The nonprofit world still has to sell their products and services to customers just as any for-profit company. The main difference from a for profit company (besides legal structure) is that your customers are more likely called sponsors and the money has historically come from a different budget or is reported differently.
While this has been a boon for nonprofits – there are a smaller number of organizations competing for a sectioned off pool of money just for them – increasing top-down pressure has made even the most well-meaning corporate citizens ask for a real business case.
When it comes to the diversity and inclusion world, the “business case” is concrete; it makes organizations stronger, more profitable, and more innovative (when done correctly). The problem, however, is that every nonprofit in the diversity and inclusion space is using that business case.
Of course, rhetoric about the “right thing to do” comes into play here; that’s how you get one company to sponsor multiple communities.
So how do you stand out and seek sponsorship as a nonprofit organization – with so many organizations asking for the same dollar in an increasingly scrutinized world? Get structured.
A business case has three elements, each of which is important for a different reason. These should always be customized to your organization’s capabilities and the needs of your would-be sponsor.
The Value Core is why people buy. It is the key pain point that has led them to dedicate dollars to solving the problem.
In the diversity and inclusion nonprofit world, there are three predominant value cores. The most successful nonprofits will offer all three:
1. Recruiting: Either directly sourcing more talent from your community or talent branding into that community for passive recruiting
2. Branding: As Employer Branding becomes more and more necessary, organizations seek to differentiate themselves with community involvements since it makes them look good to be engaged in the community AND supporting a good cause
3. Business Development: These organizations are interested in selling to diverse communities just as much as they want to recruit them, if not more
When communicating value cores, they should be present in your sponsorship packages under the “Why sponsor us” section.
More often then not, a nonprofit will stop at this level and then make the ask for cash. They will present a large community and decent brand awareness, expecting an organization to jump on board. Since everyone presents this type of business case, a successful nonprofit will have to dig deeper not only to provide a more thorough offering but also to differentiate your organization from the hundreds, if not thousands, of other organizations asking for money.
Value Adds are why individuals buy from YOU. They are infrastructural support from your whole organization that helps to boost the ROI of all Value Core sales pitches. A successful nonprofit can secure a lot of sponsorship just by hitting Value Cores and Value Adds.
Value adds are where your organization starts to differentiate itself:
1. Niche focus within a community: Your organization might seek empowerment of people with disabilities, but a niche focus might be the corporate world. Organizations that can be easily understood (but in a scalable way) can secure more sponsorship
2. The way you operate: Your organization might act or look in a way that resonates with would-be sponsors better than another organization; this usually revolves around client service and tone of the organization
3. Off-shoot add-ons and involvements: You might get sponsorship for a conference, but if you also throw in social media posts to your large following plus a blog post, it creates a more holistic package for sponsors
Another way to think of this is competitive advantage, and it is often linked to which of the Value Cores a would-be sponsor needs most. If they value recruiting above all else, a massive community will do better than a small group of subject matter experts. If they value branding, a more established nonprofit or one that has powerful champions behind it will likely get those dollars.
In your sponsorship packages, these benefits are typically woven throughout and given in high level sponsorship tiers. Small tastes of these value adds should be integrated at every level.
Value Tertiary is used throughout the process – to open the door to the sale, to help make the close, and in after-sales service. These values are the ones that make people feel good about working with you.
The main challenge is that many nonprofits substitute Value Tertiaries as Value Cores, which is why some corporations don’t see the value in working with nonprofit organizations.
1. Mission alignment: When for profit firms partner with nonprofits, it often starts with at least some amount of “right thing to do” combined with needing to solve a Value Core and then feeling good about a Value Add. Keeping sponsors, though, is about seeing a future of the world in harmony with one another and working together to make it happen; the for-profit firms know they need community based help, and the nonprofits know they need money. The relationship becomes symbiotic because both organizations are working towards a similar, if not identical, future world.
2. Personal relationships: It’s almost always more fun to do business with people you like and respect. The more your team works to develop personal relationships with internal sponsor champions (and other employees at a sponsor firm), the more likely it is that the firm will overlook small issues and renew their sponsorship. This isn’t a license to be unprofessional, but relationships make the whole process more human and honest.
3. Engaging with the organization is fun for sponsors: Many organizations believe that sponsors should give money and be happy that they are supporting a community that deserves support. While the community does deserve support, the development of internal champions at sponsor firms all but requires that the individual would-be champion themselves feels valued in the context of the sponsorship. If your work doesn’t allow constant interaction with sponsors, consider a sponsor appreciation event (or send them hand-written thank-you notes for their contributions) to let them know that they are valued.
The process to securing a sponsorship goes like this:
1. Value Tertiary – Open the door
2. Value Core – Fill their needs
3. Value Add – Show them YOU are the best option
4. Value Tertiary – Close the sale
In order to keep relationships, deliver the Value Core and empower the Value Add, all in the context of the Value Tertiary. This keeps the “business case” value high while also making the individuals involved feel great for doing so; not only are they looking good to their corporations but they get to be part of something larger than themselves.
As relationships get stronger, the process gets easier; but it’s important to remember that the root of all this is human relationships. Even the most established nonprofit with the best brand can lose a sponsor if the relationship turns sour or if an internal champion leaves the firm. It’s important to keep relationships specific for negotiations but broad in overall context, so the void of an internal champion leaving is effortlessly filled by another human relationship between the members of the nonprofit and the employees at the sponsor firm.
Follow Stefan on Twitter @stefanpalios or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and was written in honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM), a month dedicated to opening conversations, hearts, and minds when it comes to understanding and overcoming the challenges that people with disabilities face in the workplace.