Corporate social responsibility is a frequent hot topic, but actually finding a corporate sponsor can feel like the wild west. There are no roadmaps—not because it’s impossible, but because there is no universal standard when it comes to corporate sponsorships for nonprofits.
What is Corporate Sponsorship?
If you’ve ever attended a nonprofit event and noticed the materials say “sponsored by [insert corporation name here]” or seen a parade float with corporate logos on it, you’ve witnessed a corporate sponsorship in action.
Corporate sponsorships are partnerships between a business and a nonprofit that exchange financial support for a positive brand association and tax deductions. In a corporate sponsorship, nonprofit organizations receive vital donations from a business that support their event, campaign, or other project. Typically, a corporate sponsorship means the business is able to publicly align themselves with the nonprofit’s mission and present their brand as generous and philanthropic.
So, how do you find a corporate sponsorship for your nonprofit? And, more importantly, how do you convince them to invest in your cause?
While there are no concrete steps to either, there are still ways to get your foot in the door—and, most of the time, that’s the hardest part. Let’s dive into some of our favorite tips for identifying corporate sponsors and delivering on what they want from your nonprofit.
Finding Corporate Sponsorships for Your Nonprofit
What used to simply entail knocking on doors now requires a lot of research, consideration, and prep work. Identifying and building relationships with potential sponsors takes time, so make sure you go in with a plan. Here’s how to find corporate sponsorships for your nonprofit:
Seek Companies with Similar Audiences
When you’re beginning your research, look for organizations that share your same audience.
For example, take a nonprofit like Friendship Circle of Michigan that raises money to provide adaptive bikes for families with special needs children. They might look for companies that sell bikes or athletic gear.
Consider partnerships with local businesses in your search, too. If your organization is a locally-focused one (in terms of supporters, programming, or both), businesses operating in your community can be some of the best prospective sponsors to consider. While they may not be multi-billion-dollar corporations, they likely have valuable connections with the local audiences you’re trying to reach.
Identifying companies that have something in common with your work will make it much easier to build a reciprocal relationship and form a corporate sponsorship. Google alerts are a great way to find local or regional companies that share similarities with your mission. Have your development team set a few search alerts up to streamline opportunity tracking!
Personalize Your Pitch
Unlike grants, which are financial donations given to nonprofits after an application process, corporate sponsorships benefit both the sponsor and the nonprofit. It’s a relationship focused around the needs of both parties.
Just as each nonprofit has distinct missions and corresponding needs, so do corporations. As tempting as it can be to lead with your organization’s mission, it’s also important to communicate what your nonprofit can offer in a sponsorship.
Customize your general partnership materials before reaching out to any organization. Be clear about what you do and how a corporate sponsorship can make an impact in your community.
If the organization seems interested in working together, make it even easier for them to say yes! Come prepared with a couple of different proposed partnership ideas. Sponsorship ideas could look like a social media contest or an event sponsorship. This allows the business to have a clear view of what a partnership would look like with your nonprofit and what they would get in return.
Be Open to Having Conversations
Opportunities are everywhere. Not all conversations will end in a formal corporate sponsorship with a 2-year contract and hundreds of thousands of dollars, so keep your eye out for opportunities for smaller sponsorships. Give people good reasons to meet with you, get them excited about your work, and develop the relationship from there.
There is no big corporate sponsorship directory, so the only way to know whether or not a company would work well with your nonprofit is by asking.
Be Clear About Your Needs
Being clear about your organization-wide goals and plans will allow you to have more productive conversations with potential corporate sponsors as you begin reaching out. Do you need a corporate sponsor to offset food costs at your big annual gala? You probably wouldn’t want to ask a very small business for that level of sponsorship. Do you need a local company to donate items for a silent auction? That small business may be the perfect partner! These details will help you and your staff make effective proposals instead of wasting time and energy reaching out to sponsors that don’t fit what you need.
Don’t Rush Into It
Building and maintaining sponsorships are a big time and energy commitment. Before entering a nonprofit corporate sponsorship relationship, stop and think about what you can and can’t offer to your community partners.
Being upfront and clear about what you can offer will help you find the right sponsor for your organization. Focus on fostering relationships and check in regularly to see if any new opportunities have opened up. A potential sponsor may not be a good fit today, but they might be a good fit tomorrow.
How Nonprofits Can Win Corporate Sponsorships
To win over a corporate sponsor, you need to put yourself in their shoes. What do companies that offer corporate sponsorships for nonprofits want from a partnership?
When asked, businesses will typically say something like:
- “We’re looking for a partnership with an authentic mission fit”
- “We want opportunities for employee engagement, like volunteering”
- “We need PR opportunities to improve brand perception”
And these statements can all be true. But how do they actually measure their progress toward those goals? They can do it through the impact reporting your team offers. They need you to help them prove the impact of their monetary support.
Provable returns are more important than ever before. Businesses want to be able to share their impact with numbers and stories because simply sharing the fact that they’re a sponsor isn’t enough anymore.
If they want to partner with you because of your mission fit, give them details about how their support resulted in positive outcomes for your community, like how many people you served or how many dollars went toward effecting change in your area. If they want to emphasize employee engagement, report how many hours their employees spent volunteering at your organization. Understand your corporate sponsors’ goals, then report how their partnership with your organization is moving them toward those goals.
This might seem overwhelming. Don’t get discouraged! There are a lot of ways to make your nonprofit attractive to corporate sponsors, regardless of the size of your organization. Here are some of our favorite tips:
Know What You’re Willing and Able to Offer…
Now that you have an idea about what corporations want in a partnership, it’s time to take a step back and determine what your organization can offer a possible sponsor.
When determining what you have to offer, remember to include every department in this conversation. Sit down and discuss upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and available reporting metrics. This meeting will prepare you to walk into any sponsorship conversation confident in what your team can offer in return.
…And Know What You Can’t
It’s essential to be clear about what you can contribute and lead with your offerings. But it’s equally important to understand the capacity and resource limits of your staff and volunteers before making promises you can’t keep.
By understanding what your nonprofit can’t offer, you can quickly weed out corporate sponsorship relationships that wouldn’t be a good fit for your organization. This will also be beneficial down the line when you create a written sponsorship agreement.
Communicate Your Expectations Clearly
Before entering a conversation with a potential sponsor, create organization-wide expectations with the different teams at your nonprofit. This is especially important if you’ll rely on other staff to fulfill your sponsorship obligations. You may not think that providing daily metrics for a social campaign will be a big lift on your development team, but checking in guarantees that it will be a manageable ask.
When corporate sponsorship expectations align with your nonprofit’s long-term goals, your team can enter a sponsorship search with confidence. Agreed-upon guidelines will help you find a sponsor that aligns with your mission and needs.
Neon One Tip: Be clear about what you’ll provide to each company in return for their corporate sponsorship. As tempting as it is to lead a sponsorship conversation with your mission, the truth is that no matter how great your nonprofit is, corporate sponsors are looking for what they can get in return for their support.
Equip Your Donors to be Advocates
Even when a donor fully supports your mission and delights in being a part of it, they may not think to share it with others in their lives. But securing corporate sponsorships for nonprofits is another area where donors can shine.
Encourage your most loyal supporters to advocate for your nonprofit and provide templates that make it easy for them to spread the word. They can make an even greater impact by sharing the opportunity to sponsor your organization with their employers.
Use Your Data to Tell a Compelling Story
Your data will help you articulate the connection between your sponsor’s dollars and your nonprofit’s outcomes. It’s essential to discuss data collection techniques when reviewing any and all sponsorship opportunities.
Track all sponsor-funded activities under the same campaign so you won’t have to sift through unorganized data when the time comes to run a report for your partnering company. This is crucial—there’s no better PR for a business than a story packed with meaningful data.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Forming a Corporate Sponsorship
Are you a fundraiser who wants to start developing corporate sponsorships for your nonprofit but isn’t sure how to get started?
Our friends at Double the Donation created a resource just for you that dives into more detail on what it takes to build a corporate sponsorship relationship and ask for support. Download the free guide below!
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