Our firm works with a wide range of government, professional associations and non-profit organizations to help them develop sustainable revenue sources from the private sector. Depending on the type of organization and their unique environment, the strategic approach we might recommend ranges from commercial sponsorships to strategic investment programs that help shape an industry or sector to cause marketing, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy. Often, it is be a combination of these different approaches.
It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that the “labels” that organizations put on their corporate revenue generation programs are becoming less meaningful because the traditional lines between these various corporate revenue strategies are becoming increasingly blurred. For example, when does a “sponsorship” become a “cause marketing” program? Or is a “donation” any less of a contribution if the donation is linked to a “corporate social responsibility” platform which is connected to a “marketing” issue?
My point is that organizations seeking corporate support use these labels to compartmentalize or position what they’re doing, but in the end, it’s all about companies doing what they need to do to be relevant in the eyes of their customers, shareholders and employees.
As an example, back in the late nineties – early 2000’s, I was involved in raising almost $5 million for Industry Canada’s SchoolNet GrassRoots Program, a national initiative to increase the use of technology in the classroom by providing teachers with a financial incentive for creating online learning projects. For each project, the teacher received $300, $600 or $900 depending on the extent of online collaboration with other schools. I was successful in securing major “contributions” from companies such as AOL, Cisco, Coral and Microsoft to help fund these projects. While the benefits these companies received were very “soft”, they viewed the program as a strategic investment which ultimately would build demand for technology-based products. And in fact, this program was instrumental in achieving the “tipping point” for the integration of technology in the classroom.
As a current example, I recently came across Alcatel-Lucent’s corporate responsibility program. On its web site, it says: “In 2012, Corporate Responsibility and sustainability will become part of the DNA of our company,” adds Mr Verwaayen. “Our customers need more eco-sustainable technology for their networks and the world needs innovative green solutions. As a global company, we also need to expand the diversity of our leadership and our workforce, in particular moving more women into executive ranks. And the very nature of our business means we have a responsibility to make communications more accessible, more affordable while being greener to ensure citizens across the world have access to the digital economy. It is not a nice-to-have. It is a must for our business.” From my point of view, while it may be labeled as a “corporate responsibility” initiative, there is clearly a strong marketing or business case for the corporate responsibility platforms they’ve chosen.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying what Alcatel-Lucent or any other company who takes a similar approach towards their corporate responsibility or donation program is stretching the truth. In fact, I think it’s very smart – they’re channeling dollars towards initiatives that build their brand and their business. And more and more companies should be adopting this strategic approach.
The bottom line for what I’m trying to say is that organizations seeking corporate revenue should spend less time trying to figure out how to label their program or which “pot” the money will come from and more time understanding the business or marketing needs of prospects and the unique value that they can bring to the table. In other words, why restrict what pot you want companies to give you money from? In the end, no matter what you call it, if it makes sense, companies will find a way to fund the program.
I’ll be discussing these and other related concepts at my upcoming Designing and Selling Your Sponsorship Program Workshops in Toronto (November 14-15) and Ottawa (December 4-5). I look forward to your comments on this post.