Last week, we had the great privilege of hosting a webinar with Chris Baylis (here’s the recording on demand if you missed it). Chris is an expert on all things sponsorship, and people eat his presentations up.
I think one of the things that makes his presentations so engaging and interesting to people is this: a lot of what he says is “counter-cultural,” yet common sense at the same time.
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Think of just about any nonprofit event or conference you’ve ever been to. I would be willing to bet money that there were “sponsorship levels” of some kind. You know the ones: gold, silver, bronze sponsors.
Chances are, there was some moment at that conference where somebody important went on stage and read off a list of sponsors under each level and their logo briefly flashed on a screen. Everyone in the crowd probably politely waited for them to finish reading and gave some obligatory golf claps.
At any time during that spiel did you stop and say “Wow, I need to go check out that brand after this!” Even if you did, what are the odds that you actually followed through with that?
I bet you even got a bag at the last conference you went to as well with a bunch of handouts in it. Did you sit down and read each one intently, being sure to drink in all the wonderful things those companies do?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Yet for some reason, this is the norm in the nonprofit world when it comes to securing sponsors for events. You send an email blast to your sponsor contacts with a menu of support levels that offer a bunch of benefits that might not actually be all that attractive to them from a business perspective.
Sponsorships are marketing opportunities, and marketing is all about standing out from the crowd. How well can they stand out when they’re picking from a menu of options that dozens of other businesses will also be picking from?
You Would NEVER Do This With Major Gifts
I’d be willing to bet that most sponsorship deals reach similar cash levels to major gifts at your organization.
If I went to a fundraising conference and told a bunch of major gift fundraisers that they should try sending an email blast to their major gift prospects with a menu of gift options with benefits spelled out, I would (rightfully) get laughed/chased out of the building. That would be ridiculous.
It’s simple common sense in the individual giving world.
Yet when it comes to sponsorships, that’s the default.
That’s why I think Chris’s presentations are so counter-cultural and common sense at the same time. What he says goes against the traditional sponsorship playbook, yet when you view sponsorships from the perspective of an individual giving officer, it makes so much more sense.
And really, isn’t this a better way to view sponsorships? Afterall, who’s at the other end of that sponsorship deal?
A person, that’s who! A real human being with thoughts, opinions, goals, and feelings.
Different Goals, Still a Human Being
That’s not to say that there’s no difference between individual giving and sponsorships. The goals between the two are obviously very different.
Individual donors are (typically) motivated by a desire to make the world a better place. They want to know their gift made a difference.
Businesses might be partly motivated by this, but any business will tell you when it comes down to it, it’s all about the bottom line. They sponsor things because they’re trying to connect with an audience.
In that sense, you shouldn’t treat your sponsorship as philanthropy (something Chris addressed in the webinar).
But that doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a person on the receiving end of your sponsorship proposal. For whatever reason, we’ve resorted to forgetting all about that and treating the people we’re pitching for sponsorships like an ATM. A machine that we send our proposal to and just hope they respond positively.
A Better Way
Once you remember that you’re pitching to a human, your whole mindset changes. Your focus now is just establishing a relationship. Starting a conversation. Not making a sale.
Chris has a brilliantly simple email template he uses that embodies this:
Simple, short, and human.
Beyond this, Chris advocates for throwing out the sponsorship level approach. Find out what each potential sponsor needs, and see if you can fulfill that need.
I’ve sat on the other side of the table for sponsorship discussions (the buyer), and this approach works. Last year, our friends Rory and Maeve approached us about a sponsorship opportunity for their upcoming conference. They didn’t offer us logo placement, or gold, silver, or bronze designations. They asked questions, listened to what we needed, and delivered on that. And the conference was a smashing success for all involved!
From #DonorLove to #SponsorLove
Just as there’s been a renewed focus and conversation around showering donors with love and stewardship, savvy corporate fundraisers should be showering their sponsors with love to. That goes beyond delivering ROI, to treating them like the human beings that they are.