What’s the difference between a sponsorship and a partnership?
I love working with organisations and events that are seeking to diversify their income streams, as well as 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, multi-layered 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?
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, and that their support of you, in turn, increasing your ability to achieve your mission and create the kind of impact your community needs.
Another reason is the fact that sponsorship has been so often confused with philanthropy.
It has been slow to change, but historically companies will invest in ‘sponsorship’ but often charities 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 there to be more measurable and accountable outcomes, knowing that they both have a role to play and a job to do to make it work.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re seeking a sponsor, partner or corporate support, the first rule of thumb is to always build a relationship with a well-aligned brand. Among other things, how do THEY feel about the words? What would THEY prefer to be referred to as? What kind of impact and outcomes are THEY wanting from the relationship?
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 mutually respectful relationship. That’s what matters – the relationship.
Should charities be moving away from the traditional sponsorship model and be looking more at partnerships with mutual benefits? Or a mix of both?
There are approximately 10,000,000 charities and For-Purpose organisations throughout the world 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 is the key to understanding whether sponsorship will work for you or whether you might have to try a combination of offerings to appeal to corporates for their support. Knowing things about your community of followers, like:
- 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.
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.
Is one of them harder for the charity to manage?
Securing a corporate investment 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 a 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.
Does it make more sense for particular sectors to seek sponsorship (e.g. sport), is it more successful for some rather than others?
Experience has shown me, for right or wrong, 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.
What should a fundraiser look for in identifying the right approach to make?
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.
When it comes to identifying the right brand to approach, the key lies in the people that make up your supporter-base. Your ideal sponsor will want to connect with them and contribute to the impact you are creating in this world.