Build relationships with donors before asking them to sponsor your event

sponsorshipsMy neighbor owns and operates a home business, and last week he received a letter from a local non-profit organization asking him to sponsor a no-show” event. Upon digesting the solicitation, he promptly scanned the letter and emailed it to me with a few choice words. To say he was upset would be an understatement. So, I thought this might have the elements of a good blog post about how to avoid donor reactions like the one my neighbor experienced.
I’ve decided not to share the letter because I’m not a fan of public shaming, but after reading the letter I am comfortable sharing the type of information they sent him. Included in the letter was:

  • date of the no-show event
  • brief explanation of how it works (e.g. send in your contribution and bid online for auction items)
  • list of sponsor benefits
  • sponsor menu (enclosed with letter)

In order to avoid making assumptions about the source of my neighbor’s emotions, I emailed him and asked him to articulate exactly what made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. This is what he said:

If you want a donation, ask. I feel that this is a deception. I just don’t get this warm and fuzzy feeling from the letter.”

My first reaction was . . . “Wow, that was a strong reaction!” However, after thinking about it for a few minutes, it dawned on me that:

  • my neighbor didn’t have a relationship with this organization
  • he didn’t have an emotional connection to their mission
  • he didn’t have much (if any) information about their programs
  • the case for support was implied
  • the idea behind a no-show event felt like a slick fundraising trick

I totally get it, and if time machines were a reality, I’d advise this organization to use it and change their approach in the following ways:

  • invest a little time in cultivating the people they plan on asking to sponsor the no-show event (e.g. sit down with prospects, provide info in advance about mission/programming, or at a minimum send a pre-solicitaiton mailing explaining the need and prepping them for the impending request)
  • get to know your prospect’s marketing needs and develop a proposal that speaks to those needs
  • commit to measuring the impact of the exposure that you’re committing to the sponsor (e.g. number of Facebook impressions, etc)

While I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing this organization sent their sponsor letters to a cold mailing list they purchased from a mail house or a chamber of commerce. Cold calls are a brutal way to raise money becauseĀ fundraising is all about relationships, which is why I’d only solicit people with whom you have a pre-existing donor relationship.
If you are new to the game of writing sponsorship proposals, I really like how outlined what a good proposal looks like in their blog post “10 Essential Steps to Create a Winning Sponsorship Proposal“.

  1. Sponsorship opportunity
  2. Marketing objectives
  3. Measures of success
  4. Value to the sponsor
  5. Unique marketing initiatives
  6. Terms & conditions
  7. Call to action

To learn more about each of these ideas, I encourage you to click-through and read their blog post. It is definitely worth the click and your time!
The bottom line? Engage your prospects/donors and build strong relationships and everything else will fall in place.
How does your organization approach special event sponsorships? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and opinions. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC