Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits: Reaching Out to Prospects

suit_executive_head_237912_lNow that you have some strategies for finding qualified prospects, let's look at making some progress at getting some extended face time with new prospects that are neither current sponsors nor aware of your organization. Yep, I'm talking about prospects in that outer ring and making cold calls. Regardless of the channel of communication (e.g. phone, email, in person at say a networking event), the following rules apply:

Your #1 goal is to stay prospect-centric. Always be prepared to adjust your messaging with prospects to meet their needs, interests and goals. You may have just spoken to three prospects this morning that were happy to talk solely about event sponsorship, but can you make the shift when the next prospect wants to talk about your nonprofit's mission? Not all sponsors commit because of the marketing benefits. You have to adjust your pitch accordingly if you plan to keep their interest and preserve their potential as a prospect for sponsorship.

Stand out from your competition. Let's face it: most business people have pretty low expectations of nonprofit types. They expect you to ask for money, and to bring little else to the table except your empty, cupped hands . But if that's all you hear from every fundraiser that passes through your office day in and day out, that gets old. Be different. Ask them about their business. Start by offering them something. Enlighten them on how supporting a cause can deliver a competitive edge and boost employee morale, among other things. Show them you know a little about their industry and competitors. You know what the average fundraiser does (that person may even be you!), step out from that mold and you'll get the attention you want and deserve.

Don't give them an excuse to say no. This is my pet peeve. Mailing prospects reams of information. Not calling people back when they ask you to. Designing sponsorship packages with little creativity and even less flexibility. These are all excuses (no, good reasons) for prospects to say no. You never want to get to a point with a prospect that she gives you a flat-out "no." Psychologically it's a big threshold for a decision maker to cross and when they do, well, they generally mean it (Think of mom: "No means no!"). So why would you want to do something stupid that will hasten a a negative, perhaps fatal response? Think about it.

Persuasion is incremental. Dude, these things take time. It's not going to happen with one call, or one email, or one meeting. You need to plan for sponsorship success and how each interaction will bring you a closer to your goal. So if the objective of that first call isn't to close the sale, what is it? It's a question you should know the answer to before you pick up the phone. Then get busy with steps 2 through 22.

With all the uses of technology these days, the phone is still probably the first thing you pick up to contact prospects. Here are some of the most common questions I get about working the phones.

Should I leave a message? Depends on who on my team you talk to. @holtmurray very rarely leaves a message. He'll call and call until someone picks up. He thinks leaving a message just gives a prospect a reason not to pick up their phone the next time they see your number. I, on the other hand, like to leave a message. A quick one that includes info about why I'm calling and a couple benefits to him or her. I think a message softens up the prospect so when you do get them on the phone it's not a total "cold call." They know why you're calling and, if you've left a good message, may be neutral or mildly inclined to your proposal.

How should I deal with gatekeepers? Make them your friends. They are valuable allies in getting to the prospect. It can be a long, hard slog to success without them. Another tip: they want something too. Sometimes it's something that will save them from the boredom of their jobs. Other times it's talking to someone who has similar challenges in their life (juggling work and kids, a long commute, difficult roommates, etc.). Yet another is for someone from all the organizations they work with to remember them--and not just the boss--around the holidays! Sending over a half-zip sweatshirt with our logo on it to a prospect's assistant has gone a long way in securing a new friend and ally. As Malcolm X said, "By any means necessary!"

When should I stop calling? If they are bonafide prospects, never. This goes back to never giving a prospect a reason to say no. As long as you never drive the prospect to the point that they tell you to get lost, you should be able to call from time to time to pitch them on new programs, to follow up on emails, to invite them to events, etc. We just recruited a prospect that we had been calling for five years! Qualifying them as a real prospect and being persistent paid off!

The phone is the most popular way to reach prospects. But email is another great communication tool and  I have some suggestions for using that as well:

Keep it short. There's nothing worse than a long email. Keep it to a 150 words or less. Think about it: how did you feel the last time you opened an email and had to scroll down to finish reading it? Did you want to get another email from that person?

Bullet everything. Attach nothing. To make it easier to scan your email for key info, bullet, bold, underline the things you want your prospect to read and remember. Also, everything you want your prospect to see should be in the email itself, rather than risking putting anything vital in an attachment. That doesn't mean you can't use attachments, just make sure what's in them is not vital to the goal of your email (FYI: I attach things all the time, but it's additional, not important, information).

Use email to accelerate and entrap. Like you, I use email to get information to people quickly. For our annual dinner gala that I'm selling sponsorships for right now, I threw away the sponsorship letters years ago and rely on emails and the phone to recruit sponsors. In addition to accelerating the process, email also entraps when prospective sponsors tell me on the phone they haven't received the info. "Really? Well, I'm sending it to you right now. Is it in your inbox so you can open it and I can walk you through the sponsorship?" Yep, I love email. It's like an electronic speed trap for prospects. And like we use to say when we were teens, "You can beat the cop car, but you can't beat their radio!"

The next stop in our sponsorship series will look at how to craft winning presentation for prospects. Faceless phone calls and emails are history. It's show time.

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.