I recently spoke at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Leadership Academy. My topic was “Why VENDOR is no longer a dirty word: How to Make the Most out of Vendor and Corporate Sponsorships.” It seemed odd to me that something that is second nature to me as a marketer is foreign to many nonprofits. For some reason, befriending a vendor or a corporation is “selling out” the cause in the name of the almighty buck. Maybe the reason it feels like “selling out” is because the only relationship you have with them is a one-time hit at your annual gala. You have to start thinking about this differently. So, here is a nutshell is what I said in my session—reprinted here for free!
First of all, get your head wrapped around the difference between a “sponsor buyer” and an “institutional investor.” A buyer seeks to acquire something for limited use or a single purpose. An investor seeks to maximize return over the long haul and is open to exploring any number of vectors to achieve those long term dividends. Sponsors want a benefit. Investors and/or partners want a business solution. There is a HUGE difference.
Partners are searching for solutions that change attitudes and behaviors about their brand. I don’t care if you put my logo on the program or on a pen (sponsor). I do care that somebody feels good about my brand in helping your organization accomplish something, like asking me to subsidize scholarships to attend your annual conference (investor). I also care if you can provide a compelling “lift” to my marketing efforts—be an extension of my marketing team. Prove to me that the investment I make in you is a better investment than other options I might have in my marketing mix. Find out what MY goals are and then propose something that helps me accomplish them. Be able to answer this very important question: What’s In It For ME? Because that’s what I am going to ask you. Remember, no matter how good your cause is, very few savvy investors will invest just because they like you.
So, here are a few ideas that vendor and corporate partners love:
- Research collaboration that produces an end result that is marketable in some way
- Scholarships/matching gifts/subsidization of anything that broadens both your and the partners reach
- Leveraging of subject matter or domain experts inside the partner organization. Going to UPS to ask for money is not nearly as interesting as going to UPS to ask for logistics and transportation advice.
- Bi directional social media—you “like” them, they “like” you, everybody’s network benefits from increased traffic
- “Chaperoned” email or direct mail communication-nobody exposes their own list—the partner only benefits by those that respond
- Utilize their employees as a volunteer pool—get them engaged in your cause, and move them along to deeper levels of engagements and potentially giving
The bottom line is that you have to reorient your thinking—it’s less about the quick hit and more about building sustainable capacity in your organization. Vendors and corporations are NOT the enemy. If properly nurtured, they should be an integral part of both your marketing mix AND your organizational fabric. I’m sure most of your organizations have individuals on the board that represent the business community and local government. Grade yourself on how well you are using them, not only as individual investors, but as a powerful web of interconnection to other investors, volunteers, service providers and the like. Building a successful partnership is usually based on relationship—connections can get you priority consideration.
There is an old African proverb that is a favorite of mine and should be the mantra of those organizations seeking to be successful at building long term alliances and partnerships:
“If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.”