13 November, 2017

The Art of the Pitch: Cultivating Corporate Sponsors

In the world of nonprofit fundraising, sponsorship is when a nonprofit seeks support from for-profit businesses (usually in their community) to help meet fundraising goals. Sponsorship can come in many forms, including sponsoring an event, program or initiative of the nonprofit. Often, sponsorships can be a key source of revenue for the nonprofit.

Sponsorship is about finding a relationship that works for both parties. Companies are often eager to lend their support to impactful nonprofit organizations for various reasons — perhaps as a part of a corporate giving program or because they are personally connected to your cause. Making the case for sponsorship is the most critical part. What is it about your organization that makes it worth supporting? What will you use the sponsorship dollars for? And what, if any, benefits (such as signage or tickets) come with corporate sponsorship?

Here are the steps to successful sponsorship fundraising...

Designing Your Sponsorship Opportunities

  • What are your needs? While it’s tempting to just ask for $1,000 or $10,000 to hit your fundraising goals, any fundraising campaign should start by establishing what the funds will be used for. No prospective sponsor wants to hear, "We need the money to hit our goal." Are you raising funds for general operating support like hiring staff? Or are you seeking sponsors for your afterschool program to help cover the costs of supplies?
  • Once your purpose and goals are clear, what will you ask the sponsor for? Is it a one-time donation for an event? Or is it sustained support over time?
  • Identify the value-add proposition and the various levels of sponsorship. Perhaps it’s “thank you” signage at your event, a speaking role in front of a large audience or tickets to your conference.

Identify Prospective Sponsors

  • Identifying corporate sponsors will generally start with your existing fundraising network. Inform your current donors and volunteers of your specific sponsorship opportunities and ask for personal introductions to companies they recommend.
  • Research additional potential sponsors. An online search is always a great place to start. Which companies are doing work that might align with your mission? Research their past sponsorship involvement to see if they might be a good fit and ensure that your "ask" makes sense to their overall business and philanthropic goals.

Make Your Ask

  • Known as the "solicitation" stage in fundraising, it’s best to make a personal ask. Explain the incredible opportunity that you’ve put together and let them ask questions. If they need time to decide, ask for a specific time that you can follow up.
  • Be clear about your ask and provide materials about your sponsorship opportunities.
  • Explain your mission, the charitable class you serve, what makes your organization unique and what success looks like in your next year.
  • Explain the value-add you’ve designed (aka the benefit), which might interest their company and ask for their input about what they are looking for.


  • Once you’ve confirmed your sponsors, the relationship has really just begun. It’s not a transaction like in business. Rather, the company is now a donor and sustainer of your charitable work. Thank them several times and get to know what their company is interested in accomplishing.
  • An individual, volunteer or staff of your organization should be assigned to manage the relationship at every touch point. For example, have someone greet them at the event or meet with them regularly during the length of the program sponsorship to offer updates.
  • Continue the relationship with an eye toward future sponsorship. A strong relationship is key to building a strong reputation as a professional nonprofit worthy of sponsorship.
  • Stewardship is also about reporting back on the results of your nonprofit’s work. Show the impact that their dollars have made on the delivery of your mission, whether it’s how many people were served or the impact of your work because of their support.

Quick Tips

  • Deliver one extra benefit, or thank you, that you didn’t promise ahead of time.
  • Do it again. At the conclusion of the event, program, or six months after (if the sponsorship didn’t have a timeline) ask them to support again next year and to connect you to other companies. Do not let the relationship go quiet for a long period of time.
  • Keep track of your outreach, as sponsorship is often a long-game. If they aren’t able to sponsor this year, ask if they will consider next time.
  • Think long-term. Most corporations plan their annual giving budget at least one fiscal year in advance. Don’t solicit for sponsorship in Q3 for Q4!

Compliance Reminder

In order to ensure that a corporate sponsorship is considered a charitable contribution, your nonprofit will need to ensure that you don’t offer any exclusive sponsorships, offer to sell or link to any pages selling the company's products or provide more value to the company than the value of the sponsorship itself.

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Author: Mary Roach

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