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Sponsorships and “feel good advertising” in fundraising

Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Sponsorship as a fundraiser

The concept of getting a sponsor to give money, services, or product to your cause is simple. You ask the owner of a local store, restaurant, or movie house, to forego their profit and give it to your cause for a day. In exchange, the caring company gets lots of recognition for being wonderful.

In reality, this is very hard to put together. What you are offering the caring company is “feel good advertising” in exchange for sponsoring your group. Thus, you are in the advertising industry, one of the most cutthroat industries in the world.

This being said, sponsorships are a tried and true method for non profits to make money.

ask for a pledge fundraising cartoon by copitch

Asking for a sponsorship

Before you can ask for a sponsorship from a business, you need to make sure you see your request from the business owner’s point of view. Large companies are asked for help all the time. I’m not exaggerating this.

A manager friend of mine oversees a large box store in my hometown. He tells me that he is called from his office a few times a week, where he has to walk to the front of the store so he can be asked for money. When he explains that the corporation has set policies for sponsorships, he is greeted by one of two reactions: understanding, or anger. “Oh, OK. Can I have the forms to fill out?” or “I shop here all the time. I thought you people cared about our community…!” He went on to tell me a story about one woman who got so angry that he had to have security escort her out of the store.

Corporate stores have strict rules that you will need to follow. By following these rules you may be able to get sponsorship, but it will take some time.

Get an introduction

It is better to have an introduction to someone in a medium to small company to help open the door. For example, every soccer team in my town has a sponsor. It costs $250 to $500 to get your company’s name on the back of some team’s soccer uniform. More than likely, the coaches of each one of these teams resorted to begging a friend to sponsor them.

The coach tells his friend that the company name on the back of the shirts will be good advertising for their company. But the business owner knows that it is very unlikely that his plumbing company is getting even one new customer from a team sponsorship. Often the business owner sponsors the team because it seems like the right thing to do.

When asking for a sponsorship, it is a good idea to offer the business owner a real benefit for her donation. For example, in addition to the name on the back of the uniform the team offers to make a huge thank you banner proclaiming: Ourtown Plumbing cares about the youth of Ourtown!

This is then signed by the kids on the team and their parents. The business owner now gets a pat on the back that hangs in her place business for all to see. The implied message to customers is ‘this business cares about our community’. Now that is worth some advertising dollars from a local business.

Thinking of the sponsorship as real advertising

Thinking of the sponsorship as real advertising will help the business owner write your group a check.

I once was doing a large fundraiser at a county fair when I ran into a problem. A local radio station was kind enough to give us 1,000 shirts to give away as prizes at our coin toss booth. The problem was that I had no way to securely store the shirts at the fairgrounds.

I approached the local franchise owner of a national moving company and asked to borrow a truck for almost 2 weeks. My incentive to the owner was that his truck would be front and center by the bandstand at the county fair. (A prime location) For the 11 days of the fair, his ‘advertisement’ would be parked next to the banner advertisements that other businesses paid $5,000 to have their names on. His total cost would be the loan of a moving truck. The franchise owner reluctantly agreed to loan us an old truck.

When I went to pick up the truck the day before the fair opened, I was given a brand new truck emblazoned with the the company’s logo - 8 feet tall and 15 feet wide. The owner was all smiles as he explained that the parent corporation loved the idea of getting one of their trucks into the inner sanctum of the fair. In fact, they loved it so much they sent him a brand new truck for him to lend us. Corporate understood the power of feel good advertising.

It’s about the sponsors

When it comes to sponsorships it is imperative that you understand that you need to help the potential sponsor sell their product or service. If you can show a company that for every dollar they donate they will make two, they will happily sponsor your cause.


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