Donor-Centered Cause Marketing

In the checkout lineup at my local grocery store, I’m bracing myself for what is coming when I get up to the front of the line. I’m going to be asked to add $1 or $2 to my grocery bill to support a worthy cause that the store is championing. And, once again, I am going to say, “no”.

I haven’t always been so direct. Corporate sponsorships of this ilk have been playing out in pharmacies, hardware stores and other retail shops I frequent for years. I used to take a different approach. I used to say, “I will happily give much more than a dollar if you can answer one question — How much is your company’s head office contributing to this fundraiser?”

Answers have ranged from “I don’t know,” to “I’m sure they are giving something,” to “You could call our head office and ask them yourself;” (this one from cashiers irritated with me for holding up the line.) But not once has anyone been able to answer my question. Nor have I ever seen a flyer or poster in the store explaining the sponsorship and how the company was compensating the not-for-profit for the benefits of associating themselves with a good cause.

Who Is Really the Sponsor – The Company or the Customer?

Some companies that do these small-dollar sponsorships may actually be great corporate citizens, matching dollar for dollar what their customers contribute. But if that is the case, they are missing a golden opportunity to showcase themselves brilliantly. By not paying attention where it really matters — at the point where their sponsorship program connects with their customers – they raise less money for the charity and settle for a mediocre attempt at brand-building through community engagement.

Companies that take the credit for supporting a worthy cause while making their customers pay the whole shot may think they are awfully clever. But, they miss a big opportunity to showcase themselves internally – to their own employees. Cygnus’ research studies with employees of corporations who give philanthropically or sponsor, confirm what other research has found – that their employees are proud to work for these companies because they give back. This pride translates into loyalty and loyalty has a direct impact on their employers’ bottom line.

Negotiate the Deal Your Not-for-Profit Deserves

If you are a fundraiser who negotiates corporate sponsorships where customers are asked to contribute a dollar or two, you have more power than you may realize. Your organizations have brands whose incredible reputations have been built over decades or centuries on the backs of dedicated volunteers and staff. Companies can only wish to have reputations such as yours, so negotiate from a position of strength knowing that you are the one with the priceless advantage. Just the association with your brand should mean a guaranteed fee that is not connected to what customers contribute. On top of that, you should get every dollar that customers give because they are giving that money to you. Do not settle for a maximum cap on the sponsorship fee.

You Are Still the Primary Steward of Your Donors

In return, you have much to offer – in addition to your excellent brand – in the area of customer relations. Your sensitivity to donors makes you the ideal partner to help your corporate sponsor think through the details at the customer end of the sponsorship. All customers, whether they give or not while in the store, should find a small flyer in their bags when they get home.  This vital communications piece should include a brief description of what the money raised through the sponsorship will accomplish — not just that it is going to your not-for-profit. Your website address should be prominently visible on the flyer, too, and copy should entice customers to go there to learn more about your alliance with this particular company and, of course, more about the work you do.

Driving customers to your site will produce a secondary fundraising advantage. In our recently published 2012 edition of The Cygnus Donor Survey, one out of three donors who were not intending to give when they visited a not-for-profit’s website, changed their minds and made a contribution online because they were impressed with what they learned[1].

If you remember that the corporate sponsor’s customers are all your donors or potential donors, you will be motivated to recognize corporate partnerships not just for the immediate revenue they generate but for their ability to acquire new donors and bring your existing supporters closer.

Next Week: How a recent experience with a small –dollar sponsorship had me unexpectedly jumping for joy.


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