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Bernie Colterman, Managing Partnereducate-your-employees

Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing

As the competition for philanthropic dollars increases, more and more nonprofit organizations are looking at sponsorship as an alternate revenue source to more traditional fundraising methods. However, the transition to the marketing-based approach that is required for sponsorship-driven revenue is not easy for many organizations because it requires a mind-set that is radically different from traditional models. Some of these challenges include:

  • Working with large numbers of stakeholders who do not understand sponsorship and how it is different from the philanthropic environment;
  • Establishing “fair market value” for organizational assets;
  • Unrealistic expectations of what revenue can be expected (and when) from various opportunities;
  • Limited internal expertise to market and deliver the program; and,
  • A “business-oriented” culture that is typically not in line with the entrepreneurial approach required to market, negotiate and deliver on sponsorship agreements. 

Of all the issues, having a supportive internal culture is likely the biggest hurdle that nonprofit organizations must overcome to achieve success. Without an innovative, motivated and client-driven culture from all areas of the organization, the “sponsorship champion” or staff member usually ends up fighting an uphill battle when implementing a business model that represents a marked departure from the traditional “ask” model. As a result, often even the best laid plans get shelved because it’s simply too much effort to implement an effective program.

So, how do you build an internal culture that supports an innovative, business-oriented sponsorship program? Here are some key steps:

  1. Address perceived barriers as well as the “what’s in it for me” factor. For staff to be motivated, they need to see how a marketing-driven sponsorship program can benefit the organization without negatively impacting the existing operation. This can only be accomplished by addressing the issues or perceived barriers of the departments, individuals or regional staff that will be impacted by the program and address these issues upfront. 
  2. Educate your audiences. Most people have pre-conceived notions of what sponsorship is all about or unrealistic expectations as to when and how much sponsorship revenue can be generated. All major stakeholder group needs to be included in the education process including field staff, senior management team, Board of Directors and the community-at-large.
  3. Mobilize your potential sales force. Ultimately, you want to encourage all staff to become sponsorship-centric; that is to look for opportunities for potential corporate involvement as a means of operating more efficiently or generating new revenue. This means providing them with the information, training and mandate to identify and approach potential sponsors as a normal course of business. This also means recognizing staff for their efforts to operate more effectively through corporate partnerships. 
  4. Ensuring senior management and Board commitment to the program. A culture is not likely to change if support from the top is weak. A starting point is that corporate partnerships need to be positioned as a positive business strategy, and not a “necessary evil”. This means communicating success stories and publicly recognizing sponsors for their contributions.
  5. Go for the “easy wins”. You can’t change a culture overnight. The best approach is to implement the program in areas where you have the best chances for success (e.g. large numbers of defined audiences that sponsors might want to reach) and where there will be the highest level of acceptance (e.g. new programs or initiatives, special events). A few small wins is a great starting point for a broader cultural shift. 

Nonprofit organizations that take a more strategic approach towards sponsorship can be successful at finding new sources of revenue without risking damage to their brand or corporate values. However, these organizations must become more professional in their approach towards the positioning and marketing of their assets and “nimble” in their ability to respond to the unique requirements of potential sponsors. All this starts with having the pieces in place before going out to market, carefully managing expectations and focusing on the areas that are likely to be the most successful and least controversial.
 

Bernie Colterman is Managing Partner of the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing where he specializes in sponsorship valuations and strategies for the nonprofit, government and association sectors. Bernie assists nonprofit organizations across Canada in assessing their sponsorship potential and how they can leverage these assets with the private sector. He will be presenting two sessions on sponsorship at Congress 2013 in Toronto.

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