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

Corporate sponsorship spending for 2018 was expected to reach $24.2 billion in North America and $65.8 billion worldwide, according to projections by IEG, an organization that tracks sponsorship activity. This represents an increase of 4.5 percent in North America and 4.9 percent worldwide if projections are met.

These dollar figures and the projected growth means there are opportunities out there for nonprofit organizations that rely on corporate sponsorships. The challenge is convincing those doing the sponsoring that your organization can be a valuable business partner for them.

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 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
  10. Entertaining key clients when sponsoring cultural or athletic events
  11. Targeting a particular demographic
  12. Recruiting, retaining, or motivating employees
  13. Nurturing talent and teaching new skills to employees

Attracting Corporate Interest

Patricia Martin, the author of "Made Possible By Succeeding With Sponsorship," 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 nonprofits have to show genuine interest in working with a sponsor because they know the partnership will benefit both organizations. They also need 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 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. 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 unique selling proposition.

It's also important 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.

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 still can 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. 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 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?