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Nonprofit Event Sponsorship Horror Stories

Posted by Chris Baylis on Oct 19, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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The goal of this post is simple: learn from my mistakes! I have been doing nonprofit corporate sponsorship deals for charities, private companies, and associations and not for profits for a long time and I have had some great successes but I have also had some disastrous event sponsorship deals gone wrong.

I just did a webinar on all things corporate sponsorship and to my surprise, the crowd was far more interested in what I have done wrong and how to fix it than they were in my best practice tips…and so the idea for this blog post was born. Here are two stories about how I blew a sponsorship deal…big sponsorship deals!

Case Study 1: Who’s the Sponsor Here?

In this example, I closed a corporate sponsorship deal for $200,000 which included a host of sponsorship benefits for an education event for members of a particular profession. Part of the sponsorship proposal included significant brand exposure to the crowd, a call out from the stage and a selection of other “day of” sponsorship benefits.

On the day of the event the host of didn’t mention the sponsor….at all. Their sign was hidden behind a door and their VIP table was at the back behind a pillar. I watched in horror as my sponsor wandered the crowd asking “Do you know who the sponsor is for this session?” To her horror, nobody did.

They were unimpressed. My mistake was leaving the sponsorship activation in the hands of people who were not on my team and who were not corporate sponsorship experts.

Donor Acquisition Webinar

Happy ending? Yes! Because I knew that this sponsor wanted brand visibility in front of a specific group, we were able to turn their session into a webinar and deliver it to 3,000 professionals instead of just 200. We gave them a speaking opportunity to intro the video and then we did a survey and asked our members, “Who was the sponsor of this session?” The result? The overwhelming majority named our sponsor.

Case Study 2: I would Never Buy this Sponsor’s Product

This was another incredibly uncomfortable moment for the corporate sponsorship team and my sponsor. In a similar type of sponsorship, this time with a room of 500 my title sponsor proudly sat at the front of the room at their VIP table, with their CEO and several major clients. Check! Got them in the right place with the right visibility!

The speaker was a highly respected professional and academic. The crowd hung on his every word…and then it happened. The speaker spent 10 minutes telling the crowd how much he disliked the main product of the title sponsor.

I would like to pause here for a moment to really drive this home. 500 customers, CEO, major clients, key opinion leader…and that key opinion leader tore our sponsor apart.

Why did he do this you ask? Well, I asked the same thing after the event. The answer? The speaker didn’t realize the title sponsor owned that particular brand! The crowed reacted when he made the first joke and so he decided to do some improve.

Happy ending? Not this time. The sponsor pulled the plug on their multi-year sponsorship as well as a few other key investments they made with us. They didn’t come back the next year, and to this day do not support that organization.

The comments were completely innocent, no malicious intent at all. In fact, the crowd thought it was hilarious and probably didn’t make the connection either (though according to the sponsor, they definitely did.) The mistake was mine though, I should have prepped my speaker properly and been clearer about what was appropriate and what wasn’t.

Lessons Learned

Here is what I learned from years of doing sponsorship:

  1. No matter how much you plan, something will eventually go wrong, and that’s OK.

  2. When things go wrong, do everything you can to make it right.

  3. Have an activation strategy! Never, ever, move forward without an activation strategy.

  4. Always deliver a fulfillment report! This simple report has saved me more times than I can count.

  5. When delivering a corporate sponsorship deal, handle it personally. Never leave details to chance (this is really just another way to say…have an activation strategy!)

Most importantly, remember that even the largest companies are run by people! Real human beings, all of whom have made mistakes in their lives. Therefore you should always focus on building strong relationships with your sponsors so that when the time comes to ask for forgiveness, it is so much easier because your sponsor trusts you and likes you.

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Chris Baylis is a sponsorship and corporate fundraising specialist. Chris has managed the entire spectrum of the sponsorship process, raising millions of dollars for charities, associations and not for profits and is a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Connect with Chris via:
The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn

Topics: corporate giving, event sponsorship

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