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The Right Corporate Sponsor Can Be Beneficial

June 28th, 2010

Bringing on corporate sponsors in new and creative ways is being suggested more frequently these days, as non profits are experiencing budget shortfalls that they haven’t seen before.  While we all want to have fiscal support, it is important to keep in mind several factors before deciding to enter into a partnership with a company:

Is the company a good fit with your organization?  Does the corporation represent a product/mission related to what your organization stands for, or is trying to accomplish?

Is the campaign itself mission-related?  You have X points of contact per year with your constituents.  If/when you ask them to act on your behalf, it’s important that you make it count – related to your organization, meaningful to your mission.

Too often, companies attempt to portray themselves as philanthropic simply by throwing (usually relatively little) funds in the direction of charities, yet the non profits are required to do the lion’s share of the work, retain very little of the profit . . . and often, hand over their constituents’ contact list that they have worked for years to cultivate as well.

This only seems like a good deal to cash-strapped organizations who feel they have little alternative but to agree to nearly any terms for the extra income, but it is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

It is better to cultivate your donors with consistent messaging about why they should support your mission of ending illiteracy, feeding the homeless, combating domestic violence, etc., instead of asking them to switch long distance carriers or click on your website’s Amazon button, and so forth, so that you can earn Y% of that purchase.

Some examples of corporate partnerships gone sour:

Chase Community Giving Contest – One of the largest social media contests, which awarded over $1,000,000 in prizes to non profits; however, it was riddled with scandal.  In order to vote on Facebook, you had to offer all of your contacts’ data.  Many questionable/counterfeit users were created and voted, tainting results.  In addition, several finalist organizations were eliminated during the last days, due to Chase’s not wanting to be associated with their missions.

Public schools have been experiencing this desperation far longer than typical non profits.  Although the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood successfully won a several year battle against BusRadio, they are now tackling a pitch to air television on school buses.  CCFC also reports on public schools that allow churches to preach, and gun shop owners and fast food companies to market to school families in exchange for various sponsorships.  This phenomenon was even highlighted – and mocked – years ago by a then popular tv show.  Most parties agree that children shouldn’t be bombarded, but others feel that what is happening in schools is an indicator of a trend of things to come in other areas of society.

When the donation becomes transactional and the transaction is gone, so is the donation.  While working at PBS, I witnessed a transformation in the average gift during pledge drive:  It climbed from the high double digits to triple digits while Suze Orman specials were on the air, due to her premiums being pitched.  Donors gave higher gift amounts not out of loyalty to public broadcasting, but because they wanted the Suze Orman DVD or CD that was being emphasized.  A few years later, Suze signed with QVC and left PBS.  When she did, the average pledge once again dropped below $100.  The correlation was undeniable.  People were selling Suze merchandise on the air, rather than the mission of public broadcasting and loyalty to PBS, and it cost us dearly.

Of course there are ways to strike a balance and enter into corporate partnerships that benefit both parties, but it is always important to keep your long term goals and big picture in mind:  What does your organization stand for, and how do you want it represented?

There are also new definitions of Social Business being created.  Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner and author of Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs, looks at ways businesses can better serve society and operate neither at a loss nor a profit, but reinvest profits back into the company.  Monday, June 28th is Social Business Day.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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