10 Tips to Cultivate Sponsor Relationships
By: Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
Many nonprofits work diligently on annual giving, private donations and grants to fund their organizations, but we find many nonprofits are not tapping into corporate sponsorships as a way to enhance their bottom line. Many corporations sponsor events and organizations as a part of their annual marketing budget and/or as part of their corporate-social responsibility initiatives. Companies generally sponsor for one of two reasons: marketing exposure or brand alignment.
If you are working to grow funding for your nonprofit, consider these best practices to help foster financial partners for your cause.
Tell Your Story
Companies receive hundreds of requests for their available dollars, so you need to tell the most compelling story about your organization that you can. To introduce your nonprofit in the most meaningful way, you need to share statistics about the community you serve and data about the impact that your organization is making in that arena.
When possible, highlight a specific success story or two. Data is necessary but the personal stories help people see why your work matters. The more that a company understands about your nonprofit, the more they can assess if your organization aligns with their own corporate values.
Do Your Research
As you build your sponsorship program, It is crucial to research your prospective partners. If you are an arts organization that is soliciting a company committed to feeding the homeless, you will be wasting your time and theirs. So take the time to find potential partners that generally support your cause.
When meeting with a potential sponsor, the first thing to ask is what their corporate goals are for the year. Remember that while you are hoping to secure funding for your organization, companies have annual goals and objectives that they are trying to reach. If you can identify what that company is committed to, you can better identify how helping your nonprofit can help them achieve both your goals AND theirs. If supporting your organization can help a company achieve their goals, you have found an ideal candidate for a long-term partnership.
We hear all too often from corporate sponsors that ‘nonprofits only reach out to us when they want money.’ It is important to think of sponsorship work in terms of relationship development. This means that you need to develop a plan for year-round contact with your partners: Share success stories quarterly or monthly, send out holiday cards, share articles or events with your contacts, and just check-in with them periodically throughout the year. Time can pass quickly, so take the time to map out what your communication plan is for the year and stick to it.
What Is In It for the Sponsor?
Often, nonprofit staff can be so determined to secure more money for programming and events that they forget to focus on how their corporate partner benefits from the relationship. Businesses of all sizes have to plan strategically about where to spend their marketing dollars, so it is important to think about what is in it for them before you land the meeting and make your pitch.
Streamline the Ask – show options, offer a variety of options
We often talk to nonprofits that have multiple events per year. They prepare forms for each event and send out each form individually over the course of the year. But when possible, it is best to outline your event calendar for the year and share all of the possible options with your partner at one time.
Sponsors often tell us that they constantly receive requests – even after they have just given. So when submitting your events individually, and you send out an ask for a lower level project (i.e. sponsor a bowling lane for $250) instead of asking for the annual gala ($1,000, $2,000 or $5,000), you might be limiting what your partner will choose to sponsor.
Deliver as Promised
Now that you have secured the sponsor, it is vital to properly execute on the agreement that has been made. Not fulfilling sponsorship expectations is the surest way to lose corporate support, and it is far easier to renew a happy sponsor than it is to seek out new sponsors year after year.
Maintain Timely Communications
With a sponsor or a potential sponsor, timely communications are crucial. We often joke that you have to communicate the way that you would want to be communicated with: Don’t leave people hanging out there wondering if you received their email for days or, worse yet, weeks. Provide prompt replies to sponsor communications and it will go a long way in strengthening the relationships you are trying to build.
Show the Impact
Sponsors like to know that their support means something, so it is important to let them know the impact accomplished from the event or program that they sponsored. How many children were able to participate in the program? How many meals were provided to the homeless? How many mental health patients received therapy? This follow-up allows corporate partners to become more connected to your cause, which will hopefully help them become an advocate for your cause in the long run.
Last, but not least, don’t forget to say thank you! It may seem obvious, but when talking to sponsors, we are surprised how many times a sponsor tells us that they never heard from an organization after an event was over. Nonprofit teams may be tired or crazy busy after an event, so sometimes the idea of a thank you note is there but just not executed. But as part of your ongoing relationship development, this simple gesture is one of the most important in maintaining an existing relationship, so make the time!
These 10 tips are simple but important as you work to garner more sponsorship for your organization. And if you have follow up questions that are not covered in this article, please feel free to schedule a free “Power Up Consultation.”