Finding the Golden Ticket

It’s around this time of year that our mailboxes become flooded with invitations to annual galas and fundraisers for a variety of non-profit organizations, each doing their part to help raise funds for worthy causes. But gazing through the flurry of Paper City photos and post-event Facebook pics, we often wonder – did that organization reach their target goals? They may have put on a spectacular party and wow-ed the crowd, but did they succeed in raising the number of dollars they intended to?

When it comes non-profit fundraising, one of the most important yet daunting challenges they face is garnering the support of businesses and corporations that will give cash sponsorships. This can include both event sponsorships and ongoing relationships that last throughout the year. Bringing aboard a couple big corporate sponsors can really bring big benefits to an organization, especially if there is a long-term commitment. We’ve put together a few helpful tips on how to go about seeking out, securing and keeping these “golden tickets.”

1. Know your audiences

Before you get started on seeking out any and all corporate donors, make sure you understand what type of organization you are, where your supporters come from, what you provide (whether it’s community-driven, arts-oriented, health care, etc), and who attends your events, visits your website, uses your services, etc. These demographics should all be part of your brand strategy and marketing plan, one of the first things an organization does when they form, and your sponsors are going to need this.

In general, most non-profits have two distinct audiences: donors and recipients. Within those two main categories you can break them down further. Donors can be individuals, other organizations, corporations, foundations, government, in-kind, etc. It’s important that you know these because corporations will want to know who else supports you – they want to be able to fit in.

2. Who are your low-hanging fruit?

Most non-profits and charitable organizations have a Board of Directors – this is the first place you should go. Figuring out what sorts of relationships your board has, what YOU have, and what your employees already have within the corporate world needs to be priority. Often we cloud our vision with grand ideas of capturing the big one – an ExxonMobil or WalMart – when there are many other, probably more viable, opportunities right in front of you.

If you are planning an event and looking for sponsors, why not offer those friends or acquaintances of yours in decision-making positions at companies a spot on the planning committee. Perhaps even a spot on your Board if it looks like they are interested in long-term philanthropy. (Note: we highlighted “decision-making positions” because sometimes we get excited if we know someone who works at one of our targets…. but then they don’t end up being the contributor that we had hoped)

3. So what are your targets?

Think about what you provide as an organization, and how a corporate sponsor would benefit being involved with you. Remember that companies get hundreds of sponsor requests each month. Are your supporters primarily in a younger, 25-40 year old demographic? Think about large apartment complex owners (Camden, Gables), clothing retailers, restaurant chains, job boards ( or other companies that would target that demo. Are they primarily parents, or grandparents? Look for companies who would cater to them – electric companies, grocery stores and banks generally want to be associated with family-centric activities.

Now do your research. Instead of blindly going after everyone you can think of, spend a little time researching the companies you would like to get involved. Normally, you can find the types of organizations or events that these companies sponsor by doing some internet searching. In addition, if the company has an internal community outreach department they likely have their guidelines on their website:

Many companies have instituted strict guidelines for their corporate giving, and often they require a substantial lead time for applications submission. Give yourself enough time, especially when planning a large event, to fill out those applications and determine who your local marketing or community liaison is. Making a direct connection with that individual is important, as often times they are given a budget to work with for their region.

4. What can you offer?

When you’re putting together your corporate donor packages, be creative. Like we said before, companies are bombarded with requests for sponsorship dollars that all look the same – make yours stand out! In general, companies are going to be more apt to giving you a cash sponsorship if they can see that it is going to expose them to an audience that would be interested in their product or service.

For an event, some ideas include:

  • Name/logo recognition on invitation, signage, program, gift bags, etc.
  • Speaking opportunity
  • Tickets attend/tables for attendees
  • Sponsor “owns” a certain area (think festivals, parades, etc.)
  • Product giveaways
  • Special VIP preview party
  • Ability to bring an exhibit (show off a car if it’s a car dealer)
  • Category exclusivity (no other type of business will be present)
  • Logo and company info on website and any e-blasts
  • Name/logo mentioned in any tv, radio, newspaper, magazine, billboard ads
  • Trade show booth space
  • Special “goodie bags”

For an ongoing relationship, not specific to an event, some ideas include:

  • Developing programs with the company’s name on them. For instance, Spacetaker provides emerging artists with quarterly financial literacy workshops, sponsored by Amegy Bank.
  • Hold events at the company’s space
  • Provide advertising opportunities on your website
  • Give the company right of first refusal for event sponsorships
  • Offer a position on the Board of Directors
  • Use cross-promoting to promote a product of service along with your organization
  • Brainstorm with the companies you are targeting to come up with other creative ideas

5. Think like a Businessman

It’s very important that your mindset be focused on the fact that dealing with corporate donors is like handling business transactions. While your passion for your organization and those that you affect should be evident in all of your materials and interactions, keep in mind that it’s special and rare to find others, especially a corporation, who holds the same feelings. For your sponsors, they are looking to get the most out of the money they spend, which means you need to make those opportunities available for them.

Finally, we want to stress that it’s important to have all your ducks in a row before you go out looking for your big ticket sponsors. A well-developed and maintained marketing strategy, easy-to-understand goals and benchmarks that your organization has achieved, demographic information, and a clear vision of your future is going to make all the difference to a company who is looking to become associated with you. They do not want to get involved with a charitable organization if there’s a chance that it could look poorly to their customers and/or investors. As we said before, securing corporate donors is one of the most challenging things a charity faces, but don’t be discouraged. Keep your passion, it will take some time but you’ll get there!

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