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Karen Eber Davis

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Sponsorships on Steroids: Working with Business Donors

People are complex creatures who often seek to achieve multiple goals in single transactions. You go to the grocery store for milk. As you prepare to check out, you remember that you also need carrots, tea, and soap.

Likewise, your corporate partners often bring multiple goals. Besides the joy of giving back, business partners seek business gains or at least are happy to receive them . Common gains include public acknowledgement, improved branding, greater employee loyalty, skill building, and enhanced business climate.

It should go without saying that business partners who notice greater benefits continue to invest , and often invest more , in these relationships. To improve the success of your business partnerships, understand your partner’s goals. Use the graph to help clarify your thinking, planning, and strategy.

Chart - Four Possibilities

Remember, these four categories represent the same business investments:


In this case, businesses provide benefit to your nonprofit. They refuse all public recognition and other benefits. A firm provides extensive help to clients at a local homeless shelter. Their help is meaningful, generous, ongoing, and secret. You know who you are…but I can’t mention your names.


This box represents the results of standard business partnerships. In exchange for funds, you list their names, publicly recognize them, and offer other benefits associated with their investment level, from $100 to $5,000. Even if they announce that they don’t seek benefits, allowing their name to be listed is a deliberate act that calls attention to them. (Research proves that benefits accrue to a business when people link its name with causes.)

Sponsorship on Steroids (SOS )

This aspirational box contains business and nonprofit partnerships that maximize results. The results include extensive value to the nonprofit and the firm. Remember , the business funds invested are the same. The results dramatically differ. For example, an arts group organizes behind-the-scene experiences to a law firm by identifying new venues in a city’s gentrifying urban core. At the experiences, the arts group’s board members meet high-net - worth individuals. The art’s group earns sponsorship revenues and takes steps toward enlisting guests as members, volunteers, and donors. The law firm invites and reconnects with current and potential customers to the experiences. The events add value to linking with their firm. The experiences also support the urban core’s revitalization which in turn supports legal work in the construction field. This cascading benefit effect epitomize SOS.

The steroid effect comes from creating strategies, using innovation , and tapping both partners underutilized assets.

Too Great Expectations

Here, businesses “give” primarily to get. In this case, the same law firm purchases the arts experiences but strictly forbids the arts group from mixing with guests. Since money comes in the door, the nonprofit will benefit, but the majority of value accrues to the business.

Look at your list of current business partners. In which box, do your current partnerships fall? Which might you move to Category 3, Sponsorships on Steroids? Let’s talk if you’d like some help with the process.

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