5 steps to corporate charitable cheer!
Without a doubt, nonprofit organizations work tirelessly in our communities to provide critical services and programs, and they are surely deserving of our stewardship at the individual, corporate, and government levels throughout the year; especially around the holidays.
For many companies, though, these year-end requests come en masse during the always busy holiday season, and it’s often a mad rush to respond to deserving organizations who are requesting essential support.
So, here’s what I’ve found to be 5 tried-and-tested corporate sponsorship strategies to not only navigate your holiday season sponsorships but also establish a well-rounded sponsorship program that supports your marketing efforts all year:
1. Place Sponsorships in Your Marketing Plan & Budget
Sponsorships are a marketing activity, and they should be tracked in your corporate marketing plan and budget because they serve two important functions for a company: 1) Brand Building; and 2) Community Relations.
Treat each sponsorship as an intentional marketing tactic, and they will be a force in generating revenue and building relationships for your company as a return.
As a rule of thumb, I tend to allocate 20% to 30% of the marketing budget to corporate sponsorships and partnerships.
2. Avoid the Friendship Principle
A marketing colleague once told me about how her CEO approved a $20,000 sponsorship for a guy to parachute into a stadium while carrying a flag with her company’s logo. I asked her how that decision was made, and she simply said: “He’s friends with the team owner…”
When working with companies on their sponsorship strategy, I often come across the friendship principle as a major factor in how they determine sponsorships throughout the year. This is the common refrain I hear when I ask how a sponsorship decision was made: “Because [insert nonprofit executive name] is a friend of [insert CEO, manager, or sales representative name].”
Of course, networking and relationship building are critical to your company’s success, but what I’m saying here is that this isn’t a comprehensive approach to judging the recipient’s worthiness of your sponsorship dollars. Your decision can start with the friendship principle, but it should also include some other important considerations:
- Are we honoring the ‘client-first’ policy? Your nonprofit clients deserve your support!
- Do we have nonprofit prospective clients who we need to support?
- Does this sponsorship increase brand awareness?
- Does it fit into our established categories and guidelines (see #3)?
3. Establish Categories & Guidelines
As a company, it’s important to have established sponsorship categories and guidelines in place to help nonprofits and organizations clearly understand what your company is willing to support or not. It’s a timesaver for both you and them.
For example, I tend to gravitate toward youth sports and education as sponsorship categories that I’d like my company to support. I’m not big on supporting political organizations as a business (I might personally, though), so I would exclude these sponsorships on my category list.
Also, guidelines help nonprofits deliver their proposal to you in an effective manner. By outlining the information your company needs to make a decision, your sponsorship manager or marketing director will have the info they need to further research and determine a response.
Once completed, post your categories and guidelines on your Website—along with a sponsorship application.
4. Establish a Timeline!
Some companies certainly keep a miscellaneous budget available for sponsorships as requests come in throughout the year, but I’ve found that establishing a timeline is a better way to be consistent and effective year-to-year with sponsorships. And, a timeline and guidelines give your sales team a policy to point to when they need a kind way to say ‘no’ to a sponsorship request.
Right under your guidelines on your Website, post when organizations should send requests—and when allocation decisions are made. If you’re not sure how to say this nicely on your site, I’d be glad to help!
5. Be Proactive
I’m not a huge fan of marketing budget surprises throughout the year, so being proactive is a priority for me during my budget-writing season (September through November). Being proactive also means that I’ve thought about December 2020 in November 2019; and there’s room in my 2020 budget for last-minute requests.
I want to reiterate the importance of including sponsorships in your overall marketing strategy. We know that consumers align themselves with brands that share their values, and there’s no better way to showcase your corporate values than to support community nonprofits and organizations such as high schools (public and private), sports teams (professional and amateur), and the arts—to name a few.
By thinking through your corporate giving guidelines, categories, and sponsorship budget, you’re going to think through your list of key organizations in the community that you’d like to support. You should especially look at current nonprofit clients as a priority (they’re supporting you!), prospects, and other high-value impactful sponsorships that could build your brand and increase your community relations efforts.
The Bottom Line
In my marketing mix for companies, I give as much attention to sponsorships as I do to digital and social media efforts. Sponsorships impact so many categories within your marketing plan from personal selling to public relations, and they can fuel your brand-building efforts within a highly competitive market.
December shouldn’t be the first time you’re looking at your sponsorships. Corporate social responsibility, overall, is a critical facet of your marketing and branding strategy, and your sponsorships should be intentional and well-planned each year to maximize their return.
Saying ‘no’ to a deserving nonprofit is never easy, but if your efforts are planned out—and you’re able to communicate a coherent reinvesting message in your community—your company will never come across as a sponsorship scrooge.