For many arts organisations, corporate sponsorship is an important part of the revenue mix. But it is also difficult to acquire – and managing it can be very labour-intensive.

There’s no doubt the sponsorship market is tough. Arts organisations are forced to go head-to-head with commercial enterprises, sports with national television rights, plus every life-saving cause and charitable organisation imaginable.

So how can you differentiate your organisation and position it as a proactive and effective partner?

Stop talking about yourself

We work with a lot of arts organisations in the sponsorship market. If there is one mistake we keep seeing, it is arts organisations going to market with a finely tuned pitch about themselves.

Sure, you need an elevator pitch about your organisation. But once you’ve given it, you need to stop talking about yourself and start listening. You need to understand the issues and priorities of your potential sponsor and talk about the value you will create for them.

In a sponsorship relationship, your product is not so much what you do, but your audience: the people a partner can reach and communicate with by sponsoring you. Forget about what you do and how you do it, and start talking about how, by having a relationship with you, a sponsor’s business can be more successful.

Listen well and talk about the sponsor

Companies engage in sponsorship to solve problems and execute strategy.  How can you help them do that? Here are four areas you can expect to have a conversation about.

Talk about the sponsor’s brand:

  • How does the sponsor’s brand align with yours and how can they be mutually reinforcing?
  • What level of reach can you provide for the sponsor’s brand in its key demographics?
  • What stories will this positioning enable the sponsor to tell and to whom?
  • What opportunities can you provide for your audiences to encounter and experience the sponsor’s brand?
  • What opportunities can you provide for the sponsor to engage with its stakeholders?

Talk about helping the sponsor do more business:

  • Understand the sponsor’s customers. Are they governments? Businesses? Consumers? A combination of the above?
  • Show how your strong connections with government, other corporate partners, board members, donors, audiences and their networks enables you to facilitate relationships.
  • What promotions could you run through your communications channels?
  • Find ways to make sure your board is deeply engaged. This is easier said than done – but talk with your board members individually about your sponsorship value proposition and what it will achieve for each partner. Your engaged board is a source of competitive advantage for the arts in the sponsorship market.

Talk about social capital, staff engagement and being an employer of choice:

  • How can a sponsor’s workforce be involved in the partnership?
  • How can a sponsor talk about it?
  • How can a sponsor position your partnership internally and in their recruitment marketing?

Talk about corporate citizenship or corporate social responsibility (CSR):

  • What problem will your sponsor help your arts organisation solve?
  • Which communities will benefit from the work, which is made possible by your sponsor?
  • How can your sponsor be present and who will know about it?
  • What content will they have for their own communications channels?

Securing sponsorship starts with engaging in an active two-way discussion. Prepare some questions in advance that help you uncover the potential sponsor’s needs and objectives.

What does your asset register look like?

Before going to market with a ‘property’ (the entity, program or activity you’re seeking sponsorship for), it’s good to have compiled an asset register. This is a list of everything your organisation can do to create value for a sponsor in the areas above. These ideas become talking points for you in addressing the needs of their organisation.

An ideas workshop with colleagues from across your organisation will draw out some surprising opportunities. It will also make sure everyone is on board with your pitch and invested in its success.

If you’d like to have a complimentary discussion about your sponsorship strategy and building an asset register please get in touch.

Caroline Sharpen is the Principal at Sharpen Creative Industries Consulting. She is an experienced cultural sector executive, strategist, consultant and business development practitioner.


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