About 10 years ago, I took up ceramics. The first class I took at one of the country's premier institutions, Philadelphia's The Clay Studio, host to the upcoming NCECA conference, was a hand-building course. I learned all sorts of techniques for creating pots, and the one I loved the most was using slabs of clay. Eventually, I began making tiles.
To make a slab, you flatten a chunk of clay to a desired thickness, using either a slab roller or a rolling pin, the same type more commonly used in kitchens to make dough. Because I'd done some woodworking earlier in my life, I gravitated to slabs because it's possible to create similar kinds of pieces using both media. However, the trickiest thing for me about slabs was reminding myself that this smooth, evenly thick material wasn't wood. It was not solid, it had memory, and it became more fragile as it dried. On the other hand, because it was malleable, it was often more forgiving, allowing me to repair mistakes or change course when I had new ideas. I had to learn new skills appropriate for my new medium.
When you take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, or launch a new initiative, you're bound to uncover new techniques and new ways of doing things that are necessary for your success. When we insist on approaching this new initiative using our old skills, probably we're not going to be successful. If I insisted that drying clay not be delicate, I'd have had lots of frustrating moments at The Clay Studio.
What does this have to do with sponsorship?
In the last week, I've read two articles about government officials attempting to launch sponsorship using old techniques. Colorado Springs has introduced a sponsorship program to "help bail the city out," and the New Jersey Department of Transportation is considering naming rights to its Turnpike stops "to help Gov. Christie overcome an $11 billion budget deficit."
The old skill? Bidding. Both government entities are looking at putting their sponsorship opportunities up for bid. Sounds like one part wishful thinking and a major part not understanding the nature of corporate sponsorship development. Wouldn't it be great if it were that easy?
Nonprofit organizations often get stuck in an old skill set, too. They try to sell sponsorship using the tactics of the annual appeal: mail out a bunch of letters and wait for the checks to come sailing back in. Unfortunately that's not how it works either.
If your organization or governmental office plans to launch a sponsorship program as a way of generating new revenue, and you're clear that you have great value to offer the corporate sector, you're going to need to learn new skills. Sales skills.
You're also going to have to develop a better strategy and more compelling marketing messages than the bailout, deficit recovery messages of Colorado Springs and NJDOT.