It Might Be Time to Get on a New Ship

by Kristen Merrifield

I vividly remember my first experience with the concept of corporate sponsorship. A local arm of a large corporation had given the chamber of commerce I was working for at the time a sponsorship of $50,000 for our networking events we were holding all over the Valley. As a young professional just starting my career, that amount was mind boggling to me. And what did they get in return for that huge investment? Well, I recall carting around a rolling suitcase filled with their tchotchkes that I would put out on a table adorned with their table cloth at each event. There were many times that no one from the company would even attend the events. When it came time to renew that gargantuan agreement, they had a big question for us: How many of our members were now doing business with them? Crickets. Tracking a return on their investment had never even been considered — by us or them.

Now 15 years into a career that has always heavily relied on sponsorship as a large source of revenue, I have definitely seen the tides start to change. No longer do companies want (or dare I say care about) two tables of 10 at a luncheon, or to simply have their logo pasted onto everything that will hold the ink. We are seeing a desire to change form — from sponsorSHIP to more of a two-way partnerSHIP. No longer do funders want to just be check writers, but now, change makers. Sponsorship dollars can absolutely be put toward advancing both the mission of the organization and the company’s business and community development goals. But, when we aren’t on the same page — and no one considers what the desired return is — it can lead to disappointment. 

This has rocked the world of many of us in the 501c3 and 501c6 industry, because it could initially be viewed as a threat to a major stream of revenue. “What do you mean you won’t write me a check for $10,000 for our gala? You have for the past 10 years!” Things are changing — corporations want to have their investment follow that of their employees, either in time or dollars. Single decision makers have now moved to committees of employees. Sponsorship checks are now tied to impact reports. 

I see these as truly positive changes, but it will require us to work together, to help educate each other, and to understand the goals we each bring to the table. When for-profits and nonprofits can come together to tackle the challenges that face our communities, big things can happen. So, what ship are you on — the sponsorSHIP or the partnerSHIP? Both can lead to positive outcomes, but we want to be sure you and the organizations you support are both on the same ship so you can reach the same destination! You can learn about some great local examples in our Nonprofit/For-Profit Connection article in each of these special sections. Until then, see you on the lido deck!

Kristen Merrifield, CAE, CNAP
Chief Executive Officer
Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits

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