Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits: Prospecting Circles, Part I

bullseyePart two in our series on Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits is identifying prospects for sponsorship. This section will have you going in circles! But I promise you won't feel like a hamster!

Going in circles is actually a good thing when you see them as rings in a target.

From a prospecting perspective, my target bullseye has always been my current sponsors. These are my closest supporters and excellent prospects for additional sponsorships. But that's not all. They provide important outreach to new prospects and sponsors.

For example, when I started at my hospital, I had three companies in my bullseye: iParty, Ocean State Job Lots--two longstanding hospital supporters and sponsors--and the  numerous businesses we collectively called "business partners" that sold products and services to my hospital.

When I started the cause marketing/sponsorship program five years ago I began with these relationships. And whenever I created another sponsorship opportunity through the years, I visited this group first. Sometimes I sold them another sponsorship, but more often I got their help to bridge the gap to a new sponsor. This worked, and thanks to their help and example we brought, among others, Staples, Papa Gino's and Citizens Bank into the fold.

I would have been happy to spend all my time prospecting within my bullseye (Being somewhat lazy I subscribe to a modified KISES principle I learned from essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Only in our Simple, Easy and Spontaneous actions are we strong.") but I ran out of easy targets within my bullseye and had to move to the second outer ring to companies that knew of the hospital but weren't current sponsors.

These companies are the ones that know you exist, and are probably even supportive of your organization in some way, but they are not current sponsors.

For example, the Boston Bruins and their foundation knew of my hospital and its great work, but it wasn't until last year that they finally sponsored an event. But their familiarity with the hospital always made them a good prospect for sponsorship and a regular second stop if iParty and Ocean State Job Lots took a pass. It just took time to get them to yes. [Note: just because a sponsor doesn't say yes right away doesn't mean they're not interested or shouldn't be pursued. A good prospect is a good prospect, forever.]

Another was Zipcar, a Boston-based car sharing company that is a hospital partner (being a large urban hospital with 5,500 employees, a million visitors and a tight parking situation, we need transportation options!). Zipcar knew the hospital well, and finally became a sponsor of Halloween Town.

The last and outermost ring is where I spend most of my time prospecting for sponsorships. These are companies that don't know the hospital and aren't current sponsors. Most of my sponsors over the past five years have fallen within this circle: Shaw's Supermarkets, Finagle Bakery & CafeBorders Books, Bugaboo Creek, Valvoline Instant Oil Change, Tedeschi Food Shops and the list goes on and on. My team recruited them the old-fashioned way: cold calling. But that doesn't mean the sponsors in my two inner circles didn't play a role. They did. They provided me with the contacts and/or credibility I needed to make a compelling case to a company that had probably never heard of me or my organization.

More than circles or rings, prospecting for sponsorships creates ripples of opportunity. At the center are your core supporters and sponsors from which you draw funding, strength and leads. They in turn create opportunities and leverage at the second ring with companies that are supportive but not sponsors. The disruption there creates even more activity and success at the outer ring, which ultimately feeds the center and starts the process anew.

I could continue, but there's too much juicy material for me to share! Part two of my series will have to have a part two.

In the second part of Prospecting Circles, we'll look at some of the places to find and cultivate great prospects, including using social media. Be sure to tune in next week.