November 26, 2014

Why Traditional Sponsorships Are Fatally Ill

Picture of sidewalk outside a large resortTraditional sponsorship was ill, long before the pandemic While classic sponsorships are expected to linger, the disease is fatal. Death will result from sponsorship’s failure to provide adequate value.

No doubt you and your sponsors are secretly (or not) bored with gold, silver, and bronze opportunities. Certainly, few sponsorships gender excitement about the lackluster results, such as name exposure. For instance, one week after the event, just one percent of the 100,000 people in an audience could name a NASCAR sponsor.

Growth-value partnerships are the rising star to supersede traditional sponsorship. They provide outstanding benefits, and at their best, create new value for nonprofits, for-profits, and customers. One example is the partnership between Horace Mann and The Winner of the Gold Halo Award for Best Education Campaign, this partnership has Horace Mann insurance agents help teachers (Horace Mann’s primary customers) write a grant request to post on This non-selling activity creates teacher-agent relationships and a host of other benefits. Agents love it. The teachers love it. Children benefit. The partnership “solves a business challenge for the corporation and delivers significant social value.”

This column examines the fundamentals of a growth-value partnership as an ingenious idea being used by remarkable nonprofits that yield increased revenue. It will help you create growth-value partnerships, so your nonprofit, business partners, customers, and donors experience new value.

Four Fundamentals of Growth-value Nonprofit-business Partnerships
Built on Common Ground

Businesses and nonprofits operate in distinct arenas. Growth-value partners build on the limited common ground the two sectors share, such as the need to form new and strengthen existing customers and, in the case of nonprofits, donor relationships. You’ll find this fundamental at play in traditional sponsorships, but in growth-value partnerships, measurable results are on steroids.

Logic tells us that when a title company and a Habitat for Humanity affiliate jointly develop an evening for the title company’s customers and real estate agents who recommend them, that more value is created than simply listing the title company for the year, even though the underlying donation is the same: $100 per closing or about $5,000 per year. At the open house event, the title company president welcomes and thanks the attendees for making the gift possible. Habitat shares the Habitat story and invites new residents and real estate agents to volunteer and donate used household goods to the re-sale store.

Common ground involves more than just business goals, such as marketing, branding, and employee retention. The link between the nonprofit’s mission and the business’ business must make intrinsic sense for magic results. For example, customers of both entities might overlap in a way that benefits customers if they use both services, such as in the Horace partnership. In the Habitat-title company partnership, the common link involved helping people to be new homeowners. The common ground includes shared goals, logic, and emotion that knit together two different threads to form new materials.

Trust, Competence, Expectations, and Team Play

Besides starting from common ground, successful growth-value partnerships require trust and belief in the other entity’s competence in their respective work, setting mutual expectations, and over time, team play.

Partnerships require a trust or the belief that the other party acts in good faith—despite appearances until facts prove otherwise. For some, this means dropping calcified beliefs about how the other sector operates. Some must drop their inclination to throw all businesses into the same “filthy capitalist” category. Others must toss a belief that there are people who “can’t” join nonprofits. To build a growth-value partnership, both parties must believe the other offers value.

Growth-value partnerships also require belief in the partner’s competence, viability, and potential success. This competence rests with the specific nonprofit or business in question. The Horace partnership brought the insurance company new opportunities in social media and technology. gained from connecting with a firm with a 70-year history and local school knowledge.

Successful partnerships require meetings of the mind to set mutual expectations. Executing great ideas requires organizing from concept to practice. In one partnership, The Asolo Repertory Theatre partners with Wilde Lexus to create Wilde Wednesday. Among other activities, this involved champagne for patrons and parking a Lexus in the theatre entrance each Wednesday. Expectations involved creating the idea and the execution specifics, such as who will organize the arrival and departure of the Lexus and the chilling and uncorking of the champagne.

While the activities are underway, the best growth-value partnerships engage in team play to create maximum outcomes. By working as a team, the partners can take advantage of unexpected opportunities, such as press interviews and branding breaks—often invisible at the onset.

Uniquely Fashioned

With the above fundamentals, you may conclude that growth-value partnerships are rare. They need not be. They remain special. Leaders must craft them one by one. Growth-value partnerships aren’t like Model-T cars, where mass production ruled the day. To provide and uncover benefits, the partners must create hands-on customization.

Built to Last

The local junior league offers “done-in-a-day grants.” Likewise, growth-value partnerships begin in a day, but the goal is to establish decade-long interactions and growing value. This potential longevity justifies the time and resource investment required to create them. Like wine, good growth-value partnerships improve over time. Each exchange provides opportunities to discover new value.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in possibilities;” likewise, growth-value partnerships dwell in possibilities. They begin on common ground, flourish with trust, require customization, and are built to last. They solve business challenges and provide nonprofits with income and mission results. Are you settling for gold, silver, and bronze sponsorships when you might create growth-value partnerships?

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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