Recruit More Sponsors, Corporate Partners with Inbound Marketing

Join Hubspot and me for a FREE webinar on how to recruit more sponsors and corporate partners with inbound marketing this Thursday, December 1st at 1pm EST. On this blog and in Cause Marketing for Dummies I talk a lot about how blogging, social media and SEO can help nonprofits land more sponsors and corporate partners. I call it good old-fashioned marketing. My friends at Boston's Hubspot have a better name for it: Inbound Marketing.

They define the practice as any marketing tactic that relies on earning people's attention as opposed to buying it with advertising.

I'm sure this approach is new to most development professionals who work in sponsorship, cause marketing and corporate partnerships. Their idea of prospecting is cold calling and sending out emails to potential partners.

Wouldn't you rather have qualified prospects come to you? That's what inbound marketing is all about!

How I Used Inbound Marketing

Here's how I used inbound marketing to recruit corporate partners for cause marketing programs at a Boston hospital.

Like most nonprofits, we had supporters that we could reach directly without inbound marketing. We already had their attention and recruited them for cause marketing programs. These are your best prospects. If only there were more of them!

iParty, for instance, had a long-standing relationship with the hospital. The owners, Sal & Dorrice Perisano were generous donors to the hospital before they involved their party supply business in fundraising for us. Most nonprofits have one or more existing donors that operate businesses and are open to partnerships. But they are in the bullseye for a reason: most organizations only have one or two of these perfect prospects.

After supporters, you move to the second circle, which is populated with contacts. These companies know you, and you know them, but they're not supporters. Office supply chain Staples, for instance, was a contact because they were a hospital vendor. We knew them, and they us, but they weren't supporters of the hospital - at least not yet. But the business relationship we had with them gave us access to their marketing team, which led to a cause marketing partnership. Again, no need for inbound marketing here.

The third circle is the most critical because it's the largest and has the most opportunity. But bigger also means harder because you have no relationship, no connection with these companies. These companies are so cold you can't even call them prospects! I call them suspects. Most nonprofits think they need a sledgehammer to break down the doors to these companies. Bold stroke, for sure. But what they need is a magnet that will draw these prospects in and warm them up. This is when inbound marketing is so valuable!

Faced with this same challenge in our own recruitment program, we turned to blogging, social media and SEO as a magnet to pull these prospects in.

The Blog

I started six months into my job at the hospital to educate companies - especially those located in my target area, Boston - on cause marketing and my team's work in the area. Selfish Giving was something they could find online that was informative and useful but not promotional.

Social Media

We focused on Twitter - accounts for the whole team not just for me - to engage Boston companies and share content. We also distributed our blog content to other sites, such as Care.comThe Chronicle of Philanthropy and other cause-related blogs.


Our blogging efforts - and a landing page for a webinar we created to educate partners on one of the easiest and most lucrative types of cause marketing, point-of-sale - helped us top the search engines for such keywords as "cause marketing boston" and "picking a cause for cause marketing."

The Results

Inbound marketing had a noticeable impact on our program. Not only did it help us recruit more corporate partners but it had an impact we didn't expect: it strengthened our partnerships with existing partners as they grew to respect our inbound efforts and social media expertise. They looked to us for credible, intelligent advice on how to effectively use these new platforms.

I bet your organization could benefit from learning more about inbound marketing and how it can help you recruit more corporate partners.

Thanks to Hubspot you can. On December 1st at 1pm EST, Hubspot and I are hosting a FREE webinar on how to recruit more sponsors and corporate partners with inbound marketing.

This is something you won't want to miss!

Cause Marketing vs. Sponsorship - What's the Difference?

I'm really excited to have Jocelyne Daw guest post on my blog today. In addition to being a wonderful author who's written two of my favorite books on cause marketing, Cause Marketing for Nonprofits and Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding (with Carol Cone), Jocelyne has been a great mentor to me and other cause marketers.

In her post today, Jocelyne makes an important distinction between cause marketing and sponsorship. Too often, we lump everything cause and company related into cause marketing. But if cause marketing doesn't stand for something, it won't mean anything. Thanks to Jocelyne for standing tall today for all cause marketers!


Recently I presented at the AFP Toronto congress, a national gathering of nonprofit professionals, on cause marketing trends and best practices.   It’s always a great group. I deem a presentation successful if the attendees are engaged and ask lots of questions.  At this session I was not to be disappointed.  One question that popped up and generated a great deal of good discussion was “What is the difference between sponsorship and cause marketing?”.

This is an important question that I have been asked regularly during my presentations.  So I wasn’t surprised when it became part of a Twitter conversation between two cause-marketing experts (and friends of mine) – Joe Waters and Steve Drake.

In my perspective, the difference between the two is simple.  It’s in the tactics and the benefits of each execution.

Let’s look at cause marketing

Let me start with my definition of cause marketing.  This sets the stage for differentiating between these two growing forms of corporate community involvement - methods that go beyond traditional corporate philanthropic donations.

I define cause marketing as a mutually beneficial business and nonprofit partnership that sees a company put the power of its brand and marketing behind the cause to generate profits for both. In cause marketing, the company uses the cause as the focus of its marketing tactics. Think the traditional 4 P’s of marketing: product, price, promotion and place.  Product ties to cause.  Price includes a donation or percentage to the cause.  Promotion focuses on the cause connection.  Place reaches consumers in an untraditional way and place with cause messages often supported by in-store point of purchase advertising.

The company’s expectation is that it will directly earn profits from the affiliation. The cause tie helps the product and company to stand out in the crowded marketplace.  It demonstrates an alignment with the company and customers’ values. Research proves that if price and quality are equal, the cause differentiator will (in more cases than not) result in a sale.

Sponsorship on the other hand…

Sponsorship sees companies providing financial contribution to a nonprofit event or program.  In return, the nonprofit uses its marketing and communications tools to promote a company’s involvement and support of the cause.   The tools could include featuring the company’s logo on a poster, t-shirt, brochure or other nonprofit marketing and communications material.   In the end, it’s really just another marketing and promotional tool for the company.  Similar to the way TV advertising or social media is used to reach a distinct target audience.

Profits, on the other hand for the nonprofit are less ambiguous.  They receive a payment – in the form of a non-tax receipted contribution.  It is essentially an advertising expense paid in a commercial exchange for a corporate recognition tied to the cause.  Benefits for the company come in the form of reaching a target audience in a unique way and creating community goodwill.  Neither is seen as a competitive advantage that will guarantee a sale.  Generating corporate profits are less direct than in the case of cause marketing.

The difference is clear, but can still be blurry

While my definition clearly differentiates between the two business-cause partnerships, there are occasionally blurry lines.  Take Komen Race for the Cure® and Yoplait’s involvement.

Yoplait has been the main sponsor of the race for a number of years.  Komen promotes their support through the organization’s various race marketing and communication vehicles.  Yoplait’s logo can be seen on the Komen Race for the Cure® t-shirt.  It is featured on the poster and as in the picture the on-site race banners.  However, during the month of October, Yoplait parallels its race support with a cause marketing in-store promotion – “Save Lids, Save Lives.”  People see both.  Some call their support “sponsorship”.  Others call it “cause marketing”.  In fact, it’s a smart use of both that leverages Yoplait’s cause involvement in the breast cancer movement.  By doing so, it turns the entire involvement into something that is bigger than the sum of individual parts.

In the end, both cause marketing and sponsorship are commercial, mutually beneficial relationships between companies and causes.  We know both are growing.  When done right, they provide powerful shared value and reflect shared values.

Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits: Closing the Deal

Before my sales people head out to close a potential sale I always give them the same piece of advice: Don't screw it up. But it's hard not to, and I still do it myself sometimes. Closing a sponsorship deal isn't easy, especially these days when companies are scrutinizing everything and watching every penny.

Here are three tips to make sure that you earn the title of salesperson, instead of that of glorified customer service rep who can talk all day but can never close a deal!

Don't give them an excuse to say no. I hear about this all the time from companies. The nonprofits that call on them are inflexible, selfish and unrealistic. This is how not to be one of them.

  • Build all your sponsorship packages a la carte. Don't walk in with one sponsorship option that they can only say yea or nay to. Follow my lead and build all our sponsorships from the ground-up, swapping things in and out based on the prospect's needs, interests and budget.
  • Offer to lend a hand whenever possible. Companies are busier than ever. And while a sponsorship with you is undoubtedly a great opportunity, their success does not depend on it. That's why you should offer to be as helpful as possible. For example, when sponsors of Halloween Town had difficulty staffing their areas on both days, we offered to mobilize our volunteers on their behalf.

The best things in life are free. I use to think that it was only nonprofits that liked everything free. But for-profits love free too. Who wouldn't take a free sponsorship? But to make it free you have to employ this little thing I call the cause marketing twist. It works like this. Say that you want a sponsorship at an event like Halloween Town, but you're short on cash. If you're a retailer you could raise the funds needed for the sponsorship by doing a pinup program in your stores. The money you raise underwrites your sponsorship.

Think about the potential this has if your nonprofit hosts an annual cause walk. Instead of soliciting businesses for support from their checkbooks-- where there is little allotted to cause sponsorships anyway--they instead ask their customers to support your cause with a small donation.

The business wins because they get their sponsorship. The cause wins because they raise more money than they would have ever gotten from a company check. And the consumer wins because the charity and business work together to reward the customer for supporting the endeavor (see the $175 coupons we offered for a $1 donation for our Halloween Town pinup).

Increase touch points. Whenever we're working with businesses on a sponsorship, we're always looking for ways to make it less transactional and more meaningful. For example, a big part of my team's work is selling sponsorships for our annual Gala and golf tournament to hospital vendors. Now, these asks are naturally transactional because we're soliciting support from businesses that have a vested interest in supporting us. Regardless, we still try to multiply the touch points so each business knows just how important their gift is to supporting the hospital's mission.

The result has been that some of these vendors make company AND personal gifts, and some even continued giving after their business relationship with the hospital had ended.

For companies that are not vendors we try to get them to tour the hospital, speak with one of our docs or trustees, or least visit our blog or fan page, so they can see firsthand the work we do and make the sponsorship feel less like a deal and more like a commitment.

This might sound like common sense to you, but we've trained ourselves to sell the benefits of sponsorship so much we sometimes forget our mission! It might be just the opposite for you.  Regardless, we all can't forget that a deal is not sealed with a one-finger shake. It takes all our fingers, a thumb and a palm before anyone will say "We have a deal."

AFP Presentation: Cause Marketing for Nonprofits

cause marketing presentation

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Brown Bag today to hear me, Joanna MacDonald and Dan Curtin, General Manager of Zipcar Boston, talk about cause marketing.

As promised, here are my slides from the presentation (at least the most relevant ones). I've linked them to several posts that might be helpful to you.

What is Cause Marketing? Read my post of the same name, and be sure to check out the comments.

Point-of-Sale. You can read about several great examples of pinup programs that support Komen, Jake's Ride and BMC. Not familiar with pinup programs? Here's a primer.

Percentage-of-Sale. Check out this post I wrote on Absolut Boston and the Charles River Conservancy.

Sponsorships. As I explained today, cause marketing isn't sponsorship, but I know selling sponsorships are still a big part of what nonprofits do. That's why I've written a whole series on it called Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits.

iParty and Ocean State Job Lots. You heard a lot about iParty and Ocean State today. These links share some more background about them and our partnerships with them.

Zipcar. As you heard today, this car-sharing company has been a good friend of the hospital. Here are some more details about the email pinup they did for us.

Cause Marketing Forum. Their annual conference shouldn't be missed! You can also follow CMF's founder on Twitter. Visit CMF for loads of case studies on cause marketing and info on the conference.

The future is free. I talked about this in my "prophecies" for cause marketing. Read about it here.

Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits: Prospecting Circles, Part II

magnifying_glassPart two of Prospecting Circles will focus on three areas: where to search for prospects, using social media for prospecting and better results with prospect management software. Top ways Joanna, Holt and Ashley find prospects. Let's go back to the circle strategy I discussed in part one. Just as some prospects are better than others, some prospecting strategies are better than others and should be used first. This is according to my three sales people on the team: Joanna, Holt and Ashley.

In the bullseye, not surprisingly, is prospecting among current sponsors and donors. The latter has proven especially useful to me lately as we just landed a company we've been chasing for four years--but only after I found out one of our key donors lived next to the company's president. It was amazing how much progress we made after she interceded on our behalf. It was so much easier to deal with the president, instead of with his gatekeepers at corporate.

In the second circle, Joanna, Holt and Ashley include vendors and past business relationships. The former is not applicable to every nonprofit, but if you work for a large institution business partners can be powerful (although sometimes conflicting) assets for sponsorship. It's a minefield, but one worth crossing in our opinion.

In the last outer circle the gang put business journals, competing fundraising events, networking events, Google and the advertisers they see and hear on radio, TV and print.

Prospecting using social media. Blogging, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are increasingly useful tools for some members of the team.

Blogging at has given me a cause marketing platform to share with prospects. I can educate them about past programs, discuss trends in the industry and present myself as a credible thought leader on cause marketing. In short, blogging has been a great way to start, to continue and to steer cause marketing conversations with prospects.

After blogging comes microblogging using Twitter. Warning: I'm a Twitterholic so you can't really take my word for it's usefulness. You'll need to try it out for yourself. And while there aren't a lot of CEO's twittering their days away on Twitter, there are a lot of marketing, branding and PR people to connect with (and, yes, the ranks of CEO's and other senior execs twittering is growing!). I've nurtured some good relationships on Twitter and it's been a good networking tool.

I'm not as active on Facebook and Linkedin as I am on my blog and Twitter, although this has improved since both platforms came to Tweetdeck where I can manage everything in one place. What I really like is how everything can be updated at once! It makes being on multiple social media sites a lot easier.

Meet your new sales assistant: prospect management software. You probably feel like you "tolerate" your prospect management software more than you use it. You certainly don't feel like it's working for you and that it's there to help you raise more money. This may be a function of the crappy software you use, or, maybe, with the crappy way you're using it. But recognize this: your prospect management software can help you sell more sponsorships and raise more money for your organizations. Period. The sooner you view your prospect management software as the valuable, money-making sidekick it is, the sooner you'll be embracing a valuable member of the team.

Here's your new employee orientation.

  • Whatever you use, develop a system. We currently use Raiser's Edge, but I developed my system in Outlook. Current sponsors are designated a "Prospect +". Companies that aren't sponsors are "Prospects". Hospital business partners that are sponsors are "Vendor A". Partners that are good candidates for sponsorship are "Vendor B". Former vendors that are neither are archived under "Vendor C".
  • Record everything. Any communication with or intelligence regarding prospects is recorded. Left a voicemail? log it in. Saw a recent story online on a company's new product line. Paste the link into a note. Little bits of info may mean nothing, but a string information viewed together may reveal a useful direction or may point you to a more fruitful prospect.
  • Let the software do the work. Leave reminders, calendar updates, to-dos and institutional memory to the software--backed up, of course! But the software can only do these things if you enable the system to do this work for you in the first place!
  • Track your team's progress. Raiser's Edge has a dashboard that track's the progress of each of my sales people, chronicles their activities, tells me how they're progressing toward goal, both in activity and revenue. Your software should allow you to track your team's progress in some meaningful way.

The next post in our series on Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits moves from finding prospects to pitching them.

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.