One of the first lessons in fundraising is that it takes money to raise money. This is true whether you run a nonprofit organization, a political campaign, or a Little League sports team.
Between event materials, marketing and advertising, and payment processing fees, the cost of fundraising adds up. There are many ways to reduce expenses, like making a data-driven fundraising plan and sticking to a budget. But there’s another option at your fingertips: Eliminate costs by getting a corporate sponsorship.
In a nutshell, corporate sponsorships provide organizations and individuals with financial support in exchange for positive press or a sales boost for the corporation. With a corporate backer, fundraising events and campaigns tend to receive more publicity, which in turn leads to more donations, ticket sales, and volunteer support.
There’s steep competition for corporate sponsors and funding dollars. Preparation is key to getting your foot in the door — you’ll need ample time to put in the research, build relationships with potential sponsors, and write a compelling sponsorship appeal.
Get going quickly with this guide. We’ll explain everything you need to know, including what a corporate sponsor is, how to prepare for one, and five steps to secure a corporate sponsorship.
What does a corporate sponsor do?
A corporate sponsor is a business that contributes money or other resources to an organization, usually a nonprofit. The sponsorship may be on an ongoing basis or for a single fundraising event or campaign. In return, the sponsor gets in front of potential customers and receives a reputation boost thanks to the good work of the nonprofit (or other group).
Recognition is a core element of this relationship. Generally, sponsors will want their name or logo on promotional materials, your organization’s gear (like T-shirts, uniforms, or football jerseys), and other signage. In exchange, they’ll commit to support your cause in a variety of ways. Your sponsor may do some or all of the following.
Contribute funds 💰
You may receive a lump sum or small, regular payments. Another option is to charge a simple sponsorship fee that businesses pay to attach their name to your cause or event. You can create different corporate sponsorship levels to cater to a variety of budgets.
Provide in-kind donations 🎁
Sponsoring an organization doesn’t end with financial contributions. Businesses may also donate products and services, like free T-shirts, event tickets, prize packages, or catering services.
Cover marketing costs 📢
A corporate sponsor can support your overall marketing strategy or take care of campaign marketing and advertising entirely. Media sponsorships might include TV and social media ads, press releases, fundraising flyers, and more.
Encourage employee participation 👷
This aspect of sponsorships isn’t as well known but it’s very valuable. Many businesses will encourage employees to support your cause and make it easy to do so. This includes automatic payroll deductions for donations, corporate matching gifts, volunteer programs, and special events.
No two corporate sponsorships are exactly alike — you have the ability to craft a unique relationship with your sponsor. That said, it’s much easier if you work with a small business owner in your area rather than a large international corporation.
Before you approach potential sponsors
First impressions count when it comes to finding a sponsor. If your organization appears disorganized or your goals seem vague, businesses will steer clear. Doing some self-evaluation lets you put your best foot forward, but it also helps you determine if a corporate sponsorship is truly the right move.
Make sure you can clearly answer the following questions:
- What do you hope to gain from a corporate sponsorship?
- What is your unique value proposition?
- What is your fundraising goal for the year (or quarter, event, etc.)?
- What does success look like for your organization?
- What would success look like for your sponsor?
- What demographics do you serve?
- Who is your target audience for donations and volunteers?
If you’ve worked with a corporate sponsor before, or partnered with a community group, see if they’ll give you a shining testimonial. It’ll add an objective (but positive) voice to your request.
How to get (and keep) your corporate sponsorship in 5 steps
There may be millions of businesses willing to sponsor a good cause, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the right fit. Follow these steps to zero in on sponsorship candidates and prove that partnering with your organization is a no-brainer.
1. Narrow down potential sponsors 👥
The best corporate sponsors match your core values, have a reputable brand image, and have goals that align with your organizational activities. Although you can search for potential organizations online, the best place to start looking is in your community.
See if your team has any personal connections to local businesses. They won’t get nearly as many sponsorship requests, so your appeal can get to the top of the pile faster.
As you’re researching, check if the corporation has charitable guidelines listed on their website. (Large corporations like Whole Foods Market and Bank of America are more likely to have this spelled out.) That way, you don’t go to the trouble of applying only to find out you’re ineligible or submissions are closed.
2. Develop your sponsorship program 💭
Are you looking for a one-off event sponsorship? Do you need a partner in cause-related marketing? What can you offer businesses in exchange for their help? Meet with your team leadership and build out your sponsorship program. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be set in stone. In fact, you’ll want to leave room to make changes based on what your prospects are looking for. Here are some key steps:
- Create a workflow: Make a plan for how you’ll engage with businesses from start to finish, including the initial outreach, request follow-up, and acknowledgment.
- Designate staff for sponsorships: Decide who will take the lead on managing these relationships, whether it’s your board member, team captain, or PTA leadership.
- Prepare your internal documents: Compile the information, impact stories, achievements, and data that define your organization so it’s ready to share.
- Develop your corporate sponsorship packages: Define your sponsorship levels and benefits for each one. Create a sponsorship page on your website and handout that includes all the important details.
3. Write and send a strong appeal 📩
Your request letter should be easy to digest and straight to the point. Explain what the opportunity is, why you’re asking, and why it’s a better opportunity than the other sponsorship opportunities on their desk.
Do your homework — read up on the organization, check out their “about us” page, look at their press coverage, and see which groups they already sponsor. What does their brand sound like (friendly, formal, kid-friendly, mature)? Who is their target customer? Do they have a new product they’re trying to promote? Make sure your appeal speaks directly to these business motivations.
Here are some other worthwhile tips:
- Keep it to a single page.
- Use distinct bullets or sections.
- Address the decision-makers by name when possible.
- Cover your specific programs and services.
- Explain the concrete benefits of sponsoring your cause or event.
4. Follow up on your request 👋
As we mentioned earlier, large, recognizable companies are inundated with hundreds of corporate sponsorship opportunities. Assume that your prospective sponsors won’t get back to you quickly or directly — at the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to follow up.
Reach out by email or phone every few days, and be prepared to hammer out details when you get to a decision-maker. Once you come to agreement, document everyone’s expectations, obligations, and deliverables in writing.
Don’t worry if you get a rejection. A “no” doesn’t mean “never,” and neither does no answer. You can always follow up again or send another request. By the time you do, you may have new achievements or factors that tip the “no” to a “yes.”
5. Keep the relationship strong 💙
You’ve done the hard work of winning your corporate sponsorship — the final step is to nurture it. Start with these strategies:
- Create multiple communication touchpoints: You can look to the very same engagement techniques you use to strengthen your donor relationships.
- Make it personal: You never know who inside the business will advocate for more money, services, and volunteers for your team, so get to know the decision-makers.
- Thank your sponsors in public: Businesses love public shoutouts, so show your gratitude on social media and dedicate time to mention sponsors at each event.
These measures are essential to creating a lasting bond between your organizations.
A word about corporate sponsorships and taxes
Corporate sponsorships come with some important tax implications, both positive and negative, especially for nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt groups. If you fall into this category, we highly recommend that you read the Council of Nonprofits article about the tax treatment of income from corporate sponsorships.
That way, you can record payments and file taxes correctly while avoiding heavy tax penalties. If you need help understanding your requirements, contact a legal consultant or tax professional.
The big takeaway 👈
Every organization should evaluate corporate sponsorships and see if they’re worthwhile. In many cases, it’s a win-win scenario. You get access to funding and free services, increased awareness, a way to gain supporters, and a credibility boost. On the corporation’s side, they get positive brand recognition inside and out, as well as a pool of potential customers.
We’ve covered a lot in this guide, so here’s a quick summary: Be selective with who you ask for sponsorships. Start with local businesses, leverage the relationships you already have, and tailor your appeal to each prospect. Your request letter should be brief, passionate, and specific.
To keep your favorite sponsors returning year after year, deliver on your end of the bargain. Treat them like part of your team (depending on their preferred level of involvement) and share how their support made each success possible. Finally, remember to say those two important words on a regular basis: “thank you!”
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.