People often agonize about the presumably negative impact corporate sponsorship will have on nonprofit organizations or their municipalities or parks. A recent Huffington Post piece, The Eternal Non-Profit Dilemma: How Much Corporate Sponsorship?, summarizes a few of the concerns perfectly:
- Corporations will take over and the nonprofit will have no control;
- Sponsors' money may go away; and
- A corporation most in need of an image boost would sully the nonprofit's name and reputation.
Stop the agonizing. Here's the good news. You have control over your sponsorship program, and you have control over these issues.
You may think you have no control, but you do. You must set parameters and policies generally and with each opportunity you create. Your sponsorship operation should set an intention: "to partner." You know your event or opportunity inside out, and your sponsors know their businesses. You must guide them to developing a specific opportunity with your event or initiative that works for both of you.
You get to say how they may leverage the sponsorship on site. You get to develop ideas with them that bring their brand to life. You get to help them meet their business goals and at the same time educate them about sponsorship of your event. Sometimes you also have to say "no."
Yes, sponsors' investments may go away some day. The marketplace is dynamic. New strategies, new products, new leadership, and new realities all affect corporate plans. This piece does fall out of your control. However, three elements are in your control:
- Developing sponsorship relationships should be an ongoing activity so you can diversify your revenue. Do not put all your eggs in one basket.
- Keep each sponsorship relationship and execution fresh. Stay current with your sponsors' goals and develop ideas constantly to support them.
- Strive to grow each sponsor's involvement and investment in their sponsorship.
No relationship will last forever, and you may find this to be a good thing.
Your organization should only partner with those companies that are very well-aligned with your organization or event's purpose or mission (among other criteria). If you don't, the sponsorship will not be successful, your credibility will be harmed, and the money will go away. Corporations want results from their sponsorship investments, and they will not derive results if your audiences and opportunities don't allow that to happen. It's in your best interest, therefore, to say "no" to a potential sponsor that is not the right fit than to take the money.
A few years ago, a young development manager at a nonprofit that preserved Pennsylvania farmland attended a workshop I conducted. With a pained look on her face, she asked whether agreeing to a partnership with a real estate developer who wanted to sponsor an event of theirs was something she should pursue. When I suggested she explore this developer's future plans, reasons for wanting to sponsor, and the firm's values and goals, she was relieved. So pressured to generate revenue at all costs, she knew that this company might not be the best fit for her organization's brand.
If partnering with a particular company is akin to partnership with your arch enemy, why are you having the discussion. A peace organization would not partner with a gun manufacturer or a defense contractor. An anti-obesity organization would not partner with processed food or beverage companies. An organization for older women would not partner with a company selling sneakers to 18-24 year old men.
Find companies that are aligned with your mission and who are seeking to engage with the audiences you reach. Develop great ideas for each other and build the relationship – and new ones – over time.