Jun 23, 2009 at 03:58 PM
written by Joe Waters

Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits: Prospecting Circles

A cause is often the cornerstone of many sports and entertainment sponsorship platforms. Today's "key learning" comes from Joe Waters, who is the Director of Cause Marketing for Boston Medical Center, an avid blogger at Selfishgiving.com and a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. In addition to winning 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.

The next stop in our series on Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits is identifying the prospects for sponsorship. This section will have you going in circles, but I promise the exercise won’t be in futile!

Going in circles is actually a good thing when you see them as rings making up a target. And when I prospect for sponsorships I–like you–aim for a bullseye. But for you that bullseye is a sale, while for me it’s something different.

Dotting my bullseye are my current sponsors. These are my closest supporters and excellent prospects for additional sponsorships. But that’s not all. Without ever writing an additional check, they provide important connections to new prospects and sponsors.

For example, when I started at the hospital, I had three targets in my bullseye: iParty, Ocean State Job Lots–two longstanding hospital supporters and sponsors–and the numerous businesses we collectively called ”hospital vendors” that are dependent on the hospital for revenue. When I started the cause marketing/sponsorship program five years ago I began with these three entities. And whenever I created another sponsorship opportunity through the years, I visited this group first. Sometimes it was to sell them another sponsorship, but often it was to get their help to bridge the gap to a new sponsor. This worked, and thanks to their help and example we brought, among others, Staples, Papa Gino’s and Citizens Bank into the fold.

I would have been happy to spend all my time prospecting within my bullseye (Being somewhat lazy I subscribe to a modified KISES principle I learned from the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Only in our Simple, Easy and Spontaneous actions are we strong.”) but I ran out of easy targets and had to move to the second outer ring: companies that knew of the hospital but weren’t current sponsors. You know who these companies are too. They know you exist, and are probably even supportive of your organization in some small way, but they are not current sponsors.

For example, the Boston Bruins and their foundation knew of my hospital and its great work, but it wasn’t until this past January that they finally sponsored an event. But their familiarity with the hospital always made them a good prospect for sponsorship and a regular second stop if iParty, Ocean State Job Lots and other ”bullseyes” took a pass. It just took time to get them to yes. [Note: just because a sponsor doesn't say yes right away doesn't mean they're not interested or shouldn't be pursued. A good prospect is a good prospect, forever.]

Another was Zipcar, a Boston-based car sharing company that is a hospital partner (being a large urban hospital with 5,500 employees, a million visitors and a tight parking situation, we need transportation options!). Zipcar knew the hospital well, and finally became a first-time sponsor last fall at Halloween Town.

The last and outermost ring is where I spend most of my time prospecting for sponsorships. These are companies that don’t know the hospital and aren’t current sponsors. Most of my sponsors over the past five years have fallen within this circle: Shaw’s Supermarkets, Finagle Bakery & Cafe, Borders Books, Bugaboo Creek, Valvoline Instant Oil Change and the list goes on and on. The team recruited them the old-fashioned way: cold calling. But that doesn’t mean the sponsors in my bullseye and second circle didn’t play a role. They did. They provided me with the contacts and/or credibility I needed to make a compelling case to a company that had never heard of us or our events.

More than circles or rings, prospecting for sponsorships creates ripples of opportunity. At the center are your core supporters and sponsors from whom you draw funding, strength and leads. They in turn create opportunities and leverage at the second ring with companies that are supportive but not sponsors. The disruption there creates even more activity and success at the outer ring, which ultimately feeds the center and starts the process anew.

In the second part of Prospecting Circles we’ll look at some of the places to find and cultivate great prospects, including through social media.

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