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The corporate sponsorships guide for nonprofits

Here's everything you need to know about corporate sponsorships, including how they work and five steps to secure a sponsor.

Rachel Mills
September 21, 2022
December 23, 2020
Nerd Mr Butter

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Corporate sponsorship is an agreement between a business and a nonprofit, group, or individual that benefits both parties: A company provides a certain amount of financial support to an organization in exchange for opportunities for a sales boost or positive press. 

Let’s jumpstart your corporate sponsorship strategy with our guide that includes everything you need to know about this lucrative opportunity, including six steps you need to take to secure one for your organization.

The benefits of corporate sponsorship? Let me count the ways…

If you’re mulling over the benefits of corporate sponsorship for your organization, may we suggest you consider the age-old fundraising refrain:

“It takes money to raise money.” 

This sentiment rings true whether you’re raising funds for your nonprofit, a political campaign, or a ragtag youth soccer team. Between event materials, marketing and advertising, and payment processing fees, the cost of fundraising quickly adds up. A corporate sponsor is one solution that can eliminate many of these costs and let you hit the ground running instead of starting out in the hole.

With the support of a corporate backer, you can set yourself up to reach more people, provide more quality services, and get more publicity, which in turn leads to more donations, ticket sales, and volunteer support.

So, what exactly does a corporate sponsor do? And what do they want in return?

Corporate sponsors are usually for-profit businesses—although bigger-budget nonprofits often sponsor events or campaigns for smaller groups—that donate money or other resources to a nonprofit group, whether as an ongoing financial contribution or a boost for a single event or fundraising campaign. In return for their generosity, the sponsor receives certain promotional opportunities in order to reach more potential customers, not to mention a reputation boost thanks to the good work of the group to which they’ve donated.

Recognition is a core element of this relationship. While you won’t be expected to walk around like a racecar driver fully decked out in your sponsor’s logos at your fundraising gala, you’ll need to come to an agreement with your sponsor about what they can expect to see for their contribution. This can look like including their name in any promotional materials (website, press releases, flyers), adding their logo to your organization’s merch or gear (t-shirts, uniforms, or water bottles), and recognition in any signage, programs, or event materials.

Tax incentives are another reason businesses are amenable to corporate sponsorships. Businesses can write off as much as a quarter of their taxable income for contributions to nonprofits with tax-exempt status, including 501(c)(3) organizations. Let’s look at a few of the forms these contributions can take. 

The four types of corporate sponsorships

You can ask businesses to support your cause in a variety of ways. Prospective sponsors may find one or all of the following kinds of sponsorship appealing: 

💰 Contributing funds 

Whether given as a lump sum or in smaller, regular payments, a monetary donation is often the simplest way for businesses to contribute. You can make this process even more straightforward by charging a simple sponsorship fee that businesses pay to attach their name to your cause or event. You can create different corporate sponsorship levels to cater to a variety of budgets.

🎁 Providing in-kind donations

Sponsoring an organization doesn’t end with financial contributions. Businesses may also donate products and services, like free t-shirts, event tickets, prize packages, auction baskets, or catering services.

📢 Covering marketing costs

A corporate sponsor can support your overall marketing strategy or take care of campaign marketing and advertising entirely. Media sponsorships can include TV or social media ads, printing promotional materials like flyers, and more.

👷 Encouraging employee participation 

This aspect of sponsorships isn’t as well known, but it can be very valuable. Many businesses will gladly encourage their staff to support your cause, and they can make it easy to do so, from automatic payroll deductions for donations and corporate matching gifts to volunteer programs and special events.

No two corporate sponsorships are exactly alike. You have the ability to craft a unique relationship with your sponsor. That said, it can be much easier if you work with a small business owner in your area rather than a large international corporation. 

How to get (and keep) a corporate sponsorship in 6 steps

There’s steep competition out there for corporate sponsors and funding dollars. Preparation is key to getting your foot in the door. You’ll need ample time to put in the research, build relationships with potential sponsors, and write a compelling sponsorship appeal. And while there may be thousands of businesses willing to sponsor a good cause, that doesn’t mean they’re all the right fit. Follow these six steps to zero in on sponsorship candidates and prove that partnering with your organization is good for business.

Step 1. Self-evaluate 

Making time for self-reflection and taking stock of your mission and goals before you approach potential sponsors will enable you to put your best foot forward. First impressions count when it comes to finding a sponsor. If your organization appears disorganized or your goals seem vague, businesses will steer clear. Self-evaluation will also help you determine if a corporate sponsorship is truly the right move right now.

Make sure you can clearly answer the following questions:

  • What do you hope to gain from a corporate sponsorship?
  • What is your unique value proposition?
  • What is your fundraising goal for the year (or quarter, event, etc.)?
  • What does success look like for your organization?
  • What could success look like for your sponsor?
  • What demographics do you serve?
  • Who is your target audience for donations and volunteers?

If you’ve worked with a corporate sponsor in the past, or partnered with a community group, see if they’ll give you a shining testimonial. It’ll add an objective, but positive, voice to your request.

Step 2. Narrow down potential sponsors 👥

The best corporate sponsors match your core values, have a reputable brand image, and have goals that align with your organizational activities. Although you can search for potential organizations online, the best place to start looking is right in your community. See if your team has any personal connections to local companies. Small businesses won’t get nearly as many sponsorship requests, so your appeal can get to the top of the pile faster.

As you’re researching, check if the corporation has charitable guidelines listed on their website. (Large corporations like Whole Foods are more likely to have this spelled out.) That way, you don’t go to the trouble of applying only to find out you’re ineligible or submissions are closed.

Step 3. Craft your sponsorship program 💭

Your strategy should include asking yourself some key questions: Are you looking for a one-off event sponsorship? Do you need a partner in cause-related marketing? What can you offer businesses in exchange for their help? Meet with your team leadership and build out your sponsorship program. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be set in stone. In fact, you’ll want to leave room to make changes based on what your prospects are looking for. 

Make sure to complete each of these tasks:

  • Create a workflow. Make a plan for how you’ll engage with businesses from start to finish, including the initial outreach, request follow-up, and acknowledgment.
  • Designate staff for sponsorships. Decide who will take the lead on managing these relationships, whether it’s your board member, team captain, or PTA leadership.
  • Prepare your internal documents. Compile the information, impact stories, achievements, and data that define your organization so it’s ready to share and easy to digest.
  • Develop your corporate sponsorship packages. Define your sponsorship levels and benefits for each one. Create a sponsorship page on your website and handout that includes all the important details.

Step 4. Write and send a strong appeal 📩

Your request letter should be easy to read and straight to the point. Explain what the opportunity is, why you’re asking, and why it’s a better opportunity than the other sponsorship opportunities on their desk.

Do your homework. Read up on the organization, check out their “About Us” page, look at their press coverage, and find out which groups they already sponsor. What does their brand sound like (friendly, formal, kid-friendly, mature)? Who is their target customer? Do they have a new product they’re trying to promote? Make sure your appeal speaks directly to these business motivations.

Some worthwhile tips to keep in mind when drafting your appeal:

  • Keep it to a single page
  • Use distinct bullets or sections
  • Address the decision-makers by name when possible
  • Cover your specific programs and services
  • Explain the concrete benefits of sponsoring your cause or event

Step 5. Follow up on your request 👋

As previously mentioned, large, recognizable companies are inundated with hundreds of corporate sponsorship requests. Assume that your prospective sponsors won’t get back to you quickly or directly. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to follow up.

Reach out by email or phone every few days, and be prepared to hammer out details when you get to a decision-maker. Once you come to agreement, document everyone’s expectations, obligations, and deliverables in writing.

Don’t worry if you get a rejection. A “no” doesn’t mean “never,” and neither does radio silence. You can always follow up again or send another request. By the time you do, you may have new achievements or factors that tip the “no” to a “yes.”

Step 6. Keep the relationship strong 💙

You’ve done the hard work of winning your corporate sponsorship—the final step is to nurture it. Start with these strategies:

  • Create multiple communication touchpoints. You can look to the very same engagement techniques you use to strengthen and build upon your donor relationships.
  • Make it personal. You never know who inside the business will advocate for more money, services, and volunteers for your team, so get to know the decision-makers.
  • Thank your sponsors in public. Businesses love public shoutouts, so show your gratitude on social media and dedicate time to mention sponsors at each event.

These measures are essential to creating a lasting bond between your organizations.

The final word on corporate sponsorships 👈

Every nonprofit should evaluate corporate sponsorships and see if they’re worthwhile. In many cases, it’s a win-win scenario. You get access to funding and free services, increased awareness, a way to gain supporters, and a credibility boost. On the corporation’s side, they get positive brand recognition inside and out, as well as a pool of potential customers. 

Let’s review some key tips. Be selective with who you ask for sponsorships. Start with local businesses, leverage the relationships you already have, and tailor your appeal to each prospect. Your request letter should be brief, passionate, and specific. And to keep your favorite sponsors returning year after year, deliver on your end of the bargain. Treat them like part of your team, and share how their support made each success possible. Finally, remember to say those two important words on a regular basis: “Thank you!”

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