Blog / Nonprofits

A Nonprofit Guide to Identifying the Right Corporate Sponsor

by Renee Zau
A Nonprofit Guide to Identifying the Right Corporate Sponsor
This article is part 3 in our series on corporate philanthropy and corporate social responsibility from our partners in the field. Find links to all posts in the series at the bottom of this page.

From monetary donations to in-kind gifts, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate sponsors provide critical sources of funding and cross-marketing for countless nonprofits, making them a cornerstone of the nonprofit world. However, finding the right corporate sponsor worth the amount of effort required for your organization will take more than simply partnering with just any available business.

Between new trends in philanthropy, increases in CSR, and the wide and fast accessibility of news and information, it’s apparent that we live in an increasingly cause-driven world where the public is hyperaware of social issues and business practices.

This makes it more important than ever to choose a corporate sponsor that not only gives your nonprofit what you need to fight for your mission but also aligns with your core values. That’s why we’ve assembled the following essential steps to help you find, assess, and partner with the best corporate sponsors for your nonprofit:

  1. Start locally.

  2. Consider your sponsor’s audience.

  3. Weigh your sponsor’s goals and values.

  4. Consider what they can offer you.

  5. Invest in the right software and tools.

Before diving into these strategies, let’s begin with a brief overview of why sponsorships are so important for nonprofits to consider right now.

Why is corporate philanthropy so important right now?

According to Double the Donation’s corporate sponsorship guide, corporate sponsorships are a type of payment, gift, or support provided by businesses to help nonprofit organizations — usually in the context of a specific event or project. For example, this might mean helping to underwrite an annual 5K, or donating products and/or services for an auction.

What makes corporate philanthropy so important in our current moment? After all, corporate philanthropy has been around for decades, and during that time many businesses have been eager to improve their public image by engaging in these programs.

The key difference between then and now is access to information. The rise of the internet, social media, and handheld devices with internet access have come together to make data and breaking news available right at peoples’ fingertips at every hour of the day. This has not only made the public more aware of the actions and values of organizations like your nonprofit or corporate sponsors but it’s also had a direct impact on consumer spending habits.

For example, did you know that over 77% of American consumers are motivated to purchase from businesses that are committed to improving the world, while 25% of consumers have a zero-tolerance policy for businesses that have ethically questionable business practices?

So, with the public eye firmly fixed on the opinions and operations of both your nonprofit and the companies you choose to associate with, it’s clear why picking the right corporate sponsor is such an important process.

1. Start locally.

When it comes to creating a sustainable, long-lasting, and community-driven corporate relationship, local businesses are an ideal place to start.

While nonprofits can and should aspire towards broader corporate sponsorship opportunities, local partnerships are a timeless way to drum up grassroots support right in the heart of your organization’s hometown.

Additionally, it’s far easier to pitch and promote philanthropic programs to corporate partners in your local area. The physical proximity of your organization makes it convenient and cost-effective to engage in ongoing philanthropic programs, while your nonprofit’s ties to the community will make it more meaningful to consumers when they see that the businesses they shop from are championing a local favored cause.

On top of that, it’s far more likely that you and local businesses share the same audience base, making cross-marketing opportunities that come from your partnership much more valuable to both of your organizations.

2. Consider your sponsor’s audience.

While we’re on the topic of audience bases, let’s consider the importance of ensuring that your nonprofit’s audience aligns with your prospective sponsor’s. After all, the most successful corporate sponsorships occur when your nonprofit and your corporate partners are targeting the same groups of people.

When your nonprofit and sponsor’s audiences overlap, the events and programs you engage with will be heard and seen by people that are likely to donate to you and become advocates for your mission. Additionally, this guarantees that your sponsor is getting something valuable out of the relationship, as your supporters may also become their customers.

For example, consider a nonprofit that is focused on uplifting marginalized BIPOC communities and trying to strengthen its Millenial and Gen Z donor base. One obvious corporate sponsor candidate might be a Black-owned business that caters to younger patrons. Such businesses might include young adult retailers, fast-casual eateries, or entertainment technology companies.

This partnership ensures that both organizations are able to get their names in front of the consumers, donors, and constituents that are most likely to support them beyond a one-time philanthropic event.

Of course, it’s unlikely that your donor base and your sponsors’ consumer base will be exactly aligned. To account for this, one of the main goals of your relationship should be to attract support from people that have the most potential to become invested in your cause.

3. Weigh your sponsor’s goals and values.

The mission-based nature of nonprofit organizations makes it incredibly important to consider your corporate sponsors’ ethical values before entering a partnership.

In the nonprofit world, your organization is in a unique position to build public trust and sway positive public opinion towards your sponsors’ brands. This makes it incredibly important for you to carefully consider your corporate sponsors’ ethics before securing a partnership, as it could be considered a betrayal of trust to work with a corporate sponsor that directly conflicts with your central mission and values.

So, before you entrust any business with that power, take a closer look at their organizational practices and how they operate within your community. This might mean:

  • Evaluating businesses’ history of philanthropic programs and activities and their work with other charitable missions.

  • Carefully researching any past scandals and the outspoken opinions and attitudes of corporate sponsors, particularly in relation to your nonprofit’s specific societal or environmental mission.

  • Organizing a communication and contingency plan in the event that a sponsor later makes decisions that do not align with your nonprofit’s mission.

These preventative measures should help you to organize an ideal corporate sponsorship, promoting a partnership that benefits your mission, your corporate sponsor’s sales and public image, and the health and wellbeing of your local community.

4. Consider what they can offer you.

Now that we’ve examined some of the moral and ethical considerations for how your nonprofit can foster an effective corporate philanthropy program, it’s time to get down to the essentials: what can your corporate sponsors give you in return for your cause marketing opportunities?

Corporate sponsorships can come in several forms, all with their own unique advantages based on the resources and aid your organization is looking for. For example, some of the most popular kinds of corporate sponsorships include:

  • Monetary event sponsorships. This involves a business granting money to help fund an event, activity, or program, with nonprofits typically reciprocating the donation by including the sponsor’s brand on their event merchandise and marketing materials. It’s also common to offer sponsors exclusive opportunities to speak or dedicated space at the event to engage with attendees.

  • In-kind sponsorships. The DonationMatch guide to in-kind donations describes in-kind gifts as “non-cash contributions” that take the form of goods, experiences, and services—such as wine from a vineyard’s inventory, tickets from an amusement park, spa packages, gift certificates to restaurants or retailers, and even pro-bono accounting services.

  • Media sponsorships. This means that a corporate sponsor will cover the cost of promotion for a particular event or program, which might include print advertising, social media posts and campaigns, or radio shout-outs.

Each of these unique sponsorship opportunities can improve your organization’s operations and offset costs. But depending on your organization’s current goals and the type of event or program you’re organizing, non-cash sponsorships may be just as valuable as money.

For instance, media sponsorships can cover costs related to event promotion—sometimes even more exposure than your budget normally would. At the same time, in-kind gifts give your nonprofit immediate and direct access to potentially high-value products and services. These can be used to make your events more engaging, free up funds for other programs, and begin or deepen relationships with businesses that have more non-monetary goods, services, and experiences to offer you.

As you’re determining the best corporate sponsorship opportunities for your nonprofit, consider your own needs, goals, and whether or not the kind of aid that sponsors can provide will significantly benefit your organization.

5. Invest in the right software.

From automating donor outreach to simplifying internal data management, technology can help to streamline various nonprofit operations — and corporate sponsorship programs are no exception.

In fact, there are powerful corporate giving platforms made specifically with the nonprofit-corporate matchmaking process in mind, helping both businesses and mission-driven organizations find their ideal partners. In particular, an effective corporate giving platform might include:

  • Customizable search portals to identify the right CSR events, partners, and opportunities

  • Automated messaging and gift tracking capabilities

  • Data tracking and reporting tools

These intuitive features should help you to quickly cut a swathe through the different organizations in and beyond your communities, set your parameters, and more easily establish strong and long-lasting relationships with the right partners.

If your nonprofit team is eager to take advantage of these specialized software solutions, then be on the lookout for a corporate giving and matchmaking tool with these features that empowers you to find the best possible corporate sponsorship opportunities.

In order to fully enjoy all of the benefits of a robust corporate sponsorship program, it’s critical that your team carefully examines the organizations that will be helping fund your mission and leveraging your good name for their own benefit.

With these insights, strategies, and tools, you should be well on your way to creating valuable, long-lasting corporate sponsorships to propel your mission forward and lead your future sponsorship endeavors to greater success.

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Renee Zau
CEO & Co-Founder, DonationMatch
Renee's experience as both a silent auction chair and marketer inspired her to create DonationMatch, a streamlined platform allowing companies to provide in-kind donations to the right event audiences. Learn more at