Sponsorship Levels: Love 'em or Leave 'em?
Research by IEG over the years shows us that about a decade ago, corporations that work with nonprofit organizations began asking for “benefits” in exchange for their “gifts.” This request effectively conflated philanthropy with the marketing medium known as corporate sponsorship and continues to confuse both nonprofit and corporate leaders.
Nonprofit development officers, on whose shoulders it fell to figure out what their corporate funders were looking for, were stumped. Ultimately, what emerged were the generic “sponsorship levels” that many organizations put forth as corporate sponsorship — today’s Gold, Silver & Bronze packages.
Calling Gold, Silver & Bronze levels "sponsorship" is like someone thinking he's experienced New York because he visited New York-New York in Las Vegas.
However, calling Gold, Silver & Bronze packages corporate sponsorship is like someone saying that he’s been to Paris or Venice or New York City because he went to Paris, The Venetian, or New York-New York hotel in Las Vegas. It is not the same thing.
You can say I’m splitting hairs and arguing semantics. Afterall, if a company sends your event or initiative money, aren’t they technically “sponsoring’ it, in the dictionary version of the definition, and isn’t that a good thing?
My vote? No.
I will provide you with as fair and balanced a picture for and against as I can develop, and I welcome your discussion and comments. So far, I have 10 cons, 2 pros.
Here are 10 reasons to consider moving beyond and even abandoning Gold, Silver, & Bronze (or other named but equally generic) packages.
Generic. The biggest problem with Gold, Silver & Bronze is that they are generic. Every business is unique. You can take five banks and each will offer personal checking accounts, business checking accounts, mortgages, commercial loans, and other offerings, but each one does so differently. Each has its own strategy, brand identity, goals, talent, level of innovation, and other distinctions. By offering a business something generic, your proposal fails to take this differentiation into consideration.
Claustrophobia. Business leaders feel claustrophobic looking at generic offerings. It says, “take it or leave it.” Imagine walking into a boutique that only sells red clothing, with the shop owner smugly sitting behind the counter, with a “take it or leave it” attitude. How inclined would you be to shop?
Misses the point. Most Gold, Silver & Bronze packages are a bullet-pointed list of inputs (as opposed to outcomes) and almost never offer the most important characteristic about corporate sponsorship — that it’s experiential.
Undervalue. Because these packages are a collection of inputs, they are filled with low-level and even no-value “stuff.” Therefore you’re undervaluing what your organization really has to offer, which, in my experience with clients, is usually considerable.
No focus on ROI. These packages also are the antithesis of what corporations are looking for — to generate a return on investment. They want to increase sales, build traffic online or to a retail store, encourage product trial, build thought leadership, influence opinion, build client relationships, or accomplishing myriad other significant business goals. By their very nature, generic offerings are not focused on outcomes.
Competition. Competition for sponsorship dollars is fierce, and you have some formidable opponents — sports teams, festivals, fairs, arts organizations, causes, municipalities, state parks and city transit stops. Even media organizations are producing their own events as a way of connecting with readers or viewers and selling sponsorship opportunities combined with their media inventory. If you show up with something generic, your proposal doesn’t stand a chance. Your competitors will win.
Sophistication. Corporate sponsorship decision makers are buying sponsorship all over the world. Each relationship and new commitment sets the bar higher and higher, and the sophistication levels and preferences buyers have increases. Nothing signals a lack of sophistication than a generic offering. Undermines organizational and individual value. You may be damaging your personal and organizational repute by presenting what you have to offer in this way, thereby eroding confidence and self-esteem in an endless loop.
Low fees. Because generic offerings are of very low value and are not focused on what marketers need to accomplish via their marketing strategy and activities, Gold, Silver & Bronze sponsorship levels are priced accordingly — with low fees. Many organizations unwittingly take it a step further and offer “sponsorships” at $500 or $1000, which is not even worth your time.
Volume undercuts value. Because you have to charge low fees for these generic, low-value offerings, you therefore need more of them to realize anything substantial towards your event or program revenue. For example, if you sell $1000 sponsorship offerings, you need 20 to reach $20,000, and as you know, you can’t produce much of an event for $20,000. And here’s the kicker — and get ready because it’s a double whammy.
This reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live episode in which the character makes change. You give him a twenty-dollar bill, and he gives you a ten, two fives, and five ones. Ask him how he makes any money, and he says, “in volume.” You’ll see that the thread running through each of these ten considerations is value. Sponsors want it, will pay for it, and Gold, Silver & Bronze does not provide it.
I promised you two reasons to keep the generic Gold, Silver & Bronze packages, and today I make good on the promise.
Contribution. Gold, Silver & Bronze or some other generic designation is really a contribution by a company or smaller business that wishes simply to make a donation to your cause or organization and prefers only a modicum of recognition. That’s legitimate. And here's the good news. It also means you need not provide all that stuff that these generic packages usually include. Rather, it means it’s a contribution and you need to sell the business owner or leader on your cause and mission. Don’t give away the shop.
Pipeline. I presented a keynote speech recently for the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and then moderated a panel discussion with several others, including my friend and colleague Pat Feeley, a leading national nonprofit fundraiser based here in Philadelphia. He noted that one reason he keeps Gold, Silver, & Bronze packages in his arsenal of fundraising approaches is to build a pipeline of interested corporations. If a company makes a contribution via the Gold, Silver & Bronze package, he and his team pay attention, build the relationship, and explore other ways to engage the company.
As I mentioned above, value is a thread that runs through my 10 reasons why generic packages should be jettisoned — because there simply is not enough value. Even these two reasons to keep the generic approach maintain the value principle. Taking a fundraising approach, you still want to focus on value to make sure that your corporate contributor is connected to your cause.
I’d love to hear your comments. Do you have any other reasons, pro or con, based on your experiences?
Gail Bower is President of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC, a firm that assists nonprofit organizations and event/festival producers with 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. She offers running commentary on sponsorship at sponsorshipstrategist.com and allows us to republish here when the subject fits. Follow Gail on SponsorPitch here.