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Nonprofit Sponsorship: 3 Key Questions

February 04, 2015

Sponsorship_keyYou've probably heard the story of legendary criminal Willie Sutton, who, when asked why he robbed banks, responded, "I rob banks because that's where the money is." Now whether Sutton actually said that is debatable, but many fundraisers have picked up on the lesson — and Sutton's grasp of the obvious. You want money? Figure out who has it and who's "giving" it away.

One answer to the "who has the money" question is corporations. Often a nonprofit's first way "in" to a corporation is through its foundation or corporate giving program — philanthropic vehicles with which fundraisers are very familiar. But what about nonprofit sponsorship? About thirty years ago, "cause marketing" became a real avenue for major corporate brands to position themselves in a favorable way with their customers. Suddenly, companies were investing in nonprofits and nonprofit causes — not only to support those organizations, but to help build their own brand loyalty. It was a new way of thinking, a new approach.

Fast-forward to today. In 2014, corporate sponsors were projected to spend over $925 million on the arts alone (IEG Property Sector Spending Report, 2014). And the top three companies sponsoring the arts?

  1. Bank of America
  2. Wells Fargo
  3. JPMorgan Chase

As a result of the astronomical growth in sponsorship and cause marketing, many nonprofits have followed the "money trail" and ramped up their sponsorship efforts. This makes a lot of sense as organizations, no longer able to rely solely on funding from foundations, individual donors, and corporate giving programs, scramble for new sources of revenue.

Now, there will always be people and companies motivated by a purely philanthropic mindset, and that's a good thing. But know that when you’re pursuing sponsorships, you'll be talking to a corporate marketer, and that person will be looking to evaluate your nonprofit to determine whether the proposed relationship can support the company's goals, financial and otherwise.

Understand a Potential Sponsor’s Business Goals

By now you may be asking, "So how do I make an appeal to a corporate marketer?" The first step is to understand the business goals of a potential sponsor and whether your organization is in a position to support those goals. How? A good indicator is whether you can answer "yes" to the following questions:

  1. Can my organization deliver customers the sponsor wants to reach?
  2. Do I offer tangible benefits that enable the sponsor to engage my audience?
  3. Can I package those assets into a proposal that is priced attractively for the sponsor?

Customer reach? Tangible benefits? Package my assets?

Where's the discussion about my organization's mission or the fact we list our funders in our annual report? That's a discussion you'd have with a corporation's foundation. If you want sponsorship dollars, it's time to make a deal!

Headshot_michael_savinoI'll be expanding on these points and the "corporate marketer mindset" in a Foundation Center webinar, Sponsorship for Nonprofits: Putting a Price Tag on What You Do, on Wednesday, February 25, from 2:00–3:00 p.m. ET. I invite you to join us for this sixty-minute session, in which I'll walk you through various methods to identify and price your assets and build a sponsorship proposal.

Michael C. Savino is a marketing and communications professional with more than twenty-five years of experience working for and with nonprofit organizations. He currently serves as advertising and social media manager at Resorts World Casino New York City, where he leads media buying, creative, sponsorship, and social media efforts, and oversees the casino's digital AV department.

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