7 Sponsorship Mistakes I Will Never Make Again

7 Sponsorship Mistakes I Will Never Make Again

At the beginning of my journey as a Sponsorship Broker, working on behalf of For-Purpose organisations to create and implement a corporate sponsorship strategy, I made some spectacular mistakes which have helped me grow and learn what it takes to fully support a not-for-profit organisation or charity to successfully engage corporate partners and diversify income streams.

Whilst working for one organisation over a period of around 18 months, I made seven vital errors.

I’m always learning and trying to find the silver lining in each mistake or ‘life lesson’ (as I prefer to refer to them.)  So below, I share seven life lessons, highlight my learnings in the hope of helping someone else (maybe you!)  to avoid making similar mistakes so that you can be more successful at seeking and engaging corporate partners for your organisation, charity or event.

7 mistakes I will never make again.

Even if not all these life lessons resonate with you, I hope that you may find a few gems that help you on your journey!


When I started work with my new client, they had previously engaged a sponsorship expert to work with them to try and advance their success with sponsors. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors (some of which I was about to learn for myself) the project was deemed as a failure by the organisation and I was brought in to pick up the pieces and build a $250,000 per year sponsorship portfolio.

It was not long into the project that I realised I was dealing with an organisation that was nursing a ‘hang over’.  The previous sponsorship consultant had left a bad taste in their mouths and they were now both sceptical and unsupportive of any efforts to re-engage them and re-imagine the sponsorship strategy.

What could I have done differently?

Ahhh, the benefit of hindsight!  Despite knowing that it wasn’t my fault that my client had had a bad experience, I could have talked with them in more detail about their expectations for this new project and use this opportunity to clarify whether they were prepared to give their total support moving forward, and if so, what that might look like.


A few weeks into my project and after having had a number of face-to-face meetings to try and further unravel the subtext of how they were feeling and how my role within the organisation was perceived, I realised that the goal posts were starting to shift (quite rapidly) from what we had all agreed to prior to me starting the project.

Some of those changes included the organisation changing its name, a brand new website, change of key staff that I was supporting, change of physical office space and a CEO that was transitioning to retirement!

Of all those changes though, the one that had rather devastating effects on the ultimate success of the project was the redefinition of the kinds of companies that I could approach for sponsorship.  After consultation with each and every staff member to try and understand the breadth of projects and programs that the organisation was running, I developed a comprehensive list of companies and brands that I suspected would be a great ‘fit’ for the organisation.  I submitted the list for sign off by the CEO and Senior Management, and (after a marathon wait – nearly 2 months) I heard back from the organisation and was told that around half of the companies I had researched and put on the list were not to be approached, as several of their major programs were already sponsored by similar companies.

What could I have done differently?

Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I’m not sure that I could have done anything about the amount of change that my client was about to undergo.  I think my best plan of attack could have been to re-adjust the sponsorship target expectations when the pool of potential sponsors was so radically reduced, so that they understood that the alignment of the new companies I had to find was not as strong as my original list and therefore it might be prudent to revisit the sponsorship target, or perhaps look at a staged approach for engaging partners.


When I say there was a lack of internal support, I don’t mean that people were communicating their lack of interest or support of the sponsorship project.  In fact, if they had, that would have been easier to deal with.  It can be uncomfortable, but when people are prepared to ‘lay their cards on the table’ and be honest about their feelings and perceptions, at least you have a change to address, clarify and collaborate.  This lack of support was more underground – lengthy delays (several months at times) in people responding to questions, requests or action items that had been agreed to be addressed at meetings.  People were clearly not prioritising this project and unfortunately, lengthy delays internally, means that as a consultant it made my job (as it would any employee who was experiencing the same delays) so much more difficult.  Especially when you have companies waiting on your response.

Let me just say here, that this is in no way a criticism about how busy For-Purpose teams are, or how they are often severely under-staffed with limited resources, time and budgets to work with.  I’m used to working in these kind of environments (For-Purpose organisation are my specialty!) and I always use my role as a sponsorship broker to provide solutions, not introduce problems.  I am trying to highlight that this lack of support  was a symptom of the ‘hang over’ that I described earlier and unfortunately, the ones who was going to be adversely affected  was the organisation itself and of course our ability to create a timely and successful sponsorship strategy.

What could I have done differently?

Better communication always helps.  Delving into the expectations of your client or Board is always a vital part of the process, but what I could have done differently was communicate my expectations, that if met, would have maximised the success we would have been able to achieve by working together.  After all, this kind of project only works when you and the organisation you are seeking sponsorship for truly work together.  That is the same whether you are a consultant or employee.


I had been working with the organisation for only a few months when I was asked to address the Board of Directors at a face-to-face meeting to speak with them about the progress of the project.  Despite my trepidation (that I had also addressed with the CEO) that, to date  there was not much progress to report on (thanks in part to those lengthy delays) I flew interstate to attend the Board meeting and was introduced by the CEO as the person who had been engaged to ‘fix the problems we are having’.  Sigh.

After that, I was addressed rather aggressively by one Board member who asked a lot of questions about why the previous project had not been successful and what I was going to do differently?  Why had I not chosen to approach this industry or that company as part of the list of potential sponsors I had developed? What was taking so long anyway, shouldn’t we have our first sponsor by now?  What assurances could I give that this project would work and not end up like the last one that they had invested significant funds into?

As I looked to the CEO for support in at least clarifying some of the internal processes of his organisation which would in part help answer these questions, he chose at that moment to step out of the room, and not return!  I took a deep breath and could do nothing but be honest and also let this particular Board member know that his aggression was not appreciated and unless he was able to be civil, I saw no point in continuing my presentation.

I was very grateful that at the end of my presentation, when several Board and staff members approached me and apologised for the bad behaviour I had experienced and expressed how embarrassed they were by his outburst.

The take away lesson from all of this? Not that I had been treated unfairly, or that even his questions were unjust, because in truth, they were not.  It became clear to me that there was very little understanding and clarity at Board level of the details of this project, and with a lack of understanding often comes resistance and concern.  That was what I experienced that day.

What could I have done differently?

More regular communication and meetings with the CEO, who can then manage upwards to the Board can always be a worthwhile endeavour.  However, with a retiring CEO who was starting to ‘mentally exit’ the organisation, I sometimes felt very much that the project had been ‘outsourced’ and that where it should stay. He had ‘ticked a box’ by engaging my expertise, but didn’t really want to engage with the process or building relationships with sponsors.


Sponsorship investment comes out of a company’s marketing budget.  When a company spends money on advertising or other ways of promoting their brand, products or services they hope that the investment will generate more exposure, leads and ultimately more sales.  As you know, today the quickest and often most effective way of reaching a target demographic is via electronic means, including social media and email.

A major hurdle in this project (that we were not able to overcome) was the fact that this organisation had in excess of 15,000 subscribed supporters, but very few email addresses and no social media strategy to speak of.  The majority of their communication with members was undertaken through their printed quarterly newsletter.

Whilst there was a ‘push’ internally to gather fuller contact information for members, including email addresses, they only had gathered several hundred.  For many sponsors, the opportunity to connect with your supporter-base across a variety of communications channels is highly desirable.

The fact that we could not give them access via email or social media was a ‘deal breaker’ during many conversations that I had with potential sponsors.

What could I have done differently?

Despite communicating the importance of being able to offer sponsors the ability to communicate via electronic means with supporters, there was so much internal change happening that the gathering of this data was not high on the priority list.

To be honest, a lot of the information I share with you now I was not privy to, until I was well into the project, and again with the use of hindsight I may have suggested putting off the entire project until the organisation had settled into its new groove, including welcoming a new CEO.


It was a scramble to try and reassemble a list of aligned companies once I knew that I was not able to approach many on my initial list, but I did it!  During the long process of building rapport with the new potential sponsors however, I was disappointed to discover (that despite having my new list approved) that some of the marketing managers I was speaking too were also speaking with program managers of the organisation that had engaged me!

I was of course keen to do my best and achieve a great outcome for my client, after all I was working to reach a target!  I did not even overly begrudge the fact that the company I had been given clearance to approach was being approached by someone else.

What really bothered me was that these kind of conversations with potential sponsors were extremely unprofessional.  It looks like the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and companies become confused and even irritated about what you are trying to achieve as an organisation.  They don’t understand the offer and often everyone within the organisation ends up losing because you can look desperate, disorganised or unprofessional.

What could I have done differently?

At the time, I spoke with the Program Managers that had also been talking with the companies that I had been dealing with.  The short story is that I was told to stop discussions and that they would handle it from here.  I spoke with the CEO about the risks we ran of these kind of overlaps happening, and how it made his organisation look in the eyes of potential sponsors.  Unfortunately, nobody was very interested, as long as there was the opportunity for financial investment, that was the main thing.  I’m not sure that there was much else I could do resolve this situation.


So…. after almost 18 months working with my client, we did have some moderate success!  One really aligned sponsor in particular comes to mind and signed up as a corporate partner.

Within three months however…  wanted to exit the partnership.  By this time, my project had come to an end (complete with all the learnings that came from it) and still I was blessed to learn more!

I was called one afternoon by a senior staff member in the organisation to let me know that this sponsor had left and what was I going to do about it?  I arrived at their office the following morning to discuss the events that had led to this sponsor wanting to leave and they showed me the letter they had received nearly four weeks before.

When I asked them who had called to speak with the sponsor when they received the letter, I was met with blank looks.  No one had thought to pick up the phone and have a conversation about what may have happened, or why they had changed their mind.  Instead the discussion turned quickly to what legal rights did they have and if they took it to court, could they make the sponsor pay?

It was clear to me that despite all of our conversations, meetings and coaching,  that sponsors were still only seen as a private funding model and not a partner in the potential success of their organisation.

I counselled my client to pick up the phone and have a conversation with the sponsor.  Just a conversation.  Something was obviously amiss as far as he was concerned and often an simple chat can uncover a wealth of knowledge.  They refused – it was my job to fix it.

What could I have done differently?

Despite taking the CEO to every sponsorship meeting I attended, bringing the sponsor into my client’s offices so that everyone could meet face-to-face, and even despite having a very clear contract detailing what the deliverables were going to be for both parties, things can clearly still go wrong.

Working with this client forced me to develop a suite of templates and resources that could support my need for immaculate communication and reporting processes.  These templates have been invaluable for clients that I have worked with since.  Still… no amount of templates, resources, phone calls, coaching and support can help people who are not prepared (or not given the space in their workload) to work alongside sponsors to create the best outcome for everyone.

Life throws us many opportunities (silver linings), some of them just happen to be dressed as challenges (life lessons).

I hope that these little insights into some lessons and lessons-learned go some small way to help you in your own sponsorship seeking efforts!

No regrets.  Just lessons learned and better ways of doing things moving forward.

I wish you a smooth journey to sponsorship success!

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2016-11-08T05:31:14+00:00 By |