Think about an event that you attended hosted by another nonprofit organization within the last year. Do you remember who sponsored the badges? The bags?
The reality is we usually forget (and we are in the sponsorship business!), attendees rarely remember, and as a result -- corporate executives usually don't value these opportunities in the way we would hope.
In providing sponsorship offerings, the standard approach for most nonprofits is to offer one-off, event-based transactional benefits associated with a conference, gala dinner, or other type of event. This approach to sponsorship may yield revenue from corporations that feel that the event is a 'must attend' or based on one of our board members twisting their arm. Yet these options fall far short of achieving corporate objectives and make it difficult for us to generate significant revenue. When the next event approaches, we end up providing the same/similar offerings, reaching out to the same folks, and often end up frustrated and disappointed.
Most corporations are besieged with funding requests from numerous nonprofit organizations ranging from aquariums to zoos. Generally, the sponsorship offerings are fairly similar and do little to enable us to stand out and grab the attention of corporate decision-makers. As a result, it is even more important for us to effectively differentiate ourselves when reaching out for support. In order to move from a transaction based sponsorship approach to broader more relevant partnership relationships at higher investment levels, we should address the following:
- Identify our own assets and corresponding benefits. Understand first what we can and can not offer. Recognize what is acceptable and aligned with our board, key audience(s), and culture. Consider how we can link the benefits together in a manner that will resonate and align with corporate interests.
- Engagement first, dollars second. Engage in conversations with corporate representatives where we can learn about their specific programs/campaigns, objectives, and successful partnerships. If we show a genuine interest in their plans/efforts - rather than treating them like an ATM machine - we are far more likely to generate interest.
- Structure our partnership program and gain needed buy-in. Establish offerings/programs based on insights gained from corporate contacts and aligned with we can offer. Draft an outline of our program and gain the needed approval and support from leadership and staff.
- Connect with decision-makers at the right corporations. We need to shift the conversation away from low level corporate staffers or identify ways to connect with senior level executives. This requires leveraging board connections in the right way and/or implementing specific tactics to connect with the right individuals within a corporation.
I have found that most nonprofit executives encounter difficulty with developing the strategy that will work for their organization and need assistance with the implementation and outreach. Very few nonprofit organizations have established a serious plan to secure partners and struggle in figuring out how to proceed. If a few key elements of the steps above are followed, it can have a tremendous impact resulting in additional sponsorship/partnership revenue.