How can you create true partnerships with sponsors?
Farra Trompeter, co-director, and Mariah Monique, founder, and CEO of The Sponsorship Catalyst, discuss the importance of building true partnerships with sponsors and offer pointers on how sponsorships can be a game changer for nonprofits.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re gonna ask the question, how can you create true partnerships with sponsors? Sponsors is one of many audiences that organizations are trying to build relationships with in order to achieve their mission. And we are gonna talk to someone who thinks about this question all day long.
Farra Trompeter: Mariah Monique, she/her, is the founder and CEO of The Sponsorship Catalyst where she and her team help nonprofit organizations position themselves to secure event sponsors by packaging sellable events sponsorship opportunities. Mariah is a sponsorship strategy educator and consultant, sponsorship seeker, and a funder. She has a trifold perspective to teaching nonprofit organizations how to secure sponsors. Additionally, she has reviewed and evaluated hundreds of sponsorship packages and pitches, made decisions for sponsorship fund allocation, and built brand activations. Mariah, welcome to the show.
Mariah Monique: Thanks so much for having me, Farra. Excited to be here.
Farra Trompeter: Great. So Mariah, before we get into today’s podcast in a deep level, I wanna just start by learning a little bit more about you. Can you share some highlights about your own journey and what led you to focus your work on making these connections between nonprofits and event sponsors?
Mariah Monique: Absolutely. So my work started about almost five years ago in the sponsorship space. As a funder, I was tasked with going to find other organizations such as BIPOC organizations and LGBTQIA organizations that we were traditionally not supporting. And when I was tasked with this work in 2020, as you know, a lot of corporations started to shift where they were investing their dollars because of all the things that were happening. And so as I was tasked to do this work to find and locate nonprofit organizations that we could fund, I realized that a lot of nonprofit organizations either did not know sponsorships was a stream of income that they could access in order to increase their impact within the community, or they did not know how to navigate conversations with sponsors. And so as I was experiencing this firsthand, I realized there was a huge knowledge gap on what it looked like to secure event sponsors.
Mariah Monique: And even, you know, 2020, a lot of people were shifting even some of their programs to meet the basic needs of individuals within their community. And so what that looked like to partner with potential sponsors in order to be able to do the work that they were doing in order to serve people in their communities. And so one of the things that I really focus on in my journey and what led me to starting The Sponsorship Catalyst was really focusing in on helping people close that knowledge gap and putting them in a better position to where they would feel confident and comfortable and understand how to navigate these conversations with sponsors because they’ve prepared on the front end, And preparation on the front end looks like preparing solid sponsorship materials, also identifying the best contacts to reach out to, to have the conversations with, and really understanding and placing value on the nonprofit’s work and understanding that in this exchange for the sponsored dollars, the nonprofit was actually bringing a lot of value with the trusted audience they were bringing to the table. And so my journey into this lane, if you will, or into my business, has really been based off of firsthand experience connecting with organizations that I was funding at that time. And so it’s been a beautiful experience to really understand as well as not only from the funder perspective but as a seeker myself, the journey that it takes in order to secure sponsors that will be a good fit in partnership long term.
Farra Trompeter: That’s great. And you just touched on some ideas that you actually wrote about in a blog for Big Duck called “Getting event sponsors? Consider these five steps” and that blog post is available at bigduck.com/insights. We’ll also link to that in our show notes. I hope folks read it, but let’s say they have not had a chance to read it yet. I’d love it if you could actually hone in on one of the steps in that post, which is step number two, know your audience’s values, interests, and needs. Now we’ve talked before on the Smart Communications Podcast about the value of conducting audience research. We’ve also talked about how to create audience profiles. I’d love to just get your ideas here. What’s the connection between knowing your audience and building relationships with sponsors?
Mariah Monique: I think this is a great question and I absolutely love talking about data and how data can paint a picture to really help convey the message to a potential sponsor. I think it’s really important to understand your audience data because it really helps streamline who you’re seeking for sponsorships. Some of the mistakes that I hear people say all the time when they’re seeking sponsors, they’ll say, oh, you know, I’ll just go to Target. And of course, they have money. Like why do they need to care about my audience? Or why does it need to be strategic? And while Target is, you know, a great organization, they support a lot of different causes. It might not be a good fit based on what your audience needs are based on who your audience is. And so I really like to encourage people to go deeper than the surface-level demographics of their audience and really look into the psychographics of their audience.
Mariah Monique: You’re looking and understanding their values, their interests, their personalities, their beliefs. Because I think as you segment what your audience is or who your audience is, it allows you to just streamline your sponsor outreach and really it’s going to drive, it’s gonna be the driving force for who you reach out to. So for instance, I use this example all the time where if you serve single mothers who maybe they are below poverty level and let’s say that’s their population, that’s part of your population and you’re hosting an event is gonna be like a community resource fair, it doesn’t make sense for you to go to Lexus, right, to bring to that audience because the chances are them being able to afford a Lexus is very slim. So there won’t be a benefit to your audience, your program audience, but then there also won’t be a benefit to Lexus.
Mariah Monique: And so you wanna make sure you have partners that are part of the table that there’s going to be a mutual benefit for both the sponsor as well as the audience and your data is going to actually drive that. Another thing that I think is really important in terms of knowing your audience is really being able to understand who you need to bring into your ecosystem if you will, in order to provide the needs that they have. For instance, if you have busy moms, what are some organizations that provide tools and resources for busy moms to stay organized? You might go to an organization or a company that sells planners, or maybe you might go to a company like Calm or Headspace so that those mothers can maintain mental sanity while they’re mothering and while they’re doing all the busy things in their lives.
Mariah Monique: And so I think it’s important to understand what’s the lifestyle of your audience. What are their beliefs? What are they interested in? Another example would be like let’s say you have college students that are just graduating, they’re getting their big boy and big girl jobs for the first time. Or let’s say you have an audience where your nonprofit serves newlyweds, you’re gonna wanna bring partners that make sense for those types of audience. So what does that look like? Maybe bringing in banks because they wanna open up new bank accounts, maybe bringing in real estate cause they maybe that newlywed is looking to buy a home. And so it’s really important to make sure you understand your audience because it’s going to streamline your process for seeking the right sponsors that will come into and support your event. And then I think it just builds anticipation and excitement around like, that was a really good event, we wanna be there again next year. So you start to solidify partners that make sense for the events that you’re hosting and the audience that you serve.
Farra Trompeter: Right. And you also mentioned like particularly working with the LGBTQIA community, you might also be working with communities that are gender nonconforming or gender expansive. And so also maybe it’s not just working moms might be working dads or just working parents, right? So there’s all different things to think about here and companies that also understand that and communicate to that. Now, one of the things in the blog post you also shared was how you see event sponsorships can be a game changer for nonprofits. And I’m just curious what you mean by that. How have you seen that play out? Is there maybe one example you can share that comes to mind?
Mariah Monique: Absolutely. I think that oftentimes what I find nonprofits are staying in the lane of just trying to secure grants and grants are really restrictive sometimes. And so when you’re securing sponsors, it allows you freedom to do what you need to do even beyond that one-time event. I tell clients that I work with that you wanna fund this event and you wanna get it fully funded so it doesn’t come out of maybe your operational budget, but you wanna be able to secure enough dollars where now you can reallocate some of those sponsorship dollars from that event to your programming and essentially creating buckets of money that you can do that where you kind of have this either contingency budget or you can reallocate it to other types of programs that you’re doing on a daily basis. And so I think it’s really important that sponsorships are being sought after not only the financial part of it, but it’s the partnerships that come into your network that can lend opportunities for the future that you might wanna be able to do with another partner.
Mariah Monique: I also think about just how innovative you can get with sponsors and creative you can get with sponsors as you help other organizations or companies essentially amplify their brand voice while they’re also amplifying your brand voice and bringing a reputation and increasing credibility to what you’re doing. And so when I think about sponsorships being a game changer, it really is the fact that you have unrestricted funds that you can use not only for your events but also for the programmatic things that you’re doing on a day-to-day basis. And then it lends you a partner that can sometimes, if you cultivate the relationship in the right way, meaning you’re not skipping steps to building a relationship, meaning that partner can come in and say, you know what? We really love what you all are doing. We wanna become true partners. Not all sponsors are partners, but most partners are sponsors and there is a difference between the two partners come in, they kind of share the load with you.
Mariah Monique: And so you wanna get to that point where you don’t just have this transactional sponsorship, but now you have a long-term partner in the work that you’re doing and now they’re writing you in their budget. And so when they think about sponsorships being a game changer, it’s like it allows you to be able to essentially create long-term partnerships, which in my opinion just speaks to the sustainability and the longevity of your nonprofit organization that can come as it relates to bringing these new partners into your ecosystem. So I definitely think that as people are considering their fundraising plan for the year, I think you need to have multiple streams of income in there, whether it’s grants or sponsorships and other things as well. But don’t forget to leave sponsorships out and if it’s not a strong suit for your organization, I would encourage and implore you all to learn what are some ways that you actually can be successful at securing sponsors. Because again, those unrestricted funds really do come in handy for organizations.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, 100%. And there never are enough unrestricted funds to find.
Sponsored by UncommonGood: This episode of the Smart Communications podcast is sponsored by our friends at UncommonGood. UncommonGood is an end-to-end business solution and productivity platform for nonprofits, small businesses, solopreneurs, and freelancers. With UncommonGood, you can streamline your operations, fundraising, payments, invoicing, financial tracking, CRM, email marketing, social media management, custom website build, and so much more all in one place. UncommonGood is your business in a box. Listeners to this podcast will receive 25% off any subscription by using the code WELOVEBIGDUCK, all one word. WELOVEBIGDUCK. To learn more and sign up for a free trial, please visit uncommongood.io.
Farra Trompeter: Well, I wanna pick up on two of the things you just talked about. The first is branding, which is something that we think about a lot at Big Duck. And if people have listened to this podcast or are familiar with Big Duck, you know we have a lot to say about branding and I appreciate Mariah, you’ve got a very helpful list of brand benefits that folks can include in their sponsorship packages. We’ll link to that in the show notes so folks can download that if they’re interested. I’m just curious if you could maybe speak to a few of the ways sponsorship can not only benefit a sponsor’s brand but how can sponsorship benefit a nonprofit’s brand?
Mariah Monique: Absolutely. So I think that there are several ways for sure that a sponsor can benefit a nonprofit’s brand. Number one, having a sponsor be attached to your event or be attached to what you’re doing does increase your reputation, right? I review sponsorship decks all the time, and if you do a sponsorship deck and you have a page that has partners or previous sponsors or current sponsors listed, if I see a brand that I know is my competitor and your organization serves the audience that I need to be in front of, I’m gonna champion you internally so that we can be there as well. That’s number one. Number two, if I see a brand on your materials or maybe on your website under your sponsor’s tab, and let’s say it is like a Starbucks or a Target and you are an organization that is not necessarily small, but maybe you’re just local to a particular region and I’ve never heard of you and I see a bigger brand attached to what you’re doing, again, that brings credibility to your organization.
Mariah Monique: I think another thing in terms of partnering with sponsors is that depending on what you’re offering in terms of a brand benefit, especially if you’re doing like a lot of co-branded things, whether it’s like a co-branded Instagram live, right? So let’s say you have a sponsor and you do a co-branded Instagram live. So for instance, an example of this is I did a co-branded live with an organization that served doulas and we were on there together. And you know that if you’re doing an Instagram live or something, you kind of share the audience. And so now that brings more awareness to you as a nonprofit, but it also brings awareness to the sponsor because you all are sharing audiences and you all are able to talk about what you all care about, the causes that, and the missions that you all really wanna fight for.
Mariah Monique: And so I think it’s important to understand that they’re gonna increase credibility. They also could help drive traffic to your website. I think this is actually a really cool way to do partnerships with sponsors because again, with that brand awareness, people wanna know like, who are these people? Like I wanna know a little bit more. And if you are directing people to maybe your donation page or maybe to your “About Us” page and it has a donate button on it, it could potentially increase your donations. And so another way that reason why sponsors benefit nonprofits is that when you secure a sponsor and you are raising the money that you need to raise for a particular event or cause it allows you to leverage the dollars, right? So maybe you would not been able to afford a particular element of your event because you had a certain budget, but now securing the sponsors will allow you to do that so you can create an even greater experience for the audience that’s going to come and engage with your event.
Mariah Monique: And so there are definitely several ways that a sponsor would benefit a nonprofit organization. And then again, like I said earlier, if you cultivate that sponsorship, right, I’m real big on good stewardship. And so if you steward that relationship correctly, they’ll come back again and again and again, and you can kind of look at that as a solid funding partner that will come back and support what you’re doing, again, leading up to what it looks like to build a true partnership with that sponsor. So there are definitely several ways that you can benefit as a nonprofit brand by securing sponsors.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, so I actually wanna pick up on that idea you’re talking about and go a little deeper into the whole thrust of today’s conversation around how organizations can build those true lasting relationships with sponsors or as you’ve said, move sponsors into partners. So do you have any tips on how nonprofits can take these interactions with sponsors from being one-time transactional experiences to these ongoing transformative ones?
Mariah Monique: Yes. I love this question because I think that it is so important to ensure that you’re not skipping steps of building a relationship. These things should be treated as if you are building a friendship with someone. And so it’s like the first stage is getting to know your sponsor, getting to know the sponsorship program you’re getting on those initial calls to ask questions and gain insight. It’s gonna be helpful for you in the long run, especially as you begin to build out sponsorship materials. But it’s a part of the relationship building. So you don’t just initially have that conversation of like, “Hey, we have an event we want you to sponsor.” Sometimes that happens and you do secure the sponsorship. So I’m not saying it’s not horrible, but the best way to solidify a stronger partnership and relationship is getting to know them. And then in this conversation, it won’t just be one-sided of you getting to know them, but it also allows you an opportunity to share the vision and the future of what your organization is about and what you hope to do, and how a potential partnership might allow you all to continue to do the work that you’re doing.
Mariah Monique: So first, getting to know them, I always teach relationship first, business second, and what that looks like is making sure that you’re building a relationship with your point of contact. You know, these are people first, and if you can build a strong relationship with that person, they are more likely to champion you within their organization and advocate for the events and the sponsorship opportunities that you’re bringing to them within their organization. Also, another tip that I would add is that if there’s extra money at the end of the budget and you truly build a relationship with that person, they’re gonna think about you. And so if you wanna stand out amongst other nonprofit organizations, or if you want to just really go a step ahead, I think it’s gonna be really important to ensure that you are truly building those relationships on the front end because you’ll be thought about. The bucket of money is still there.
Mariah Monique: And so that’s one thing. Another tip I would say regarding taking it from a transactional relationship to a transformational relationship or transformative relationship is it’s important to think about reaching out to that sponsor when you do not need any money. I see this happen where it’s like, let’s say you see an organization, they’re in the news and they just committed, I don’t know, 20 million to homelessness, or maybe they took a stance to something that was going on political. It’s okay to say, oh man, you know, “Hey Mariah, I just saw that you all did X, Y, and Z. Like how does your role play a part in that? How are you feeling about that?” It doesn’t have to be anything long, but just checking in with the person and just keeping up with the fact that like there’s news that’s happening with the organizations that you’re seeking and maybe you have questions about that.
Mariah Monique: And so I think that’s also another tip to again, build the relationship. It shows that you care. It also shows that you are watching the organization, which is huge. You know, people wanna know that organizations they’re supporting also understand and know them as an organization. So I think that’s really a critical tip in building a relationship and taking these things from transactional to transformative. Another thing I also would say is inviting sponsors in. You know, sometimes people will call and say, “Hey, I’ve got, you know, an idea, I wanna get your advice on it.” You can do that with your sponsors, especially if you’ve properly started to build a relationship with them and you invite them into the co-creation space of what this could look like. And it also allows you an opportunity to say, “Hey, like these are some great ideas. I really love this one, or I love that one.”
Mariah Monique: And you can say, is this something that your organization would wanna be a part of? It allows you an opportunity to say, “Hey, would you potentially sponsor this?” So I think it’s really important to ensure that, number one, you’re getting to know them, you’re not skipping steps of the relationship. Two, that you’re reaching out to sponsors when you don’t need money, and when you don’t need anything, you’re just checking in and say, “Hey, I haven’t heard you from you all in a while.” Or, “Hey, I saw this in the news. What’s your role? Or how do you feel about it?” Or three, getting to the point where you can invite them to co-create with you and what that will look like. So that’s what I would say for taking those relationships from transactional to transformative.
Farra Trompeter: That’s really helpful. Thank you. Well, I know there’s even more we could get into. And if you are curious about this topic, you wanna learn more about Mariah’s work, and access her helpful resources, be sure to visit thesponsorshipcatalyst.com. You can also connect with Mariah on Instagram and LinkedIn at The Sponsorship Catalyst. Mariah, before we go, anything else you’d like to share?
Mariah Monique: Yeah, I’d just like to encourage the nonprofit organizations listening to this podcast today. I’d just like to encourage you all because you all really do bring a lot of value to the table. You have built trust within the community that you serve. They know you, they love you, they’re transformed by you. And I want you to know that when you come to the table for a sponsor, know that you bring value. Yes, they are giving you money, but you hold a lot of weight and you’re not coming to the table without anything. And so I really want people to be encouraged as they go through this sponsorship-seeking process. Also want them to be encouraged that there are organizations that are waiting, waiting, even looking for your organization to support. I think that because of what has happened in 2020, there’s still so many open doors that are available for organizations to take advantage of. So don’t be discouraged in the process. I know it’s not the easiest thing to do, but don’t be discouraged by it, and really lean into your team in supporting this sponsorship effort as you all seek sponsors for your upcoming events. So I hope you all have learned something and gained something from today’s podcast. And thank you so much, Farra, for having me.
Farra Trompeter: Well, thank you so much and I love that note of encouragement we’re landing on. So Mariah, thanks for being here, and everyone out there have a great rest of your day.
This podcast has been sponsored by UncommonGood