Made Possible By

Succeeding with Sponsorship
By Patricia Martin

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-6502-2

Chapter One

Making the Transition to Sponsorship

WHEN NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS want to generate new revenue, they often turn to seeking sponsorship. The typical impulse is to use sponsorship to plug a budget hole or support a new project. The internal transformation this triggers is not immediately apparent. However, what many sponsees soon come to realize is that a sponsorship is a business deal, not a donation, and that working in the realm of sponsorship requires skills, attitudes, and insights very different from those important to everyday fundraising.

Sponsorship is a people business. This chapter introduces you to the motivations of the people who sponsor organizations like yours. It also uncovers the tangible and intangible qualities that make sponsorship a powerful tool for marketers. Knowing these qualities will help you understand why a sponsor will say "Yes!" to a partnership. Seeing your offering through the sponsor's prism will also help you make the transition to sponsorship more gracefully because you will know what sponsors know. This chapter begins your transformation from seeing your organization as a charitable cause that needs funding to seeing it as a valuable marketing partner. It is a transformation that many nonprofits are making. The following story illustrates the kinds of pressures and experiences that often mark the beginning of the transformation process.

Mark Janus, the new vice president for development at a free health clinic, has been asked to increase the clinic's corporate support by 50 percent. As a first step, he has set up meetings with the clinic's current corporate supporters to introduce himself. During these discussions he learns some hard truths.

The first meeting is with the manager of a manufacturing company's foundation, who glowers over her lunch plate. As Mark probes the foundation's current priorities, she confesses that the company is reorganizing. Her job is on the line. It seems the foundation is now considered dead weight by company leaders, and the new marketing director thinks he can put funds once assigned to the foundation to better use and is consulting the company's legal counsel to explore appropriate uses.

Mark's next meeting, with the local bank manager, is equally discouraging. He learns that the bank is being merged with a large conglomerate headquartered in a completely different region.

Mark's third and final meeting is the most promising because the decision maker he is approaching appreciates the clinic and thinks it stabilizes health care availability in the community. He does have a major guideline for sponsees, however, and he tells Mark: "We will no longer fund causes that have a negative image. No downers. It has to offer an upbeat message, with lots of great photo opportunities for our employees. Get the health clinic to fit that criterion, and we'll talk."

Mark drives back to his office wondering how negatively clinic clients would react to something like a wheelchair parade. With six months to erase the clinic's $60,000 deficit, Mark realizes he is facing more than a challenge. He is facing a transformation. If he is going to succeed, the organization needs to transform its thinking about working with companies.

This situation is common. Lacking a step-by-step process for seeking and obtaining sponsors, development officers tend to think of sponsor decision makers as they do private foundation officers, and they try to work with these decision makers as they would work with foundation officers. This sets them up for exhausting cycles of researching and writing proposals and then tracking and trying to influence lengthy decision-making processes, cycles that culminate more often in dead-ends than in satisfactory relationships.

Three Transformation Basics

At the heart of the transformation needed to break out of these futile cycles is a fundamental shift in thinking. As Bernie Griffin (2002), development director at the 5th Avenue Theatre, explained: "I had to change the way I looked at my organization-[from] being a worthy cause, to being a marketing asset.... When I got serious about sponsorship, I had to learn how to make a whole different case."

A Change in Attitude Comes First

After years of training nonprofit leaders and staff in the skills needed to work with sponsors, I have concluded that having all the right tactics and tools can take you only so far. Just as important is your attitude as you stand in front of the sponsor. People who succeed in making good sponsorship deals for their organizations have two hallmarks. First, they are genuinely interested in working with a sponsor because they know the alliance will yield something of value for both of them, something neither could achieve alone. Second, they have the conviction that what they are offering is a good marketing investment. The people who attend my sponsorship boot camps are all bright and genuinely want to master the process. Nevertheless they struggle with it. Why? Because they fail to understand that from the sponsor's point of view sponsorship is a business proposition. This must become your point of view as well.

It's Not About Your Need-It's About Your Value

Sponsees are often budget driven. So are their requests. This is revealed by the most common failing among newcomers to sponsorship. They price what they are offering based on what it costs, not on its promotional value to the sponsor.

One community organizer learned this lesson the hard way when she headed up a new playground building project. Her first few meetings with sponsors involved walking them through the budget for the playground. One of her best prospects chose the playground slide to sponsor. It was the most visible piece of equipment, which made it more valuable than the other items even though it was not the most expensive in actual cost. However, she sold it to the sponsor based on its cost rather than its value. This left her with less valuable but more expensive offerings for other sponsors, who were clearly going to be harder sells.

Understanding Why Sponsors Invest

Sponsors make investments in nonprofits because they wish to exploit the commercial opportunities associated with a specific event, cause, or organization. Sizing up the best deal requires the sponsor to consider both the tangible and the intangible assets that are being offered and that will help the sponsor sell more of its own products or services. When your organization makes an offer, you need to ensure that the offer features an appropriate mix of tangible and intangible assets, and then make the business case for the value of those assets to sponsors who can appreciate them.

Intangible Values Important to Sponsors

What sponsors find most valuable is the ability to link their brand to something their target market appreciates, to create an association between the brand and a positive experience in consumers' lives, especially their everyday lives. It is possible to create such associations using traditional advertising. But the impact of such advertising is as one dimensional as its delivery mechanism. Marketers turn to sponsorship because it offers them special assets that are important in people's lives and that sponsors can link with products and services to give them added importance in people's lives as well. Here are seven particularly important assets that nonprofits can share with sponsor.:

Commitment: The Magnetic Pull

Life is hectic and full of options. When people attend your nonprofit's event or pay a membership fee to affiliate with your organization, they are signaling their commitment. The gathering power of organizations and events provides sponsors with a shortcut to target audiences, audiences defined by the values their members have in common, not by what the sponsor's research dictates they should value. No one goes to the opera or participates in a 10K run for a charity on a whim. People who commit to these experiences are expressing a part of themselves that sponsors can link to in ways that run deeper than other forms of advertising do.

Lifestyle Validation

Our society grows increasingly complex. As it does so, the search for approval and reinforcement of the self will grow in power. "We never outgrow the need for approval and reinforcement of who we are," concludes clinical psychologist Sam Hamburg (2002). The values people hold and how they spend their time and money are expressions of the self. When sponsors make a lifestyle experience "possible," they validate the things their customers value and trigger a cycle of reciprocity in which the consumer rewards the company by purchasing its products. "We shopped for a mortgage, and we found the rates were all about the same, so we went with the bank that sponsored the marathon we run in every year," explained running enthusiast Charley Knapp (2002), "We figured, 'Hey, they support us, why not do the same?'"


According to Watts Wacker, futurist and author of The 500 Year Delta, "one of the most powerful of all emerging values is the demand for authenticity" ("Interview with Watts Wacker," 1997). When sponsors affiliate with a cause or event that has grown authentically from a communal desire to share an experience, they inspire trust and goodwill.


Beyond banners and signage, smart sponsors dig in to become a meaningful part of whatever they are sponsoring. They offer samples of their products, display their wares, and provide participants with more to do and enjoy. For example, Noodle-Kidoodle sponsored a children's creative castle at a regional Celtic Festival, creating a fun way station for kids of exhausted parents who were there for the rugby, hammer tossing, ale, and music. Parents relaxed on the sidelines while their kids wielded foam swords or colored in family crests on paper that doubled as store coupons for 10 percent off. Playing host to the harried consumer, being tactile and practical, are not things we attribute to traditional advertising.

Emotional Experience

Often people buy products for emotional reasons. In their report "The Power of Product Integrity," K. Clark and T. Fujimoto (1990) noted that emotions motivate buyers: "What they are buying are values, feelings and end benefits, not technologies and product attributes." Nonprofits typically elicit emotional responses from their members or clients, the sponsor's targets, and these responses can spread to organizational sponsors also. With sponsorship the message is the medium, and the message is embedded in the preferences and lifestyles of the targets themselves. The emotional component gives a sponsor's brand a more durable identification in the consumer's mind. A case study I developed from interviews I conducted before and after an event illustrates this identification process.

At a recent triathlon held at Stony Creek, Michigan, the Nissan X-Terra sport utility vehicle was the event's title sponsor. Many participants belonged to local bicycle, running, or swimming clubs, some for many years. Others were transplants from other cities where they had belonged to other biking or running clubs. Clearly, they were loyal to their clubs and their fellow members. "If a club member is up [to win] a medal, we have to stay around and cheer him on. It's all part of it. And when it's you, it feels great to have everybody cheering," explained Bruce Hayward (2002), a recent transplant from Rochester, New York. When a club relied for its existence on sponsor dollars, that kind of loyalty, that emotional commitment, was transferred across to the sponsor's products.

Not surprisingly, then, X-Terra SUVs dotted the parking lot of this sponsored event. As the manager of the event for X-Terra explained: "This is Nissan's second year with the event series. They have infiltrated the bike and running clubs and use them to get out [triathlon] registration information, scores, and to promote winners. They are really part of the scene. These athletes are proud to own an X-Terra."

Consumer Values

The research in marketing that laid the groundwork for the sponsorship revolution was done in the 1970s. It showed that marketers could benefit from aligning their brands with people's values because consumers' values influence their buying behavior. A value is a belief that a specific mode of conduct or a state of existence is personally or socially preferable. A person's lifestyle is an expression of his or her values. "Although opinions may vary and even conflict from time to time and situation to situation, values tend to be relatively enduring and have stronger effects on behavior" explained Durgee, O'Connor, and Veryzer (1996) in an article on consumer values and buying behavior.

In discussions of the role of personal values in buying behavior, the following five values are frequently ranked at the top of those that influence buying decisions:

Good health




Moral goodness

Suppose you are trying to get a sponsor interested in a cause-related marketing partnership (in which the sponsor creates and promotes its relationship with a charity, cause, or influential nonprofit to stimulate the purchase of products and for each purchase it gives a percentage donation to the cause). Think about how easy you can make it for a marketer to create messages that evoke moral goodness by tapping into your message. Consider the case of Harley Davidson and its support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

In our culture, the motorcycle symbolizes freedom of the open road. When Harley Davidson surveyed its customers, it found a link between freedom and mobility. Muscular dysfunction is a barrier to mobility and to the kind of freedom symbolized by the motorcycle. When Harley Davidson made muscular dystrophy its corporate cause, it aligned its brand with a profoundly held value and at the same time helped Harley Davidson riders achieve a sense of moral goodness.


Mercedes-Benz sponsors Tech Talks at COMDEX events for the technology industry because it wants to appeal to new economy aspirants who are hoping to acquire the trappings of traditional business success. Brands that require the buyer to pay more or to adopt an uncommon feature or new technology often sponsor organizations that offer them a connection to aspirational events and experiences.


Excerpted from Made Possible By by Patricia Martin Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.