Beyond Bronze, Silver, & Gold: Building Better Special Event Sponsorships

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Want to maximize the notoriously low return on investment (ROI) of special event fundraising? Begin with corporate sponsorship. Building creative, effective sponsorship packages that appeal to businesses takes research and planning, but the results are more money raised and stronger relationships with community partners. Businesses Want Value from Sponsorships Once, while working as chief development…

Want to maximize the notoriously low return on investment (ROI) of special event fundraising? Begin with corporate sponsorship.

Building creative, effective sponsorship packages that appeal to businesses takes research and planning, but the results are more money raised and stronger relationships with community partners.

Businesses Want Value from Sponsorships

Once, while working as chief development officer for a large social service agency, I was making an advice visit to a major gift prospect who owned a financial services firm. I asked him what he expected from a top-tier nonprofit event sponsorship. His response: “Nothing. I know it’s just a donation, and I’m not going to see any benefit from it.”

Clearly, no nonprofit had ever provided this business owner top-tier benefits for his sponsorship dollars! Sadly, his experience is too often the case. Organizations approach businesses with their hand out, with neither party having any expectations of meaningful ROI for the company.

Attracting Corporate Donors

Leaving behind the limitations of traditional “gold, silver, and bronze” sponsorships provides real value for your event’s corporate investors. Here are some ideas for building better benefits so you can begin to net some serious dollars:

Preparation

You would never make a major individual gift ask without research and relationship-building, so treat corporate donor prospects the same way. How do you know what will appeal most to a corporate donor without first knowing their needs and how your organization and event can help meet those? A retailer’s marketing needs are going to differ from those of a manufacturing business. Home contractors or personal service providers will seek customers in different ways from banks and others in the financial management industry. Marketing strategies vary widely, across and even within industry segments. Know your prospects.

Approach

Again, treat the corporate sponsorship ask as you would a major gift ask. This is not a direct mail appeal; and using such a buckshot approach is a waste of time and money. Customize your proposal just for that prospect, and present only that level and those benefits in the face-to-face meeting. It’s only after a prospect has declined larger levels that you provide the entire matrix showing all cost/benefit levels.

Now for the Fun: Creating Creative Sponsor Benefit Packages

Earned Media

Supplement those wonderful in-kind media sponsorships by securing earned media promotion and coverage. This is “advertising” and community goodwill your sponsors can’t buy! Do remember that it’s OK to book on community interest programs (like local morning or afternoon news and lifestyle shows) outside of your sponsoring media; you simply – and carefully – avoid mentioning your sponsoring outlet.

If your event has a large enough revenue base, you might want to consider investing a portion of corporate sponsorship dollars in a modest buy with your media sponsors. Leverage your marketing contact (sometimes known as the outlet’s “community relations manager”) for access to their advertising decision-makers. Your strong relationships coupled with the philanthropic mindset of many local media companies can lead to a lot of bang for your buck, through a hybrid paid and in-kind promotional package.

Social Media

Social media is (mostly) free and easy, but a little extra care can enhance a benefits schedule for greater marketability. Create a unique event hashtag, opportunities for event guests to link and “like” the sponsor, and a photo area with sponsor logo(s) for guests to share event photos during and after the event. Look for creative ways to feature your largest sponsors across your digital platforms and get board and staff members involved in sharing to their networks. Speaking of platforms, be sure to include LinkedIn for those corporate sponsor shout-outs.

Access = Value

Access is often a primary component of your value proposition for business, so wield it wisely. Below are some of the nearly limitless options to consider:

Business to business opportunities, such as VIP access for client cultivation
What opportunities can you provide before, during, and/or after your event that your sponsors can leverage for thanking current clients or courting new ones? A community sign-up event, pre-event VIP reception, or after party? There are as many ideas as there are fundraising events!

Target audience access
The closer the overlap between your prospect and your organization’s constituencies, the better for ethically linking sponsors to their markets. (By ethically I mean no selling of lists, identifying clients, etc.) You control the access but provide the opportunity for your sponsors to speak to their audiences in a more direct way than can be achieved through traditional advertising channels.

There are often other ways to marry your sponsors and their target audience than simply putting them face-to-face at your event. Can you distribute a truly exclusive offer directly to your clients, donors, or volunteers on behalf of that sponsor? Can you connect clients or their families directly to vital information or services available through your sponsor?

Retail Traffic & Sales
Retail businesses want people in their stores and showrooms as well as incentives for sales. This a great time to reiterate that ACCESS IS A BENEFIT. That grocer or convenience store’s offer to serve as an event registration, drop-off, or pick-up site likely generates more direct profit for them than for the organization. The opportunity to increase store traffic and sales should be part of their cash sponsorship. Mutual incentives or discounts that drive both event participation and retail sales can be another win/win for both partners. This type of event-based relationship, if cultivated actively and creatively, can lead to year-round cause marketing initiatives, program sponsorships, and even board participation.

Couponing & Sampling
Like programs that help increase store traffic or provide mutual incentives, the opportunity to distribute discount coupons or provide samples or product demonstrations at your event is and should be treated as a benefit of sponsorship. This is an easy offering at every level and a great minimum sponsorship offering.

Time to Sell Some Sponsorships!

The nonprofit industry has made great strides in recent years toward rising above a “begging” mindset. To continue that trend, we all need to be smarter and more creative about building relationships with our communities, especially our private sector partners. You are doing important work that benefits your community. You are likely meeting needs that neither business nor government can fill, though all are reaping the rewards. Be just as proud, committed, and creative in your approach to corporate sponsorship as you are in fulfilling your mission.

Now get out there, Nonprofit Warriors!

Should you need help getting started, we’d love to put our extensive experience in special event management and sponsorship packaging to work for you. Contact us in the nest any time!

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