I spend my time working exclusively with For-Purpose organisations (I hate the term not-for-profit!) and I would have to say that planning is the most underestimated stage (and therefore given the least amount of attention) when creating a successful corporate partnerships strategy. When you decide that you are ready to engage sponsors, you need to put a plan into action that ensures you have everything in place by the time you are ready to make your approach to a brand. Your plan should focus on maximising internal support (Board, CEO, the rest of your team) and ensuring you have robust organisational processes that set you up for success at all levels. Correct planning includes creating a culture of ‘sponsorship friendliness’ that recognises and promotes a whole-of-organisation commitment to support your efforts as the sponsorship-seeker. This is so important!
For-Purpose organisations that are successful at engaging corporate support are the ones that know why their supporters are a potential target market to a sponsor and what communication channels they can offer to leverage the ideal partnership. Let’s look at finding the right ‘fit’ next.
Finding brands that are going to make great partners for your organisation is obviously a vital part of the sponsorship process. Unfortunately, this is where most For-Purpose organisations choose to START their journey. The high priority need for more funds can, unfortunately, be where many sponsorship-seekers start to go off the rails and unwittingly set themselves up for failure.
How? That constant pressure can drive many charities and associations to approach any brand without fully understanding just how successful they could be if they had a clearer action plan. The challenge of commencing your sponsorship journey in THIS phase of the pathway to best-practice sponsorship means that you have missed vital steps in the process (like forgetting to create the foundation of your new house before putting the walls in!)
Unless you know what you have to offer, are supported internally and have policies in place that define how your organisation sees corporate partnerships, then you are potentially building your house on sand… and we all know how that turns out! Finding the brands that are willing to align with your organisation is not just about asking ‘who are we going to approach?’ It means taking the time to value your offering to sponsors, do your research to ensure a strong alignment and build relationships with potential partners before you send them a proposal. It also means understanding your vital role as a gatekeeper to a community of followers that are your sponsor’s ideal clients. This is when you really can start to get some traction in your sponsorship strategy.
Unless you know what you have to offer, are supported internally and have policies in place that define how your organisation sees corporate partnerships, then you are potentially building your house on sand… and we all know how that turns out! Finding the brands that are willing to align with your organisation (because they can see that you can put them in touch with their customers) is not just about asking ‘who are we going to approach?’ It means taking the time to value your offering to sponsors, do your research to ensure a strong alignment and build relationships with potential partners before you send them a proposal.
Connecting with partners who are aligned with your mission and can see the value of you being a direct route to their target market is a milestone worth celebrating! Understandably, many For-Purpose organisations get to this stage of the process with feelings elation, knowing what the value of this investment will mean to their programs or event, but this natural excitement can all too often lead many to take their focus back to their ‘core work’ and new sponsors and fresh promises are left forgotten, leading inevitably to difficult conversations, uncomfortable relationships and no chance of renewal or investment for the following year.
You must secure the connection and then the real work begins when you follow through and deliver, deliver, deliver! Ensuring you have the right tools and processes in place to make it as easy as possible for a partner to stay with you and enjoy the experience of becoming part of your ‘community’s family’. This includes knowing the finer points of negotiation, having a professional and legally binding contract ready to go, as well as knowing how and when to announce the partnership to media and key stakeholders and ensuring your whole team is proactive and responsive in their communication with your partners.
Renewing and upselling happy sponsors because you’ve become a vital part of their marketing strategy is the name of the game!
But too often well-meaning organisations employ months of hard work building trust, only to lose their sponsors because they haven’t delivered what they promised, or worse, created expectations that they weren’t able to keep. Servicing sponsors (aka delivering on what you promised), reporting (proving you’ve delivered) and seeking feedback as relationships progress (how can you improve or change hat needs to be delivered?) are all vital aspects of this stage of the pathway to best-practice sponsorship.
Renewing your sponsors is where everyone wants to be, but let’s not forget that the inevitable can also happen – partnerships will come to an end at some point. You may be the one to end the relationship, it may be your sponsor or it might be a mutual agreement. Not many people explore this part of sponsorship openly – often, you have to navigate it on your own. This phase is about ensuring that you are in control and can identify what’s best for your organisation to maintain your sustainability. As long as you are able to identify what is happening then you can still maintain respectful and collegiate relationships.
Once you reach this stage of the process, you are ready to flow back into the planning stage where you being to explore with your partners how you make this next year even better than the last. You both know each other by now, and understand much more about what’s possible. Make sure you don’t waste what is a golden opportunity to grow your relationship, organisation and investment and the spend the time you need to revisit the relationship with a view to seeking growth.