How to Identify and Connect With Corporate Sponsors

Working with a corporate sponsor is exciting, whether they’re launching a cause marketing campaign, funding an event, or donating to your capital campaign. With the help of businesses, nonprofits can access more resources, new audiences, and more channels to spread awareness of their missions. 

However, to access these benefits, you first need to find and build relationships with businesses willing to sponsor you. Earning a corporate sponsorship is not an exact science, but there are several steps nonprofits can take to put their feelers out there and set themselves up to impress when there is corporate interest.  

To help your nonprofit build these partnerships, we’ll dive into how your organization can first identify and then connect with valuable corporate sponsors. 

Check philanthropic history.

One of the biggest indicators of whether a corporation will sponsor your business is if they have supported other nonprofits in the past. When researching potential corporate sponsors, one of the first places you should check is the sponsor lists of recent nonprofit events in your area. 

Businesses also tend to be proud of their history of corporate philanthropy and often promote their past activities on their websites. Check what causes they have supported in the past, paying extra attention to the following factors:

  • The types of causes they sponsored. Businesses are likely to support similar nonprofits to those they have in the past. This includes nonprofit size, location, and mission. For example, one business might support local nonprofits, regardless of mission, whereas others might sponsor a specific cause as part of their philanthropic focus. 
  • The type of support they offered. How did the business help past nonprofits? For instance, did they just donate? Or did they also help with advertising or even lend their employees as volunteers? If a fellow nonprofit’s sponsorship tiers are publicly available, you should be able to get a good sense of how the business contributed if they don’t share the information outright themselves. 
  • How long ago their latest philanthropic activity was. If it’s been a long time since a business last sponsored a nonprofit, they may still be interested in starting their philanthropic activity back up again. However, keep in mind that this may be a red flag that the business has winded down its sponsorship programs or no longer has the finances to support nonprofit causes. 

If a business’s philanthropic history includes past support to your nonprofit, mark it down as a high-value potential sponsor candidate. Just like you would with major donors, create a profile in your CRM for the business to steward a relationship with them. A long-term relationship can lead to repeat, reliable sponsorships. 

Research philanthropic missions.

Not every company that engages in corporate philanthropy will be equally interested in supporting your cause. As mentioned, some businesses choose to support specific causes, and you can usually find out what types of nonprofits are included by checking their philanthropic mission statement. 

Business’s philanthropic missions are usually broad to encompass a variety of causes and nonprofit programs. For example, a business might be “devoted to building a sustainable future,” or “invested in supporting community development and education.” No matter what the mission, you can usually find it on a business’s website on their about or philanthropy page. 

You can potentially reach out to businesses that have missions that are more distantly related to your cause. In these instances, consider how you frame the campaign, event, or initiative you’re seeking sponsorships for. 

For example, let’s say your nonprofit is launching a capital campaign to construct a new facility to tutor and care for children from underprivileged families. You might pitch your cause to a business focused on economic development by emphasizing the practical job skills you help instill in students. Or, when approaching a business that focuses on the advancement of women, you might focus on the benefits of expanded free childcare services. Or even to a business dedicated to the arts, your nonprofit might showcase the artistic programs and classes children receive. 

Leverage your connections.

Cold calling is rough going, and your nonprofit will be better off the more you can rely on pre-existing connections. Check to see if anyone at your nonprofit has a connection to a business you may be able to turn into a sponsorship. For example, reach out to your:

  • Board members. Your board should be composed of people who have community connections they’re willing to leverage on your nonprofit’s behalf. Ahead of a major event, campaign, or other fundraiser that needs sponsors, ask your board members to reach out to business owners they have relationships with or other community members who would be willing to set up an introductory meeting with business leaders. 
  • Major donors. Major donors have already demonstrated their commitment to your cause, and they may be able and willing to help you out further by setting up meetings with businesses. As part of your prospect research, identify if any major donors have business connections and approach these supporters to graciously ask for their help and pitch your campaign. 
  • Volunteers. If a business has many of its employees volunteer with your nonprofit, they’ll become familiar with your mission and more likely to consider a sponsorship. Encourage this by hosting corporate volunteer days and showing appreciation to corporate volunteers. eCardWidget’s volunteer retention guide suggests a few ways to build long-term relationships with these supporters, such as showing appreciation through gifts, giving them several opportunities to get involved, and even providing them opportunities to improve the skills they need in their careers. 

Whether a connection leads to a successful sponsorship deal or not, be sure to thank them for all the support they provided. Remember, building a network is key to earning sponsorships. Perhaps a meeting set up by a major donor didn’t work out this time but a different business they recommend next time might. 

Determine your benefits.

Most business leaders don’t agree to support nonprofits just out of the goodness of their hearts. Rather, these are strategic decisions, and businesses need to know what they gain from helping your cause, specifically. 

When approaching potential sponsors, have a list of sponsorship tiers laid out that clearly explain what businesses can gain in exchange for different levels of support. 

360MatchPro’s guide to the differences between corporate philanthropy and corporate social responsibility provides an example of what these tiers might look like.

An example of sponsorship tiers arranged like a pyramid with less expensive donation requirements and fewer benefits listed as the foundation bronze tier, moving up to the most expensive but most beneficial gold tier.

Alt text: An example of sponsorship tiers arranged like a pyramid with less expensive donation requirements and fewer benefits listed as the foundation bronze tier, moving up to the most expensive but most beneficial gold tier. 

As the example shows, the main benefit your nonprofit can offer is marketing. In addition to your sponsorship tiers, tailor each pitch to the business you are approaching. Explain crossover in your audiences and why providing the sponsor access to your supporters is a smart business move. 

Additionally, the sponsorship tiers work well when approaching many sponsors, but if you have a business you feel is a candidate for a major contribution, consider creating an entirely custom proposal. Just like for donors, courting a major sponsor requires a personalized approach.

Sponsors provide nonprofits with the resources they need to elevate their campaigns, helping them earn more donations and meet loftier fundraising goals. To connect with these valued partners, consider what organizations are most likely to partner with your nonprofit due to shared philanthropic beliefs, a history of giving, or pre-existing relationships.

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