Are We Just Too Attached to Our Precious Metals?

As a sponsorship broker, my work takes me far and wide as I seek to build transformational partnerships between the For-Purpose and For-Profit sectors in ways that can measurably change our world for the better.

For a long while now, I have been advocating for the end of sponsorship levels that offer a company the opportunity to become a gold, silver or bronze sponsor of your event, program or organisation.

They were a creative, innovative concept more than a decade ago, but these precious metals have been ‘done to death’, and there has to be a better way to engage sponsors.

Build a relationship first, I say.

Get to know a potential sponsor and invite their input into the process.

This approach will yield the best results.

But, I have to admit… I may have been wrong.

Or am I?

My confusion stems from two very distinct opinions about those precious metal proposals that continue to emerge in the corporate sector.

On the one hand, companies thank me for my inquisitive approach.  They are happy to see For-Purpose organisations seeking a true partnership, wanting to build a relationship and be asked what their goals are from sponsorship investment so the decision-making process becomes a truly collaborative one.

On the other hand, some companies seem almost anxious when I ask after their goals and desired outcome and I am often disappointingly asked, ‘can you just send me a proposal that tells me how much you want, and outline what we will get for it?’

These diverse conversations has lead me to start questioning, how can I be advising For-Purpose fundraisers to cease their generic sponsorship approaches, when I’m faced with companies asking me to provide them with the very thing I’m trying to get them to abandon?

If we back away from my conundrum for a moment and look at what the true essence, or power (if you will) of the sponsorship relationship really is, then we see that it ideally it should be a three-way success story, a win-win-win:

  1. As the sponsorship seeker, your organisation or event should ‘win’ because you are getting the much-needed investment you seek, as well as an engaged partner that is looking to enhance the experience your supporters have when they interact with both your organisation and their brand.
  2. Your sponsor should ‘win’, because they are getting direct access to a target market they weren’t working as closely with before you came along, and they should see an increase in sales and connection to their brand as a result of your partnership together.
  3. The third ‘winner’ always has to be your supporters.  They need to feel that the sponsor you have engaged is aligned with your core values and mission.  If you have partnered with the right sponsor, your supporters’ experience of your event or organisation should always be enhanced as a result of that brand’s involvement.

Sponsorship is so much more than advertising space and logo overload.

True sponsorship is about the aligning of two brands in ways where everyone wins.  Crowds go wild.  Sales are made.  Connections are forged.  Each party respects the other and works collaboratively. Next year’s event, conference, program is bigger and better than the last, and future sponsorship commands a higher level of investment.

So, if we come back to my original point… what is it then that prevents a company from wanting to explore ways of getting creative with sponsorship opportunities?

Is it simply a matter of too little time? Are they overwhelmed by the sheer volume of sponsorship approaches they receive that they aren’t able to adequately review them all? Are they jaded by the calibre of the charity proposals that have come before yours? Could it be that they may not actually know what they want and they are hoping to receive the ultimate opportunity to engage in?

My particular ‘issue’ with sponsorship levels is that as a sector we all lose out because there is rarely any kind of valuation process used to identify their ‘value’ to a sponsor.  And if there is some kind of formula used, the investment tends to be a reflection of a cost-covering exercise, rather than understanding what the true value is.

Time and again I observe For-Purpose organisations offering these levels to potential sponsors, and time and again sponsors simply ‘cherry pick’ the best of the benefits, and then offer the lowest possible amount for them.  This a lose-lose situation.

And we continue to recreate it year after year, event after event.

Fundraisers start off by undervaluing their sponsorship opportunity, and that belief is further affirmed as the sponsor asks for more than was offered, for less than was asked.  The sponsor loses out in this scenario as well because there could have been so much more than they could have done with the event or organisation, but they were never given a chance, or thought to, explore other options. Ask better questions about what is possible.

This pattern of interaction seems to have created a ‘dance’ of sorts, whereby sponsorship seekers invite companies onto the dancefloor and they start to flow from step to step without asking whether they should be waltzing, doing the tango, or whether they even want to dance at all?

My dealings with many companies shows me that the essence of true sponsorship is at risk of being lost, and it is companies that are just as much to blame as sponsorship seekers for wanting to take the easy route.  I say this because throughout my interactions, even though companies may be considering ‘sponsorship’, it is often no more than philanthropy to them.  A ‘throw away’ amount that shows they support community engagement or are being seen to be involved, but they are not really interested in (or understand) how their interactions could yield a return.

It is clear too that many companies struggle to measure sponsorship and so they hope (expect?) the organisation or event will lay out the red carpet to ensure that a return on investment for the sponsor is guaranteed.  But in truth, getting a return on investment only happens when a company is prepared to leverage the opportunity. If a company invests in or purchases a sponsorship opportunity, just like any other marketing initiative, they need to work to turn that investment into the outcome they are looking for.

If you know that sponsorship comes out of a company’s marketing budget, and they use this budget to promote their brand, products and services, then your approach needs to directly address the question they will inevitably ask of why they should divert their funds from traditional forms of marketing to your sponsorship opportunity? How will sponsorship with you promote a connection to their brand amongst your supporters?  And how might you do that creatively together?

No matter what, brands are always looking for fresh approaches.

If you are a sponsorship seeker like me, then you have an increasing role to help educate companies that there is more to sponsorship than what they may have become used to – advertising opportunities and logo overload.

If you are a company that gets approached for sponsorship, perhaps it’s time to be more discerning in your questions and ask how your brand can really make an impact among an organisation’s supporters in a fun, creative and not-seen-before way?

Let’s retire the precious metals sponsorship levels and look at how we can create partnerships that actually create impact and change our world for the better!

Join the conversation happening right now in our Facebook group for fundraisers!

Let's Go!
Let's Go!