Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits: Convincing Thinkers, Feelers & Deferrers


I've written four other posts to get you to this point: you're sitting across from a decision maker and you finally have a shot of actually selling a sponsorship. Of course, you may not be talking to just one person. You may be pitching to a whole group. If so, you should check out an earlier post I wrote: Analyze, Organize, Energize: Keys to a Powerful Presentation. Rather than focusing on analyzing your listener(s), or how best to organize your key points, or dealing with the butterflies that invariably come with public speaking, this post looks at the means of persuasion and what actually gets people to yes.

Since I started selling sponsorships I've concluded that decision makers can be lumped into one of three categories: thinkers, feelers and deferrers. No decision maker is ever just one. It's never that simple. Everyone is a combination of all three to some degree, but one dominates and that's where you need to focus your pitch.

Thinkers. Facts and figures are the mainstays of thinkers. These are the folks that pour over my sponsorship packets, look at the graphs, ask me how we collected our data and are most interested in the bottom-line return on their investment. A lot of marketing directors are thinkers, which isn't surprising. They constantly have to show their bosses how a campaign has achieved this goal or driven these sales or met its ROI. The biggest question you need to answer for them, although they may never tell you this directly, is "does this sponsorship make sense for my business?"

To demonstrate how you might mix and match appeals for feelers and deferrers with thinkers you can present the facts and figures they love with creativity and passion. Another strategy is to use evidence from sources the prospect knows and respect. For example, pick a well known and respected business that invests in cause sponsorships and use them as a case study.

Feelers. Emotions drive the decisions of feelers. Going back to the sponsorship packet, they don't fixate on the graphs and charts and numbers. They look at the pictures from the event, listen to the anecdotes I tell them as they insert themselves into the narrative of the opportunity. It's not about the sponsorship making sense, it's about it feeling right for their business. Do they emotionally connect with you as a person? Is your cause right for their business?

Because most nonprofit professionals are well versed in emotional appeals, we tend to do well with this type of decision maker. But there are hazards. We tend to overdo the emotional appeals and desensitize the prospect. Instead of saving them for the knock-out punch, we flail our arms until the prospect surrenders--or leaves the ring. Your uppercut may be your signature punch, but you won't last long if that's all you've got. Mix it up with appeals that speak to the heart and the head and you'll increase your chances for a knock-out.

Deferrers. Of the three types of decision makers, deferrers fascinate me the most because they are men and women of deference and faith. When the sponsorship packet is opened in front of them they don't look at the pictures like a feeler or pour over the stats like a thinker. Nope, they linger over the page where all the sponsors are listed. They make their decisions based on what others have already decided, even if they don't know them! If ABC company is involved, they want to be involved. If you can get Mr. Smith to tell them it's a good idea to buy a sponsorship, well, that can seal the deal. They're not patsies, mind you, but credibility and reputation mean a lot a to them--certainly more than it does to thinkers and feelers.

But here's the rub when it comes to deferrers. Sometimes the person they're deferring to is YOU. Deferrers want to work with people they admire, respect and trust. And it's not enough that you as a nonprofit professional bring good tidings from others. You must be that man or woman. Just as they are trustworthy, you must be trustworthy. Just as they are competent, you must be competent. And just as they are professional, articulate and polished, you must be those things too.

You are a surrogate for the great men and women deferrers to for their decisions. The king's messenger just doesn't carry his seal, he too is finely dressed and well spoken. Be the king's man.

In the next part of series on Selling Local Sponsorships for Nonprofits we'll look at ways to close the deal.

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.

Cause Marketers: Seize the Day

Beth Kanter ( @kanter) shared this Performance Research study with me that shows that American consumers are in favor of more corporate sponsorship dollars flowing to causes and nonprofits. 

A few key points for cause marketers:

  • 41% of those surveyed believed that sponsorships of nonprofits and causes should increase to raise opinions of corporate America. Compare that to the 13% that felt sponsorships of sporting events should increase.
  • For companies that are stable and profitable, consumers would like to see more spending on sports (77%), cultural programs (79%) and causes or nonprofits (84%).

Note to cause marketers: now is the time to make your case to corporate sponsors. And with the slip in support for sports sponsorships the time may be right to approach your local professional sports teams as well.

Let me explain.

Because sports sponsorships are under fire from consumers, the halo causes and nonprofits bring to sponsorship pacts is even more valuable. If Bank of America, for example, decided to drop their sponsorship with the Boston Red Sox because of the public's backlash over corporate spending, BofA and the Red Sox might instead partner with a charity (e.g. The Salvation Army) around which they could brand and execute the BofA sponsorship.

In addition to the traditional trappings of sponsorships found at Red Sox games, BofA may, among other things, co-brand red and blue kettles throughout Fenway Park so fans can support the Army and BofA will match whatever is raised.

Involving The Salvation Army sanitizes the sponsorship for BofA, makes it a more worthwhile investment for the community and meets consumer demand for corporate atonement and responsibility. It also keeps the Red Sox in the red so they can continue to invest in talent to beat the snot out of the Yankees this summer.

The recent program we executed with the Boston Bruins is an example of how such a program might take shape at the retail level.

While it's easy to look at the current economy and conclude there is little to cheer for, cause marketers may have cause to start a fan wave. We have public opinion on our side, a good pool of corporate prospects and a competitive pitch that beats radio, tv and print.

There is an old saying death is bad for the person, but good for the undertaker. It's time that cause marketers started talking and acting as winners in an economy that's pushing up daisies.