Nonprofit Sponsorship: 3 Key Questions

Michael Savino

You’ve probably heard the story of legendary criminal Willie Sutton, who, when asked why he robbed banks, responded, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.” Now whether Sutton actually said that is debatable, but many fundraisers have picked up on the lesson and ability to see the obvious. You want money? Figure out who has it and who’s “giving” it away.

One answer to the “who has money” question is corporations. You look at a company’s profits and wonder how the corporation is “giving back” to the community — and then ask how the company’s largesse may benefit your mission and the people you serve.

Often our first path “in” to a corporation is through its foundation or organized giving program — philanthropic vehicles with which fundraisers are very familiar. But what about nonprofit sponsorship? About 30 years ago, “cause marketing” became a real avenue for major corporate brands to position themselves within the larger social structure, aligning with nonprofits in order to garner social acceptance. Suddenly, companies were investing dollars in nonprofits, not only to support specific organizations, but also to help build their own brand loyalty — a new way of thinking, a new mindset.

Fast-forward to today: In 2014, corporate sponsors were projected to spend over $925 million on the arts alone. And the top three companies sponsoring the arts?

  1. Bank of America
  2. Wells Fargo
  3. JPMorgan Chase

As a result of the astronomical growth in sponsorship and cause marketing, many nonprofits have followed the “money trail” and built up their sponsorship efforts. This makes sense as organizations struggle to find new revenue sources and can no longer afford to rely solely on traditional funding from foundations, individual donors, and corporations.

There will always be those motivated by a purely philanthropic mindset, and that’s a good thing. But know that when you’re pursuing sponsorships, you’ll be talking to a corporate marketer, and that person will analyze your nonprofit to determine whether the proposed relationship can support the company’s financial goals.

Understand a Potential Sponsor’s Business Goals

By now you may be asking, “So how do I make an appeal to a marketing person?” The first step is to understand the business goals of potential sponsors and whether your organization can support these goals.

How do you know? A good indicator is whether you can answer “Yes” to the following questions:

  1. Can my organization offer customers that the sponsor wants to reach?
  2. Do I have tangible benefits that will enable the sponsor to engage my audience?
  3. Can I package my assets into a proposal that is priced right for the sponsor?

Customer reach? Tangible benefits? Package my assets? Where’s the discussion about my organization’s mission or the fact that we list funders in our annual report? That’s a discussion you’d have with a corporation’s foundation. If you want sponsorship dollars, go make a deal!

I’ll be expanding upon this discussion of the “corporate marketer mindset” in a Foundation Center webinar on Wednesday, February 25, from 2:00 – 3:00 pm ET, Sponsorship for Nonprofits: Putting a Price Tag on What You Do. I invite you to join us for this 60-minute session, in which we’ll walk through the methods to identify and price your assets and build a proposal.

Have you been successful at getting corporate sponsors for your nonprofit? What questions do you ask to help you get into a marketer's brain? Share your successes and frontline lessons in our Comments area.

MICHAEL C. SAVINO is a marketing and communications professional with more than 25 years of experience working for and with nonprofit organizations and public attractions. He currently serves as advertising and social media manager at Resorts World Casino New York City, where he leads media buying, creative, sponsorship, and social media efforts, as well as overseeing the casino’s Digital AV Department. Michael has provided marketing and communications services for organizations such as the Arts & Business Council of New York, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Heckscher Museum of Art, and the U.S. Department of Education. He is an adjunct journalism professor at Dowling College and has guest lectured at New York University in the Museum Management Certificate program.

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Learn more about corporate sponsorship with these items from our collection:

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How can I find corporate sponsorship? Where can I find examples of sponsorship levels? (Knowledge Base Article)

A Corporate View of Arts Funding (Podcast)

What is cause-related marketing? (Knowledge Base Article)