Jun 16, 2009 at 01:37 PM
written by Joe Waters

Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits

A cause is often the cornerstone of many sports and entertainment sponsorship platforms. Very excited today to add Joe Waters to our list of "Key Learnings" experts. Joe is the Director of Cause Marketing for Boston Medical Center, an avid blogger at Selfishgiving.com and a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. Even though his entry did not win last Friday's caption contest, he has agreed to lend us his insights on cause marketing, which is more important than ever after Performance Research revealed that 41% of consumers believe sponsorships of nonprofits should increase to raise opinions of corporate America. Here goes..

In the first of this series on "Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits," we're not in search of prospects or data for client pitches, but rather looking inward at what really drives successful sponsorship programs. There are four key questions that every nonprofit should ask themselves before ever researching a prospect or making a sponsorship call.

Where is your nonprofit at the intersection of marketing, business of philanthropy? It’s important to ask because most nonprofits aren’t even near the intersection. Truthfully, they’re usually two miles down the road on a side street that turns into a dirt road. And they don’t even own a card. If you look at other industries where sponsorships are prominent: conventions, sports, tech, etc., you’ll see that sponsorships are serious business. You too should plan to reroute your drive for success through this intersection, if not become a traffic cop smack in the middle of it.

Do you have relationships in place that will lead to sponsorships? It’s nice to think that we could all be magicians and pull a rabbit out of an empty hat, but we all know that’s a trick. Nor can you start a sponsorship program from nothing without a few tricks or lucky breaks. When I started at the hospital nearly five years ago I had three things in my favor: the support of two CEO’s, the first from iParty, the other from Ocean State Job Lots. The third was all the vendors with whom the hospital did business. Nearly all of the sponsors that we’ve recruited since 2004 are due to one or more of these three life-giving springs! So, that gets me back to my original question: what relationships do you have in place that will lead to sponsorships? Think about it.

Do you have an attitude that is more like a salesperson than a fundraiser? Bad news here for a lot of you. I rather agree with actor Anthony Hopkins assessment that talent is born not bred, which means for us that no vigorous, comprehensive training program is going to turn a fundraiser into a salesperson. When we were recruiting our first sponsorship salesperson a few years back, I remember meeting with HR and the other directors in development about hiring needs and the question arose on who I wanted to hire. “Experienced, driven, focused,” I replied. “You know, someone with a predator mentality.” That floored my other colleagues but summed up what I was looking for. I didn’t want a farmer, a grower, a caretaker. I wanted a hunter. Maybe that’s why everyone I’ve hired since has never worked in nonprofit.

Do you have a passion for helping others grow their businesses? One of my favorite quotes from Henry Ford is: “It is not the employer who pays wages; he only handles the money. It is the product that pays wages.” As a salesperson and cause marketer, I feel strongly that the companies I recruit and partner with are paying my wages and the bills of my organization. As Ford realized, the employer is just a go-between. We need to be passionate about helping sponsors achieve their goals, if for no other reason that it’s ultimately in our best interest. But all too often it seems staff is aloof toward sponsors, forgetting that if there are no sponsors, no programs. And if there is no programs, there is no funding for the mission.

The journey inside out also involves recognizing the true place of sponsorships in fundraising events. Sponsorships are too often seen as ancillary to event success. Important, sure, but not as important as attendees, walkers, participants and individual fundraisers in general (all of which are generally viewed as drivers of sponsorships). I believe just the opposite: that it’s sponsorships that can drive event participation and, ultimately, more sponsorships!

Here’s my argument for the sponsor-centric event.

First, the sponsor-centric event guarantees a level of success. How often do we come up with great ideas for events only to be faced with the same old problem: how to secure a minimum investment and participation to make the effort worth every one’s time and effort? Answer: a sponsor. Having a Halloween party for the kids of Boston was a great idea, albeit not a particularly original one, but it wasn’t until iParty chose to put its for-profit muscle and resources into the event that it could really become a reality. iParty’s sponsorship ensured that the event would happen, and while it didn’t guarantee success, it did give it a better chance. For the one-day event we planned five years ago I prayed for 2,500 people. We got 10,000.

Second, the participation of one key sponsor can leand to multiple sponsors, each contributing cash, bodies, assets and, yes, even more sponsors. iParty’s busy stores during October bewitched a lot of businesses that wanted the cross-promotional value of being in iParty’s stores at the same time. Eventually this led to a partnership with Staples that led to new sponsorships with businesses that wanted to share office space with the office supply giant.

Thankfully, the journey of working inside out heads straight to the real work of identifying which companies we should target for sponsorships, and who within those companies we should approach. In this post we talked about “Working Inside Out.” Next we’ll go in ”circles.” Prospecting Circles, that is.

Joe can be reached at Joe.Waters@bmc.org and followed on twitter at @joewaters and at selfishgiving.com . If you are interested in contributing your key learnings, shoot us an email at info@sponsorpitch.com