As a Sponsorship Consultant, I am honoured that I get to speak with many charities, For-Purpose organisations and events that are seeking to diversify their income streams, as well as lots of companies that are looking to invest in opportunities that will bring them the marketing outcomes they are seeking. There is no doubt that in recent years there has been a shift away from the term sponsorship, towards the much more collaborative feel that the word ‘partnership’ conjures. Some sectors still use the word sponsorship to refer to the investment companies use to support their events, and partnerships can refer to their annual corporate relationships, but really there are so many words that are being used to describe these relationships, including supporters, angels, helpers, allies, patrons, friends and champions that it has become rather a personal choice for an organisation.
Why is the language between sponsorship and partnership shifting?
I feel that there are several reasons, including that as a ‘partner’ companies want to feel that they are part of your supporter’s experience, they want to feel that you are a united team when it comes to making a difference in your community.
Another reason is the fact that sponsorship has been so often confused with philanthropy. (I’ve written a free eBook about this called the ‘5 Myths of Non-Profit Sponsorship’ that you can download it at www.infinitysponsorship.com.au/free-ebook-5-myths.) It has been slow to change, but historically a company will invest in sponsorship and the charity may not know what to offer in return or how to fulfil that relationship and so they do nothing (or very little), ultimately treating the investment as a donation.
The word partnership really has a ‘two way relationship’ feel about it and thankfully more and more companies and organisations alike are seeking partnerships in order for both parties to get the most from the relationship, knowing that they both have a role to play and a job to do to make it work.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that there is a tendency emerging to get a bit caught up with the wording sponsorship vs partnership. These two words, in my view can be used interchangeably, and my reason for that is it is what you DO that counts more than what you SAY YOU WILL DO when it comes to creating successful partnerships. My first rule of thumb is to always build a relationship with a prospective sponsor. Among other things, how do THEY feel about the words? What would THEY prefer to be referred to as? Once you understand their point of view and how they’d like to interact with your organisation, then you are on your way to building a beautiful and mutually respected relationship. That’s what matters most in my opinion – the relationship.
That’s a really great questions and an incredibly hard one to answer! there are approximately 700,000 charities and For-Purpose organisations throughout Australia and New Zealand and each one is different from the next. Not just in terms of the community they serve, but the mindset of the Board and CEO and whether they have the staff to support a sponsorship strategy and manage partners effectively and so on. I think the key lies in two things:
Really diving into the demographics of your supporter base. Who are they? What things do they have in common? What problems are they seeking to solve in their lives? What things, products and services are they buying? Can you see some patterns emerging from the group of people that you call your community?
Doing your homework on companies out there who are looking to solve the problems that your supporters have. They might have a product, service, an event, something that will support your community. Once you’ve identified them, you need to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Tell them who you are, what you do, what your research has uncovered and some of the ways that you could offer them interaction opportunities with your community of followers. If you’re not so comfortable about picking up the phone and making a cold call, I’ve created a webinar called ‘Mastering the Art Of Cold Calling’ with lots of scripts and templates to help you get the most of out those calls you need to make! Check it out at https://www.infinitysponsorship.com.au/mastering-the-art-of-cold-calling/.
Now, I’ve simplified the process somewhat for the purposes of this article, but if you’re new to sponsorship, these two steps are a good place to start.
Securing a corporate investor means that you have successfully created a mutually beneficial relationship. Whether they are supporting your event or partnering with you over the long term is really irrelevant in terms of which is harder to manage. For anyone who is actively working through a sponsorship strategy, you will know that it is hard work! Sponsorship is not a quick fix. After all, sponsorship (like all fundraising) is relationship based, and it takes time to build trust and rapport. Your ultimate goal is always a win-win-win. You have to ‘win’ by having financial or in-kind investment that supports your organisation, your partner needs to ‘win’ by being able to grow their business as a result of their investment and MOST IMPORTANTLY, your supporters have to ‘win’. If they feel like they are being spammed or bombarded with messages from a company that has no relevance to them and their lives then they will leave your charity in droves. Your supporters are always your main focus, that’s why I strongly recommend diving deeply into your database before you throw open the doors to seek sponsors. The more you know your own community, the easier you’ll find it to make the right alignment with a partner.
Another great question and a hard one to answer because the charity sector is so rich and diverse! Experience has shown me, rightly or wrongly, that religious organisations seem to have the most difficulty in attracting a wide range of sponsors, but there are many ways that companies and charities can partner – not just pure sponsorship, but cause-related marketing campaigns, corporate social responsibility and other unique ways to co-create that come about by simply establishing a relationship and understanding what you are both trying to achieve.
I know many fundraisers focus on the fundraising pyramid and see sponsorship as being such a tiny part (just 8%) of where their fund diversification can come from, but I see sponsorship differently. They are your major gifts, contribute to capital campaigns and make your special events a masterpiece. The great thing about sponsorship is that it is untethered funds. Once you secure a sponsor it shouldn’t matter if you put that investment towards your programs, your digital marketing strategy or attracting great staff to your team – it is about growing your organisation and becoming more sustainable. Sometimes a sponsor may have a particular pet project that you run that they want to contribute to, but that is the exception, not the norm.
Over the years, being a Sponsorship Broker on behalf of some fabulous For-Purpose organisations I have been able to reverse engineer my pathway to best practice sponsorship, based on four distinct stages of the process – Plan, Find Connect, Keep.
Since then, I’ve built an entire education strategy around four very important questions. How do I create the best plan to attract sponsors? Where do I find the sponsors that are right for my organisation? How I connect with them and successfully connect them to my organisation? How do I keep my sponsors year in, year out?
I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in the small amount of space that I have left, but I have written a free eBook on the very topic of identifying the best approach to take, how to work out what to offer a potential partner and what questions to ask to make sure you are really getting the most out of that initial relationship-building phase. It’s called ‘8 Tips To Give Your Sponsorship Strategy A Headstart’ and it’s packed with templates and checklists for you to use right now to get you started!