I spent some time back when I was living in Waterloo volunteering for the Grand River Film Festival. Naturally I was best suited to help them with sponsorships, which I did. My experience in fundraising is mostly in direct response or face-to-face mid-level asks, so as much as I had skills to bring to corporate sponsorships, I also learned a lot.
One of the things that surprised me at first was that when I cold called a company to talk to them about sponsorship, I was directed to the marketing department. Most companies don’t have a corporate social responsibility arm, but I guess I figured I’d be redirected to somebody senior who controlled the budget. No – it was marketing.
But of course this makes sense – as warm & fuzzy as philanthropy can be, it’s also a way for companies to market themselves. “Look! We’re not just a company who makes tires! We also care about the community!” I don’t mean to take away any of the altruistic nature of giving, because there’s a lot of that, too. And I don’t blame a company for leveraging sponsorships for marketing purposes.
If companies see sponsorships as marketing, then we need to give them marketing value when we solicit them.
That means no more Gold, Silver, & Bronze sponsorship packages, folks! (Read this AMAZING post by Rory Green. She knows about this way more than I do.)
As for what I want to say on this topic — think different!
I met two lovely women when I was in Winnipeg two weeks ago – Laura & Julie Mikuska of The Mikuska Group. Laura and Julie are fundraising consultants in Manitoba, Canada, and they shared a term with me that I’d never heard and just loved:
(I hope I got that term right.) Operational Sponsorships, put simply, are tangible sponsorships. Instead of being the Gold sponsor (what’s that?!), you could be the… cookie sponsor at a foster home! The chew toy sponsor at a pet charity! The MRI sponsor at a hospital! The sky’s the limit.
You connect the company with something that feels aligned with their business and/or mission, and then you make sure you can position it in a way that adds significant value to their company. Everybody wins!
The point is, the old ways aren’t working. Companies’ marketing dollars are precious and sometimes few, so we need to give them an ROI worth sponsoring for.
What are your best corporate sponsorship tips? Let me know in the comments!
Written by Maeve Strathy
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.