How to Make Your Nonprofit Attractive to Corporate Sponsors

Sponsorship Is a Business Deal, Not a Donation

Charity race.
•••  Philip Gould/Corbus Documentary/Getty Images

Why Corporate Sponsorship Is So Important to Charities

Corporate sponsorship of charitable causes is enormous.

IEG, the organization that tracks these things, reports that total sponsorship spending by businesses just in North America was likely to reach $23.2 billion in 2017.

Those numbers include all sponsorships, not just those for charitable causes and events. Still, the corporate interest in nonprofit sponsorships has been impressive and grows more so each year.

Why? Because business has been brisk for those companies with a heart. Consumers want socially responsible products and companies, plus today's employees want to work for socially responsible companies.

Of the total dollars spent by businesses on sponsorships, nine percent goes to causes often through cause-marketing partnerships, four percent to the arts, and four percent to festivals, fairs, and annual events. Your nonprofit could be among the fortunate causes or events to receive some of this corporate generosity.

The question for your charity is: how can you attract a share of this money?

Fortunately, more and more charities have learned how to approach a potential sponsor, prepare a proposal, and persuade a sponsor to sign on. Even smaller nonprofits have gotten into the act.

Good nonprofit sponsorship partners realize that this is a business deal, not a donation. They also know that the skills to get corporate sponsorships are different from those that work in everyday fundraising.

Why Do Companies Sponsor Charitable Events?

Knowing what motivates businesses to become involved with charities, either as sponsors or cause-marketing partners, can help you plan your approach to them. There are many business benefits of sponsorship, but here are the most common:

  1. Attracting customers to a brand and keeping them interested
  2. Distinguishing the company's brand from competitor brands
  3. Changing or strengthening a  brand image by humanizing it
  4. Improving company or product awareness and visibility
  5. Attracting customers to a retail store or a particular product.
  6. Showing community responsibility or corporate social responsibility
  7. Getting more involved with a community
  8. Building the company's credibility and educating the public about its products and services
  9. Persuading the public to sample a new product or to demonstrate a new product or service
  1. Entertaining key clients (can be substantial when sponsoring cultural or athletic events)
  2. Targeting a particular demographic
  3. Recruiting, retaining or motivating employees
  4. Nurturing talent and teaching new skills to employees

How Can Charities Attract Corporate Interest?

Patricia Martin, the author of Made Possible By Succeeding With Sponsorship (Buy from Amazon), has written extensively about how charities can develop the skills, attitudes, and insights that make working with corporate sponsors easier.

Martin, a specialist in matching nonprofits and businesses, says that nonprofits have to change their attitude first. Those who succeed show:

  1. Genuine interest in working with a sponsor because they know the partnership will benefit both organizations.
  2. The conviction that they have a substantial marketing investment to offer the sponsor.

It's not enough to sell your mission to a corporation. Martin says that nonprofits should price their proposals on their promotional value. Sponsors must be able to see the commercial opportunities of an event, cause or organization. 

Nonprofits don't often think about "positioning." But that is a big part of marketing. Mazarine Treyz, an expert in the field, reminds her nonprofit clients that there are two ways to position your charity when it comes to getting corporate sponsorships.

First, consider how your organization compares to similar ones in your area. How can you sell yourself as the best nonprofit to stage this event or run a particular program? You needn't denigrate your competition, but by comparing yourself against it, you can come up with talking points for your corporate target. You might be able to come up with your own USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

The second way to position yourself is to look at the corporation and its employees. For instance, are there people working there who would be natural allies for you? For example, is there a strong emphasis on family values or a women's group within the company? Does your forte lie in those areas? You could reach out to that particular group and find people to advocate for you.

Thinking about "positioning" might inspire you to approach a company differently.

Although corporations are more interested than ever in their social responsibilities, the bottom line is that they expect to gain market share and boost their brands through their nonprofit partnerships.

It is as simple as that.  It may require an attitude adjustment for many charities. If so, put on your hard hat and make the necessary changes to your organizational culture. Just remember that the right business partnership can bring good things to both company and nonprofit. 

Patricia Martin spells out in her book the tangible and intangible value that your organization can offer. Charities have to understand the consumer values that drive the success of any good corporate/nonprofit partnership.

Are You Ready for Corporate Sponsors? A Reality Check

To see if your organization is ready for a corporate sponsor, Martin suggests this checklist:

  • Do you keep in touch with your followers through e-mail, website, events, newsletters, social media, or advertising? Many large nonprofits have all of these. However, if yours is a small nonprofit, you can still compete within your local community.
  • What do you know about your demographics? Do you know who engages with your cause and why? Where do they live? How far do they drive? Are they repeat users, donors, volunteers? Are they young families, empty nesters, or teens?
  • Have you worked with corporate sponsors before? Do you have testimonials from corporate executives about the value of your organization? Do you feature those in press kits or other marketing materials?
  • What is your competitive environment? Are other organizations similar to yours getting corporate sponsorships?
  • You'll want to meet face-to-face with a handful of prospects. But first, create a list of companies headquartered in your area. What do they produce and to whom do they sell? Are there potential cross-promotions with an existing sponsor?
  • Are you a member of civic organizations so that you can understand and mix with the business community?
  • Is your organization entrepreneurial? Are new ideas welcomed, and do they receive thoughtful consideration? Have you organized other commercial or revenue-generating activities over the past five years?

    Thinking like a business is sure to make your nonprofit more competitive when it comes to corporate sponsorships.