I had the pleasure of speaking at the AFP Congress in Toronto last week and the chance to speak with many people about the challenges of implementing a “sponsorship-based” revenue program in what has traditionally been a “donation-based” culture. I think that many organizations realize that the “corporate giving” pool is becoming increasingly competitive over limited funds and that to support or expand their operations, they must look to more commercially-driven sponsorships to diversify their revenue streams. The problem is that generating funds from corporate marketing budgets requires a radically different mindset and set of skills.
The first step is understanding the difference between donations and sponsorships. While corporate donations are focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) or giving back to the community, sponsorships are focused on more marketing-oriented benefits such as branding and positioning, customer acquisition and retention, increasing product sales or improving customer loyalty. Having said that, what we’re seeing more and more is a blending of the two disciplines where companies want to increase their community footprint, but still achieve clear marketing objectives. This is making it more difficult for organizations that don’t have a strong marketing background.
Here are a three strategic elements that any organization seeking sponsorship dollars needs to consider in order to appeal to the corporate marketing decision makers:
Understanding Your Audience – The shortest way to corporate marketing dollars is linking your audience with companies that want to ultimately sell products to that specific audience segment. In a sponsorship environment, your audience is your most important asset, so understanding who your audience is from a demographic (age, stage of life), geodemographic (where they come from), socioeconomic (education, income) and psychographic (values and lifestyles) is critical to understanding what kinds of companies have the best fit for your audience.
Understanding Your Brand – Next to your audience, your brand (what you stand for and how your customers perceive you) is a critical element for attracting the kinds of companies that want to align their brand with another of similar or complementary values. The only way you can appeal to companies at this level is by clearly and consistently articulating your brand (and brand promise) to the marketplace.
Understanding Your Market Position – Just as important as your brand, having a clear idea of your market position is essential for articulating the unique value proposition that you can bring to any corporate partnering arrangement. Let’s face it – there are hundreds and probably thousands of other not-for-profit organizations going after the same marketing dollars, so you need to be able to communicate what makes you different from anything else out there i.e. “we are the only national organization that focuses on XX issue” or “we reach XX audience at XX time of year”. This helps companies quickly assess the value of the opportunity and you can be sure that if they still want to talk after clearly understanding what kind of an opportunity you represent (at a high level), they are highly qualified leads!
The bottom line is that to make the shift from “donation” to “sponsorship”, you need to have a clear understanding of who you are, who your customers are and what makes your opportunity unique from anything else in the marketplace. By living your brand day-to-day, articulating your value proposition and turning your audience into willing ambassadors, the kinds of companies you want to be associated with will ultimately be attracted to you.
P.S. Congrats to the AFP Toronto organization for staging another great event!