Corporate Sponsorship Are Not About Doing Good – Or Are They?

Here’s something that may come as a shock to fundraisers who are motivated by a desire to improve the world: Corporate sponsors don’t really care about your mission. In fact, it’s more about theirs.

Of course, corporations typically don’t have “missions.” They have business objectives. And these objectives usually include influencing consumer behavior in some way. So, from the corporation’s perspective, the goal of sponsorship activities is to get the company’s name and products in front of its target audience. These activities should not be confused with Corporate Social Responsibility, which is driven by a wish to engage in ethical business practices. Make no mistake about it – corporate sponsorships are marketing, not philanthropy.

Yet this doesn’t mean that a nonprofit can’t capitalize on sponsorships. Indeed, since from the corporation’s point of view these relationships are transactions, the expectation is that benefits will go both ways. The sponsor receives exposure to its desired audiences and shares a charitable glow, while the nonprofit receives money or supplies to support its projects. It’s all good!

So if sponsorship by a corporation can help a nonprofit raise funds and achieve its mission, how can Directors of Development take advantage of the opportunity this presents? The trick is in thoughtfully identifying and approaching potential sponsors. You’ll need to help your corporate contact understand how you’ll showcase his or her company, while generating goodwill at the same time. You’ll have to be prepared to answer some questions that might make you shudder a little, given your focus on a higher purpose. But bear with them. Handled properly, you will be rewarded with support for your cause.

Approaching a Potential Sponsor

Here are some of the questions you could get when seeking sponsorship from a corporation for your organization or project:

  1. What’s in it for my company? How will sponsorship meet my company’s corporate objectives?
  2. What are the demographics of the audience that will be exposed to my company?
  3. How many people will see my company’s name?
  4. Is the sponsorship exclusive? Is it exclusive in a category? How many other logos will appear next to mine?
  5. Is this an opportunity for high visibility (e.g., sponsorship of a new building at the zoo)? Or is this a community support project that will position my company as a good corporate citizen (sponsorship of a neighborhood recreation center)?
  6. What are the benefits I’ll receive in exchange for support? Are there different levels? What do I get at each level?
  7. Will I get tickets or other items I can offer to employees or executives?
  8. How can you help me demonstrate a positive impact on my bottom line?

The answers to these questions are complex and require preparation, but there are some simple steps you can follow.

Step 1: Research

  • Create your target list.
    • What companies are located in your geographic region?
    • Which companies are doing business related to your cause?
    • Which companies have supported organizations similar to yours?
    • Where do you have executive-level connections?
  • Identify a contact person for each company you will approach. Don’t reach out to more than one at a time – a shotgun strategy can result in confusion and duplication of effort, and in the end, denial of your proposal.

Step 2: Build the Relationship

  1. Demonstrate to your contact that you’ve done your homework. Be ready to articulate your understanding of his or her company’s objectives and to suggest how your project can help meet them.
  2. Be prepared to discuss the project briefly, emphasizing the highlights only.
  3. Don’t discuss money unless asked. If you must offer a number, make sure it’s understood to be a point of departure for further conversation.
  4. Promise to follow up with a letter and a few materials. Then do so.

Step 3: Make Your Proposal

There’s no need to load up your proposal with gratuitous information. It won’t be reviewed, and in fact, too much material can be harmful. You also don’t need to say much about the good work your organization does, because remember, your mission isn’t the point. Far more critical is the audience your organization can deliver.

  • Prepare a one-page fact sheet.
      • Emphasize generally and briefly the benefits to the corporation of partnership with your organization
        • credibility and good reputation
        • no controversies
        • sound financial footing
    • Include relevant date(s), location, expected number of attendees or viewers, media coverage anticipated, how and where corporate name / logo will be seen, duration of sponsorship
    • Include audience demographics
  • Create a one-page list of benefits.
    • Identify explicit benefits associated with each level of sponsorship
    • Be clear about signage, logo presentation, inclusion in advertising, and any other opportunities for recognition
    • Consider including the following among the benefits:
      • opportunities to feature executives prominently in advertising or at an event
      • the chance for executives to network with potential customers, celebrities, or government officials
      • free tickets for employees and their families
      • host an exclusive cocktail party for sponsors only
    • State what you are seeking
      • cash (in ranges only)
      • in-kind donations
      • pro-bono advertising
      • inclusion in corporate newsletters or bill inserts
    • State how many partners there will be at each level

Step 4: Follow Up

Ask for a meeting or offer to host a site visit.

There’s no doubt about it. Securing a corporate sponsor for your nonprofit and its activities will require some effort. And there might be times when the relationship feels as though it’s one-sided, but it’s not. With sound strategic planning and a little perseverance, you’ll find that the partnership provides something of value to both parties. And on top of that, you might even inspire a corporation to do some good.

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