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5 Basic Steps to Corporate Sponsorship

A start-up charity’s most urgent need is usually fundraising. I am frequently approached by start-up charities who want help raising money from corporations. This type of inquiry is always a tough one. As someone who started my nonprofit career as a volunteer at a start-up charity, I understand the passion, and sometimes exhaustion, behind these requests, which can amount to: “Please help me find money fast!” 

I recommend that a charity complete these five basic steps before seeking sponsorship from leading brands:

1. Your website is consistent with the brand of your ideal corporate sponsor.  Your website, and other social media, is professional, accurately reflects the mission of the charity, and is consistent with the brand of the corporation you want to pitch. Would your dream corporate sponsor want to have their logo on your website, a common benefit of sponsorship? Your website is most likely going to have a big influence on the first impression a corporation has of you. If it is sloppy or looks like a placeholder, a company may actually think association with you would have a negative impact on their brand and reputation.

2. You have a polished sponsorship deck. Your sponsorship deck and marketing materials, like your website, are professional, well-written, and substantive. They show that you have  both business and common sense, as well as a reasonable plan to accomplish your goals.

3. You have a clear explanation for why you started the charity. This may sound obvious but I often find many charities can’t do it. If you are a new charity focused on breast cancer, you need to explain what makes you unique from the other more well-known breast cancer
charities. This usually speaks to the core of the reason the charity was established and your particular niche. Do you help a particular group of cancer survivors that no on else does? Do you provide a unique service? Whatever it is, the reason for your existence needs to be clearly understood by the potential funder after reading your materials. Ideally, you want to show that this isn’t a pet project created on a whim. You have well conceived reasons for starting this charity.

4. You can clearly state the benefits of sponsorship; not just how you will use the money to improve the world in some way but how sponsorship will positively impact the corporation. If possible, detail the positive impact on their image and their bottom line. If you do a good job at the latter you will really standout from other proposals. Most charities don’t spend enough time communicating why it makes good business sense for a corporation to sponsor them. Start-up charities or new projects can have a tougher time with sponsorship because they have no history of success to showcase. Nevertheless, include as many impressive facts as you can; facts that demonstrate just how professional and prepared you are. If you are hiring a publicist to help with media, consider adding the name of the PR firm to the deck.  If you have a media strategy, outline a few key points.

5. You have the capacity to actually do what you promise. I can’t say enough about this one. Don’t make promises you can’t keep or don’t have enough people power to carry out. If you are lucky enough to secure a corporate sponsor and don’t deliver, you are not only damaging your charity’s reputation, you are injuring the entire nonprofit community. That corporation will be much more hesitant about giving another charity a chance. Needless to say, that sponsor may well be lost to you forever.

As you can see, all of this requires a lot of work before you make the first ask. Can you get sponsorship without all of this? Absolutely. I’ve seen it dozens of times. Most likely, the sponsorship will be for small dollars, and until you make the necessary changes sponsorship will remain small dollars; maybe just enough to keep you on the hamster wheel of fundraising, each year receiving just enough to keep going but not enough to give any security cushion.

Unfortunately, this approach often leads to burn out. Few people can sustain the level of energy needed year after year.

Don’t despair! In my next post, Quality Marketing Materials, Not Quantity Lead to Sponsorship, I’ll make some recommendations about how to quickly get ready for higher level sponsorship deals.

Bonus Tip:  Don’t assume that the corporate sponsor has the same vision for the sponsorship as you do. Spell out all the customized benefits and full sales pitch either in discussions or in your materials. For example, for a car sponsor, specifically indicate whether they can have cars on site in a highly trafficked area. Don’t expect the corporation to assume that it’s possible or take the time to ask you. The man or woman to whom you submitted may read dozens of sponsorship decks a week. Make sure anyone can easily understand all you have to offer in one quick read.
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