You’re thinking about your next career opportunity, and you’re ready to take your next step towards a new position in sponsorship. You’re ready for a new challenge.
Good for you, and congratulations! Evolution, continuous learning, and challenging ourselves are what make life — and us as individuals — more interesting. Go for it!
Before you sign on the dotted line, however, don’t get caught in the quicksand of sponsorship positions. These are jobs that may sound great but actually may drag you down and prevent your success.
Here’s one version: Senior Manager of (Sort of) Sponsorship.
The position uses the word “sponsorship” in the title, but when you read the job description closely, it’s not really corporate sponsorship. It’s a corporate fundraising position. Or some combination.
Why is this a leg trap to look out for?
It says to me that:
- The organization doesn’t fully understand what corporate sponsorship is.
- You won’t have a boss who really understands how to support your efforts, especially if you need more advanced coaching.
- There may be magical thinking about the gobs of money this person will bring in, but the strategy, tools, operations, and infrastructure to support that effort will not be in place or will undermine it.
- The board may have very unrealistic expectations or won’t be much help either.
This is the sort of organization and position that should send up red flags as you’re job hunting. And it’s probably far more pervasive than you think. After all according to IEG’s most recent nonprofit survey, more than two-thirds of nonprofit organizations “view sponsorship no differently than philanthropy or simply as a category of funding for events and programs."
Years ago I worked with a client to interview top candidates for a position he was trying to fill, and one person we interviewed told us this nightmare he’d been in. He’d been hired by a major museum in Manhattan whose board had just approved moving forward with corporate sponsorship as a revenue source. They hired this individual, who wound up being highly successful acquiring sponsors. However, the board and senior leaders of the organization pulled the rug out from him over and over again when the implications of his success became clear. They didn’t really understand what they’d be getting themselves into and undid all he’d negotiated. They didn’t want logos anywhere or to fulfill the value he’d negotiated. Thus he was looking for a new job.
This afternoon a colleague forwarded a job description from another major New York City institution (not a museum), thinking maybe I’d know someone to forward the position to. Instead, I hit the delete button and wrote this post. It’s not a sponsorship position.
Here's some language from this job description (scrubbed of any identifiers to protect reputations) that provide you with the clues to look for. The qualifications or responsibilities include:
- …maximize financial support from corporations through sponsorships, strategic partnerships, special events and in-kind giving. Sponsorship is not “financial support.” Corporations that engage in corporate sponsorship are looking for an exchange of value for their fees.
- Manage a portfolio of corporate donors and solicit potential contributors. Is this a separate duty? Is this position responsible for corporate sponsors and corporate donors or contributors? Or has this organization conflated a donor with a sponsor.
- Assist senior managers in identifying Board members and other Senior Executives with ability to reach new and current corporate donors. This requirement is problematic on a couple levels. First, we see that “corporate donor” terminology pop up again (see #2 above). But more importantly, this describes a very passive, wishy-washy sales process. As sponsorship seller, you’re building relationships with corporate decision makers. You’re co-creating compelling and strategic ideas that provide high value to all parties. You’re not “reaching donors."
- Develop required collateral materials, advertisements and other forms of donor recognition. Again with the fundraising terminology: “donor recognition.” Is this a corporate philanthropy job or a sponsorship position? Or both?
- Knowledge of the business community in [the borough of this organization]. This is no small organization yet this sentence says it’s thinking small. There’s a big world of potential prospects out there, and if the organization is limiting itself to the pizza parlor down the street, it’s thinking too small for you.
- Knowledge of Raiser’s Edge, Microsoft office and donor research techniques. Again with the donor talk. If you’re researching corporate donors, you’re missing giant opportunities. What an organization funds philanthropically may be entirely different from what it sponsors. For example, an automotive company may support a STEM program to support future engineers, but outside the philanthropy office, that company is selling cars. Period.
Read job descriptions very carefully. Do as much to interview the organization as you can. Ask good questions. Meet with the CEO and with board members to be sure everyone is clear what sponsorship is and is not. Find out if you’re responsible for both roles (sponsorship and corporate fundraising) or just one.
Want to learn more about the sponsorship skills you should play up in your resume?