Sponsorship or Partnership? It's the relationship that matters

Abby Clemence, Infinity Sponsorship

FINZ NewzViewz, Issue 101

There is no doubt that in recent years there has been a shift away from the term 'sponsorship', towards the much more collaborative feel that the word 'partnership' conjures up.

Some sectors still use the word sponsorship to refer to the investment companies make to support events, and partnerships can refer to their annual corporate relationships, but really there are so many words that are being used to describe these relationships! These include supporters, angels, helpers, allies, patrons, friends and champions; it has become rather a personal choice for an organisation. 

I think there are several reasons why the language between sponsorship and partnership is shifting, including that, as a 'partner', companies want to feel that they are part of your supporters experience, they want to feel that you are a united team when it comes to making a difference in your community.

Another reason is that sponsorship has been so often confused with philanthropy. It has been slow to change, but historically a company will invest in sponsorship and the charity may not know what to offer in return or how to fulfil that relationship and so they do nothing (or very little), ultimately treating the investment as a donation.

Both have a role to play and a job to do to make it work.

The word partnership really has a 'two way relationship' feel about it and thankfully more and more companies and organisations alike are seeking partnerships in order for both parties to get the most from the relationship, knowing that they both have a role to play and a job to do to make it work.

Does the wording matter?

Interestingly, I've noticed that there is a tendency emerging to get caught up with the wording sponsorship vs partnership. These two words can be used interchangeably, and I say this because it is what you do that counts more than what you say you will do when it comes to creating successful partnerships.

My first rule of thumb is to always build a relationship with a prospective sponsor. Among other things, how do they feel about the words? What would they prefer? Once you understand their point of view and how they'd like to interact with your organisation, then you are on your way to building a beautiful and mutually respectful relationship. That's what matters most in my opinion - the relationship.

Should charities be moving away from the traditional sponsorship model and be looking more at partnerships with mutual benefits? Or a mix of both?

Each charity and business is different from the next, and not just in terms of the community they serve, but the mindset of the Board and CEO, and whether they have the staff to support a sponsorship strategy and manage partners effectively. The key lies in two things:

  1. Dive into the demographics of your support base. Who are they? What things do they have in common? What problems are they seeking to solve in their lives? What products and services are they buying?
  2. Do your homework on companies who are looking to solve the problems that your supporters have. They might have a product, service, an event, something that will support your community. Once you've identified them, you need to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Tell them who you are, what you do, what your research has uncovered and some of the ways that you could offer them interaction opportunities with your community of followers.

Is one of them harder for the charity to manage?

Securing a corporate investor means that you have successfully created a mutually beneficial relationship. Whether they are supporting your event or partnering with you for the long term is really irrelevant in terms of which is harder to manage. For anyone who is actively working through a sponsorship strategy, you will know that it is hard work! Sponsorship is not a quick fix. After all, sponsorship (like all fundraising) is relationship based, and it takes time to build trust and rapport. Your ultimate goal is always a win-win-win. You have to 'win' by having financial or in-kind investment that supports your organisation, your your partner needs to 'win' by being able to grow their business as a result of their investment and, most importantly, your supporters have to 'win'. If they feel like they are being spammed or bombarded with messages from a company that has no relevance to them and their lives then they will leave your charity in droves. Your supporters are always your main focus, that's why I strongly recommend diving deeply into your database before you throw open the doors to seek sponsors. The more you know your own community, the easier you'll find it to make the right alignment with a partner.

Does it make more sense for particular sectors to seek sponsorship (e.g. sport), is it more successful for some rather than others?

There are many ways that business and charities can partner - not just pure sponsorship, but cause-related marketing campaigns, corporate social responsibility and other unique ways to co-create that come about by simply establishing a relationship and understanding what you are both trying to achieve.

I know many fundraisers focus on the fundraising pyramid and see sponsorship as being such a tiny part (just 8%) of where their fund diversification can come from, but I see sponsorship differently. They are your major gifts, contribute to capital campaigns and make your special events a masterpiece. the great thing about sponsorship is that it is untethered funds. Once you secure a sponsor it shouldn't matter if you put that investment towards your programmes, your digital marketing strategy, or attracting great staff to your team - it is about growing your organisation and becoming more sustainable. 

What should a fundraiser look for in identifying the right approach to make?

Over the years, being a Sponsorship Broker on behalf of some fabulous businesses I have been able to reverse engineer my pathway to best practice sponsorship, based on four distinct stages of the process - Plan, Find, Connect, Keep. 

I wouldn't be able to do it justice in the small amount of space that I have left, but I have written a free eBook on the very topic of identifying the best approach to take, how to work out what to offer a potential partner and what questions to ask to make sure you are really getting the most out of that initial relationship-building phase. It's called '8 Tips To Give Your Sponsorship Strategy An Unfair Advantage' and it's packed with templates and checklists for you to use right now.

Abby Clemence is one of Australia's foremost strategic sponsorship advisors and Managing Director of Infinity Sponsorship. As Founder of the world's first online Sponsorship University for Not-For-Profits and Charities, Abby is excited to bring a best practice step-by-step sponsorship solution to the sector. She has authored a number of books that provide practical and easily implementable solutions for Not-For-Profits, including an incredible range of free resources that can be found on her website www.infinitysponsorship.com.au 

Sponsorship or Partnership? It's the relationship that matters



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