Building Relationships to Boost Corporate Sponsorships

In May, Lewis Flax of Flax Associates led a Raffa Learning Community session called Generating Corporate Sponsorship Support. Attendees from service groups, membership associations, community-based nonprofits, service organizations and more brought their questions about how to establish and build corporate sponsorships.

Flax’s big take-away: stop approaching corporate sponsorships as one-off opportunities and start building real relationships that benefit both parties.

“I asked attendees to think about the last major event they attended and to tell me who sponsored the bags, key cards or coffee breaks. They laughed because no one remembered,” said Flax. “Corporations know this, and they are looking for a return on their investment in your event or organization.”

Flax noted that most nonprofits are often focused on a one-off transaction type of approach: Who can we get to pay for our badges? Purchase a table at a gala dinner? Make a donation? “This approach is not creating a relationship. Instead, every time there is an outreach, it’s a request for support. That’s not conducive to building a positive relationship or establishing a partnership where the corporation is going to invest at a higher level down the road,” he noted.

Flax encouraged attendees to think about their approach from the corporate side. Who is likely to handle these sorts of one-off requests? Typically, a lower-lever marketing staffer who is focused on logistical questions with little authority. As a result, if the interaction does not change, it is unlikely that the overall investment level will move to a higher level. Nonprofits should be trying to reach someone in charge of strategic business decisions, who can see the bigger picture.

“Corporations don’t want a one-off,” Flax said. “They want to expand their brand, improve their visibility, create opportunities for new business, or demonstrate their thought leadership within niche audiences – all things with which many nonprofits can assist.”

“Nonprofits that look for ways to provide value back to the corporation will usually have far more success when compared with continued solicitations,” he added.

“One corporate senior marketing executive commented that the nonprofits were treating them like an ATM machine – continually seeking support instead of offering value. This is not the way to build long-term, cooperative relationships,” said Flax.

Flax’s recommendations included:

  • Nonprofits should seek to differentiate themselves. Offer creative ways corporations can support your organization that help meet their strategic needs. When seeking higher levels of support, your ask should not be a generic prospectus or a rate card, but should show that you understand the goals of the corporation and how a partnership could be mutually beneficial.
  • Shift your thinking from transactional mode to relationship building.
  • Think about the industries most aligned with your nonprofit. Most nonprofits will have three to five aligned industries. Target the appropriate companies within those industries. Don’t waste your time reaching out to companies where there is no connection or likelihood of establishing a strategic alliance.
  • Figure out if your mission/cause is not a fit for corporate support. Some organizations should not spend time trying to chase corporate cash if there is no natural, mutual benefit.

View the slides from this seminar:

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