How to build trust with your potential sponsors
It’s a well-known sales adage that ‘if people don’t trust you, they won’t buy from you’. Have you ever been keen to purchase something from someone you didn’t have confidence in?
Never has a truer word been spoken when it comes to charity partnerships and association sponsorships.
Unfortunately, decades of generic Gold, Silver, and Bronze (GSB) proposals have caused confusion over the difference between donations and sponsorship, and the subsequent lack of opportunities to leverage a relationship for a brand’s benefit has left many businesses feeling jaded and distrustful of for-purpose sponsorship-seekers’ intentions.
It would be quite easy to want to ‘throw in the towel ‘ at this point, but trust me when I say, with challenge comes great opportunity! The sponsorship landscape is changing (you can read my article about that here) and with it, our sector largely remains bathed in golden light (i.e. your brand is way more trusted that your corporate counterparts.)1 And so there is an opportunity to move forward into discussions with potential partners in a way they will likely not have experienced before – one where you gain their trust.
Here are my 3 top tips for making this process work best:
- Know why you are approaching this brand.
By now, you’d know that 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 potential sponsor will want to know is, how can you tie your approach back to the reach and connection you can offer with their target market. This will require you to understand three things from the outset:
- Who their target market is.
- Who your supporter-base are (you may need to take a deep dive into your database to discover more about their demographics and psychographics.)
- What ways you currently use to engage and connect with your community of followers or members.
- Start the process by asking for their advice.
Yes, that’s right. You are not pitching anything to them, nor telling a story about why you are looking for sponsors, how you need funding to fulfill your mission or the various sponsorship levels they can choose from to get involved in your next event. Remember 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 your are on the same page, so let that aspect remain UNSPOKEN.
What you’re aiming for here is to seek advice from them about whether your initial research about 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 finite resource and I’m sure you don’t need to be spending time chasing brands that never have an intention of partnering with your organisation. I know I’d much rather know where to focus my time and energy!
- 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. Instead, ask smart questions that actually help you derive the information you need – whether this brand is a good fit. Questions like:
- Who is your ideal customer and 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) Why did you agree to meet with me today?
- When do you negotiate your marketing budget each year?
- How do you normally engage in sponsorship?
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.