Aug 24, 2009 at 07:51 PM
written by Gail Bower

2 Priorities for Improving Your Sponsorship Programs

Some positive economic indicator may be signaling the beginning of a rebound. Or maybe not, but we can only hope.

Nevertheless, now is the good time to focus on improving your nonprofit corporate sponsorship program, especially if you suspect it lacks value. Here are two important priorities for making improvements; you’ll find additional suggestions in my guidebook, How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times.

1. Marketing

Some nonprofit organizations can benefit by improving the marketing and promotional efforts that support their events, festivals, conferences, and initiatives. All the ways you market your event and connect with – and expand– your audiences provide opportunities for your sponsors’ benefit.

If you’re promoting your event at the last minute, you lack a strategy. If you lack a strategy, you’re missing opportunities to connect with ticket buyers, donors, registrants, or constituents, and you’re not providing your event or your sponsors with full value.

If your marketing materials lack the visual or verbal message that tells your story, enhances your brand, and drives people to want to be part of your event or sponsorship opportunity, you’ve got two strikes against you. One, you’re missing opportunities to connect and, two, you may be sending negative messages about what you have to offer, and therefore actually driving people away – including your sponsors.

Develop a long-term strategy and make a tactical plan that addresses who you want to reach, what you want to convey to them, and how you’re going to do it. Commit this to paper a year in advance and apply resources to it. When you’ve determined what your marketing plans will be, you’re almost there.

Next, you need to weave in assets from media partners, retail partners, and other promotional alliances you’ve created in the marketplace. Developing these types of alliances provide opportunities to build the buzz and extend your reach into your community. Plus they provide additional marketing cache to leverage with sponsors.

2. Assets

Many sponsorship programs only skim the surface of potential value they offer sponsors, and most do little to meet significant business or marketing objectives.

Let’s face it. A logo in a sea of other logos on the back of a marathon t-shirt is not going to do a whole lot to improve a corporation’s public image or to encourage sales. A package that includes a table for ten and name recognition in the event program book is really a charitable contribution with a set of tickets to the event. This kind of package is great for a company wishing to make a donation and has a rightful place in your resource development plans. However, it has nothing to do with real ROI, especially not in this economy.

Chances are the list of possible assets you do have to offer sponsors is more extensive than you realize. So, to get started, understand the value that you offer through the audiences with whom you have quality relationships. Then identify – or create – an inventory of assets that allows your partners to reach those audiences, interact with them, and develop a meaningful experience or connection.

Keep digging and probing. What else do you have to offer that is part of your core competencies, or is vital to your nonprofit mission, that businesses may find of value? For example, one client offers high-level sponsors access to a proprietary program that improves business leaders’ acculturation when conducting business abroad, information that is inextricably tied to its own mission

Another client, a New York-based hospital, had tremendous participation by its vendors in supporting its galas and golf events, but these underwriting opportunities did not represent the value of marketing-driven sponsorship. Furthermore, while the vendors courted the hospital’s business, the hospital’s development office lacked meaningful relationships with these donors and struggled to articulate the value of their sponsorship offerings.

As an interim step, before overhauling the entire program, we identified ways to enhance the program, including showcasing the donors’ corporate citizenship in video messages, white papers, and through other publicity efforts that the hospital and sponsor’s staff could easily implement. These pieces serve as testimonials by the hospital of the vendors as they seek new business outside the hospital.

What are you missing? How can you expand the value of your sponsorship program while also enlarging the world you serve?

This article is an excerpt from Gail Bower’s new guidebook, entitled How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times. To order the book, visit

Gail Bower is President of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC, a firm that assists nonprofit organizations and event/festival producers with dramatically raising their visibility, revenue, and impact. Gail Bower is a professional consultant, writer, and speaker, with nearly 25 years of experience managing some of the country’s most important events, festivals, and sponsorships and implementing marketing programs for clients. Her blog is and you can see all of Gail's past posts here.

photo credit via photobucket: alexandriaegypt