How to Build Trust With Your Potential Sponsors

Have you ever readily given a significant donation or purchased something of value from someone who wasn’t curious about your needs, didn’t take time to build rapport with you, didn’t make you feel like they had your best interests at heart?

It’s a well-known sales adage that ‘if people don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you’.

Never has a truer word been spoken when it comes to For-Purpose partnerships.

Unfortunately, decades of cold and generic proposals (and other ‘time saving’ approaches) have perpetuated confusion between donations and sponsorship, and continue to provide a lack of creative and innovative ways to leverage a relationship for both your cause and that brand you desperately want to secure. These traditional approaches and risk-averse organisational mindsets (that are still so prevalent today) have left many businesses feeling jaded and distrustful of our sector and how we might use (or misuse) their brand.

Well trust me when I say, with challenge comes great opportunity!

The partnerships landscape is changing (you can read more about that here) and with it, our sector is front and centre in the hearts and minds of consumers all over the world.  Did you know that 9/10 people would purchase a product if it was associated with a cause?1

There are such exciting and real opportunities to move forward with discussions with potential partners in a way they will likely not have experienced before – one where you let go of your pre-conceived ideas about how sponsorship works, and start working on gaining their trust first.

Here are my 3 top tips for building trust:

  1. Know why you are approaching this brand.

It’s no longer enough to just ‘need sponsors‘, or wonder ‘what companies out there might be willing to part with their money’ so you can diversify your income streams.  The first thing a brand will want to know is, how can your sponsorship opportunity offer them meaningful ways to reach and connect with their target market.  This will require you to understand three things from the outset:

  • Who is their target market? (Who are they trying to sell their products and services to?)
  • Who is your supporter-base? (You will need to take a deep dive into your database to discover more about their demographics, needs, commonalities like age, geographic location, profession – anything that show patterns of similarities.)
  • What are all the ways you currently use to engage and connect with your supporters? (Think communications channels, social media, ways you bring them all together.)
  1. Start the process by asking for their advice.

Yes, that’s right.

You are not pitching anything to them. You’re not telling a story about why you are looking for sponsors or describing why you need funding to fulfil your mission, and certainly not talking about the various sponsorship levels they can choose from to get involved in your next event.

Ever heard of the unspoken law of sponsorship?

When you approach a company, they know you are looking for money, and when you approach a company you are doing it because you need money.  Both of you are on the same page, so let that aspect remain UNSPOKEN. Your need for money should never come into it.

What you’re seeking is their advice about whether your initial research on the fit between your brands is worth exploring and expanding on.

This approach, hands down, yields the best response rate when you make a sponsorship approach.  Even if their answer is a ‘no’, choose to see it as a win.  Your time is a very finite resource and you don’t need to be spending time chasing brands that never have the intention of partnering with your organisation.  I know I’d much rather focus my time and energy on first of all screening interest and then honing in on brands that show a desire to learn more!

  1. Ask smart questions.

Questions are good.

Smart questions are better.

For example, don’t ask them about things that are readily available on their website and social media platforms. Unfortunately, that only makes you look like you couldn’t be bothered doing some initial investigation of your own and that you’re OK with wasting their time.

Instead, ask smart questions that actually help you dig up the information you need – whether this brand is a good fit and what their appetite for partnerships is.

Questions like:

  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • Why do they value your product/service?
  • Have you ever partnered with a non-profit/charity before?
  • (If you are meeting with them face-to-face) What was it about our discussions so far that made you agree to meet with me today?
  • When do you negotiate your marketing budget each year?
  • How do you normally engage in sponsorship?

Partnerships are a two-way street and ultimately your supporters need to be the biggest winners in any relationship you create.  They are not mandated to be with you and so if they struggle to see the ‘fit’ or feel like you’ve ‘sold out’, they will abandon your organisation, and suddenly the whole reason you exist crumbles away.

By asking smart questions to potential sponsors, you are not only listening intently to their answers, but you are also looking for mirrors and insights into your own core mission and supporter-base.  Questions like these help you to understand what a potential sponsor is looking for, which is vital in allowing you to more deeply screen the fit between your brands.

Being prepared to move on from decades of approaching sponsorship a ‘certain way’ is now making way for opportunities to create fresh approaches that put the alignment between your core mission and their core business under the spotlight.

This approach will foster trust and build confidence – key stepping stones that get you closer to engaging great partners.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step pathway that helps you plan, find, connect with and keep corporate partners, check out my Fundraising Academy here.

Sponsorship is a two-way street and ultimately your members and community of followers need to be the biggest winners in any relationship you create.  They are not mandated to be with you and so if they struggle to see the ‘fit’ or feel like you’ve ‘sold out’, they will abandon your organisation, and suddenly the whole reason you exist crumbles away.  By asking smart questions to potential sponsors, you are not only listening intently to their answers, but you are also looking for mirrors and insights into your own core mission and supporter-base.  Questions like these help you to understand what a potential sponsor is looking for, which is vital in allowing you to more deeply screen the fit between your brands.

Decades of ‘doing sponsorship a certain way’ (which was relevant and working at the time) are now making way for opportunities to create fresh approaches that put the alignment between your core mission and their core business under the spotlight.

This approach will foster trust and build confidence – key stepping stones that get you closer to engaging great partners.

1 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Opportunity Study – http://www.conecomm.com/2015-cone-communications-ebiquity-global-csr-study-pdf

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