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Five Tips for Recruiting Nonprofit Sponsors

Yesterday I talked about the power and ease of working with other nonprofits who serve as sponsors. I mentioned that when I worked at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) my four nonprofit sponsors were collectively worth more than $5 million a year to CMNH. That was more than 10 years ago and I’d be surprised if the current number for those four sponsors wasn't some multiple of $5 million.

So how do you recruit valuable nonprofit sponsors? Here’s five tips:
  1. Network, network, network. The initial contact with the American Legion came through Riley Hospital for Children, the CMNH member hospital in Indianapolis. Someone knew someone at the Legion headquarters there, and my predecessor sweet-talked, cajoled and weaseled his way towards the decision-makers, many of whom had had personal experience with Riley.
  2. A ‘no’ doesn’t always mean no; sometimes it just means not now. What I mean is that persistence is vital if you want to recruit new sponsors. So, too, is good-timing. Log-a-Load for Kids, long a campaign of the Forest Resources Association, at first was so grassroots it was almost formless. Before it could be a sponsor, Log-a-Load needed a little more organization. When the Forest Resources Association took the campaign under its wing, it was then positioned to be a CMNH sponsor. Before then it was too soon.
  3. Seek first to understand. Stephen R. Covey had it right. Before you can be understood, you must first seek to understand. You have to understand your would-be partner’s business and their points of pain. This applies not only to the company as a whole, but to influential people in the company. Foresters, a fraternal benefit society, had undergone a terrible scandal that shook the organization to the core and required a wrenching reorganization. One thing we came to understand about Foresters was that they very much needed and wanted publicity that painted the company in more positive light and boosted internal morale. Once we understood that we could develop a campaign that fit Forester’s needs and the needs of CMNH.
  4. Be prepared to play every angle. In recruiting a sponsor, CMNH would try anything that was ethical and legal. We’d play on emotions by showing videos of kids who were desperately sick but got better at a CMNH hospital. In communications with prospective sponsors our board members would play on their college, family, personal, or religious loyalties. If we thought they’d react to certain celebrities, we’d have them phone or write a letter. We’d invite them to tour their local children’s hospital or join us for the old Children’s Miracle Network Telethon. We’d visit them when we were in town and go to lunch or dinner. And, of course, we spent time talking about how children’s hospitals touched the lives of just about everyone via their family or friends. 
  5. Polish your presentations until they shine. CMNH had an executive who spent several years as an executive at the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Since the Olympics are sponsor-driven I asked him once what CMNH could learn from it. His response at the time was, ‘not much.’ In particular, he said that the presentation decks from CMNH surpassed those coming from the organizing committee. There was a reason for that. CMNH had a very specific cause marketing schema, or basic approach to cause marketing that could be applied in countless settings. Consequently, CMN’s presentation deck and most of its best presenters had been burnished to a high shine. You should write your presentations carefully then polish, polish and polish them some more.

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