and live) and from shopping at many more.


Silent Auctions

#1 – If appropriate for your event, serve alcohol (‘nuf said).

#2 – It takes a village. Enlist the board, staff and members of your organization and event committee to collect donations. Set a goal for board members (at least one event sponsor and two auction items, for example). Encourage supporters to make requests of the proprietors of restaurants, hotels, clubs, spas, hair salons and retail stores they frequent or where they work.  Provide a deadline when donations need to be secured to give you time to create the presentation materials (see item #6).

#3 – Provide materials for volunteers to use. Sometimes people are overwhelmed about where to start … so they don’t.  Provide:

  • A template letter for requests, which briefly talks about your organization and the event, lists the types of donations you’re looking to receive and provides your 501(c)3 information.
  • A donation form, which requests a full description of the item, any limitations, such as blackout or expiration dates, etc.; retail value; who should be credited on the bid sheet for the donation; and contact information for questions (and, later, a thank you letter from the charity).

#4 – Auction items that do particularly well in our experience include experiential opportunities, travel and hotels (exotic locales as well as “staycation” spots), restaurants and consumables (wine and food). Also include items that are a value for activities in which people already engage.  For example, gift certificates to area spas and restaurants, tickets to local sporting events or concerts … even dry cleaning services.  What is a unique experience in your city that people would love to get the chance to do?  A private tour of a sports stadium prior to a game or entry into a private club?  A sunset boat ride, tee time at a local golf course or a river kayaking trip?  Consider lessons for tennis, dancing, painting or horseback riding.  How about a local caterer or restaurateur donating services to give a wine-tasting event or prepare a meal for four at the winning bidder’s home?  And donations from local artists.

Charity Auction Tips#5 – Organize donations into categories, so that people can shop items that interest them in one area. Popular categories include Travel & Entertainment, Restaurants, Lifestyle (spas, clothing, makeup, etc), Wine & Food, Memorabilia, Art and Sports.  Of course, your donations will also dictate your categories.  Provide signage so people can identify the groupings.

#6 – You need to “sell” your items much like retail stores merchandise their products.   Make the displays and descriptions appealing (You will need to re-write most of the copy provided to you … and be prepared to do some research).  Arrange them decoratively.  Bring floor and table-top easels.  Display photographs and other representational artwork in 8 x 10 acrylic frames.  Create gift baskets that combine like items, such as wine and chocolate or spa gift certificates with personal pampering products.

#7 – Make your silent auction akin to a shopping experience.  Invite a handful of local vendors who work charity events. We’ve had vendors with handsomely framed lithographs of the masters; estate jewelry; and more.  They make your auction more interesting, donate 20% of their sales to the organization and many of them will also provide a direct donation to your auction. Additionally, a reputable vendor will give 20% of sales that occur later, but resulted from initial contact at your event.

#8 – No matter how organized you think you are, have extra blank bid sheets that you can fill out by hand.  You may be missing one sheet … or someone will show up with a donation you didn’t expect. Also have additional sheets for popular items, where bidding goes to page 2.  Request their name, phone number (preferably cell so you can text the winner) and e-mail information.  You will need to track down bidders who have already left the event.  Make the barriers to placing a bid as low as possible, with the starting bid at a reasonable minimum and defined bidding increments.  Modest (though not incidental) increments encourage bidding wars.  Bid sheets should be on clipboards (or the budget clipboard of cardboard & paper clip) and pens should be plentiful.  Winners should not need to be present to claim their winnings.

#9 – It’s helpful to color code your item sheets by category with stick-on dots and to number items within the category for quick reference.  This makes check-out run much more expediently. Organize the gift certificates at the check-out (do not display them on the tables).

#10 – The auction should be staffed at all times to answer questions, encourage friendly bidding competitions, engage bidders (Do you have gifts you need to buy in the near future?) and, sometimes, to prevent theft. (Sadly, it happens.)  Throughout the evening, take the mic and create excitement, remind people the auction will be closing at [designated time].  Although you need to be conscious of when people may want to leave the event, schedule your closing as late as possible to maximize bidding opportunity.  Much like a birthday party, once the presents are opened, people leave the party.  Have the emcee announce that items will be distributed one-half hour after the auction’s closing to give you time to organize the check-out.

#11 – When the auction ends, have plenty of volunteers ready to collect bid sheets quickly (no cheating!), to help process payments and deliver items to the winners promptly. Organize the winning bid sheets by the same category in which they were displayed to make it easier to find.  Additionally, you can make a “winners” board with a chalk or dry-erase board.  Create a check-out line with at least two representatives to process credit card payments and one to handle cash/checks and hand out gift certificates.  If possible, set up a Square payment system for your charity. If that’s not possible, make sure you have a phone line available to your check-out station to process credit card payments.  If you are utilizing an old-fashioned, carbon copy imprinter, your credit card processing company may offer a slightly lower rate if you write their phone/address on the receipt (and it gives you recourse for any problems that come up later).  Stamp the bid sheet PAID and hand it off to designated “runners” who will track down the item and hand it off to the winner.


Live Auctions

If you have one or two extraordinary items (private jet travel, full vacation experience at a high-end destination, dinner with a local celebrity, etc.), you may want to consider holding a live auction.  Announce that the silent auction is closing soon, then have someone from your organization (who isn’t shy) take the mic and oversee the bidding.  Have volunteers help you identify who is bidding in the audience and escort them to the payment table.

We have also been at a few events where a professional auctioneer oversees a larger effort.  Project Angel Food in Los Angeles does this really well.  The auctioneer sells “opportunities,” such as “$2,500 will buy special Thanksgiving meals for X number of clients” … and so on. Frequently, they sell more than one across a variety of categories and donation levels.

Opportunity Drawings

Formerly known as a raffle (until the IRS regulated the age-old tradition), it’s another fun way to enliven the evening and we consider it icing on the auction cake.  But make sure you follow state and federal guidelines. If you’re willing to negotiate the red tape, here are a few ideas …

Have the item(s) merchandised at the check-in table.  Ask people to “make a donation” for tickets (rolls of dividable carnival tickets will do) as they check-in, then have volunteers walking around to offer them throughout the evening.

One gimmick that works extremely well is to suggestion a donation of $1 per ticket or “your height in tickets” for $20.  Have them put one foot on the end of the ticket roll and literally break off the length of tickets at the top of their head. (We always give shorter guests a few bonus inches).  It’s a great ice breaker.

While regulations chance drawings vary by state, you can review the federal guidelines regarding tax-exempt organizations and gaming at:

With the above tips, your silent auction should be a huge success and make a significant contribution to your organization’s mission.  Good luck!

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