As nonprofit organizations adjust to recent shifts in the economic climate – plummeting stock values, uncertainty in the housing market, disintegration of the cryptocurrency markets – they should be looking for new revenue streams, such as nonprofit event sponsorships, to help hedge against potential financial losses. Corporate sponsors for nonprofits can have a huge impact on the reach of an organization, particularly when it comes to fundraising events like charity galas.
While traditional income streams from donor stewardship, legacy giving, grants, and events continue to be organizations’ bread and butter, smart nonprofits should be looking to implement robust nonprofit event sponsorship programs in order to bring in additional revenue.
Though the thought of newfound revenue through nonprofit event sponsorships seems appealing, most organizations find the process of finding and landing sponsors frustrating. Nonprofits get hung up when trying to figure out what they have to offer potential event sponsors and how to value it. They get discouraged when trying to find the right businesses to solicit. They can’t figure out why other organizations have lucrative sponsor partnerships but they have had no luck with it.
When organizations fall short of their event sponsorship goals it is because of two reasons – they lack an understanding of sponsorship basics and they don’t follow the 3 Steps for Successful Nonprofit Sponsorships.
Corporate Sponsorship Basics
Before starting the search for sponsors, organizations should understand exactly what sponsorships are.
Unlike regular charitable donations, sponsorships are not from people. Sponsorships are generally from businesses. This does not mean, however, that you don’t need to cultivate relationships with the people at a business who will decide whether or not to partner with your organization as a sponsor.
As sponsorship dollars come from businesses, a nonprofit must make its case as to why the sponsorship offers a good return on investment (ROI) for a company. They want to know if the sponsorship will bring them new business and position them favorably in front of their target market.
The 3 Steps for Successful Sponsorships
By implementing these three steps you set your organization up for sponsorship success.
Step 1 – Assess & Valuate
Before you do your prospecting homework, and before you pick up the phone and make the sponsorship sales pitch, you need to figure out what your organization has to offer to potential sponsors.
While it is tempting to take the easy route and just copy what other organizations in your area are offering in their sponsorship packages, that won’t get you very far in your quest for sponsorship dollars. Take the time to evaluate your own organization’s unique donor base, your mission reach, and your targeted marketing plan. We refer to all these things as assets.
Your nonprofit has far more assets to offer than you might think, and you just need to do a little creative brainstorming with your staff and board to come up with some great ideas of how to add value to your sponsorship packages. Examples of great sponsorship assets are sponsor logos on organization vehicles and building exteriors, presenting sponsorship position of a mission-driven event or informational gathering, and logo placement on gala bid paddles and seating cards.
One of your most appealing assets is the number of people reached through your organization’s social media and email blasts.
Be bold when stating the strength of your communications’ reach. If sending out a series of social media posts during the span of a sponsorship, multiply the number of your followers by the number of social media or email posts included as a part of the sponsorship. For example, you could say “Your sponsor logo will receive 20,000 impressions over a six-month period through a series of 20 social media posts to our loyal followers.” This really amplifies the value of their sponsorship exposure.
Another major asset your organization has to offer is the sales potential of your support base. If you can drive customers to a company’s place of business or website, especially if you can find ways to track these visits by using devices such as digital coupons, then you have a leg up when it comes to landing sponsors. Trackable devices help prove that businesses are getting good ROI from their investment.
Once you have identified your organization’s assets, you need to bundle them together to create sponsorship packages and assign a value to each offering. It is important to keep your sponsor pricing realistic for your area and for the assets you are including. This is where it is handy to research what price other local nonprofits are asking for their sponsorship packages. Use those other comparable sponsorship offerings as a guide for what you will ask for your sponsorships.
Step 2 – Prospecting and Outreach
After you have created the sponsorship packages, it is time to figure out who you will ask to partner with your organization as a sponsor. In sales, this process is called prospecting.
Your best sponsor prospects will be businesses that already have a working relationship or personal connection to your organization or one of your board members. Having a pre-existing connection raises your chances of succeeding with bringing a company on as a sponsor.
For prospecting, enlist the help of your board for a brainstorming session. During this meeting help your board identify industries and businesses where they spend their money such as banks, attorneys, CPAs, dentists, and insurance companies. Make sure to take notes during this meeting and include which board member has a relationship with each business listed.
Unfortunately, when it comes to prospect outreach your board likely won’t be of much help. It is a fact that most board members don’t like asking for money in general, and sponsorship outreach is no different. The good news is that they don’t have to be the ones asking for money. All they need to do is make an initial phone call or email to their contact and let them know that they are an ardent supporter and active board member of your nonprofit and that one of your staff will be contacting them with a great “opportunity”.
It is important that you give your board members the proper language to use when making these initial contacts as you only get one chance to get your foot in the door. The phrasing of the introductory call or email makes all the difference as to whether that prospect will take your follow-up phone call or answer your email.
Once the board member has made the introduction, you should follow up promptly with an email and send a PDF of your sponsorship brochure (known as a sponsor deck) as an attachment. Your email will act as a cover letter for the sponsorship deck and contain bullet-pointed highlights.
It is up to you to follow up with prospects and if you don’t hear back right away don’t be afraid to keep trying. Businesspeople are busy and your sponsorship may be low on their priority list at that moment, but if you stay persistent you will ultimately get through to them.
Step 3 – Follow Through and Stewardship
Once a business has signed on for a sponsorship it is up to you and your organization to follow through on all you have promised them. This is key to starting the stewardship process and maintaining a long-term relationship with sponsor businesses.
Each new sponsor should receive an onboarding email that thanks them for their support and lists all the sponsorship perks they will be receiving. This ensures that both your organization and the business understand what is expected from this sponsorship.
Also, as a part of the follow through, create a spreadsheet for each sponsor and list each of their promised sponsorship perks along with the person in your organization assigned to deliver them. Have a column to check off each task as they are completed.
During the span of the sponsorship, keep in contact with the company and continually thank them for their support. Keep them updated on any new business you know has come their way from one of your supporters. Look at this as sponsor stewardship, like your stewardship of donors. This stewardship builds genuine relationships with people who work for the sponsor company, and these relationships will ensure future sponsorships for your organization.
Interested in learning more about corporate sponsors for nonprofits? Check out this episode of The Nonprofit MBA Podcast featuring AJ!
About A.J. Steinberg, CFRE, of Queen Bee Fundraising:
With over 20 years’ experience as a nonprofit event producer and engagement strategist, A.J. Steinberg has worked on over 100 successful events and raised millions of dollars for organizations with her Los Angeles-based production company. In 2015 A.J. launched Queen Bee Fundraising to share the art of nonprofit event planning, sponsorship acquisition, and engagement strategies with organizations worldwide. She is a recognized topic expert and trainer, and presents on subjects such as nonprofit event planning, event sponsorships, committee and volunteer leadership, generational giving, and guest engagement.