When Sponsor Promotion Consumes Your Communications Channels

Here’s a conundrum that’s come up in multiple conversations lately. I’d love to hear your perspective and advice, so please share what you think in the comments below (click to the blog if you are reading this via email).

Many nonprofits run events where the development department sells sponsorships, and many also accept major-donor sponsorships for general operating support. In return, the sponsors receive a list of benefits. In many cases, the benefits require logos, sponsor lists, effusive thanks, and the like to be included in the nonprofit’s communications channels.

This sounds fine on the surface. But in practice, I’ve seen it morph into some ill-advised and downright ridiculous communications.  What should be engaging, community- and cause-centered content turns into a Times Square billboard, right in your email box and newsfeeds.

Consider these real scenarios described to me recently:

  • Development director insists every time an event is mentioned, the main sponsors must be mentioned. That means the communications director cannot simply include a link to the event is a list of upcoming events, nor otherwise talk about the benefits of attending the event, without mentioning the bank, the insurance company, the health care system, and the you-name-it other corporate sponsors.
  • The logos of all the event sponsors must be included in every email that goes out. The logos and names take up multiple screens worth of space, and the sheer bulk of sponsor content dwarfs the real messaging at the top of the newsletter.
  • Social media posts about the sponsors get very little to no engagement.
  • Content provided by sponsors for the nonprofit to share on their website, blog, email, and social media has nothing to do with the cause or the event, yet communications staff are supposed to “do something with it.”
  • All sponsors are treated equally, so if one is mentioned somewhere, all are supposed to be mentioned somewhere. The development director refuses to create a tiered structure of any sort because she thinks smaller companies will be offended.
  • The communications staff spends days tracking down sponsor logos and other materials because the development director insists nothing can be printed without it (even when the sponsors are uncooperative about producing said files.)

In all these cases, the communications directors rightly fear that the communications they are producing look and feel like spam. I’ve seen them; they do.

In an attempt by the development staff to be “donor centered,” communications staff end up producing materials that fail to meet their own standards for community engagement and even their event participation goals. Yes, the sponsor money comes in, but getting people to actually register for the event is hard because the event marketing is bogged down with sponsor content. Overall, the email sender reputation of the organization suffers as people get bored and stop opening, and engagement falls on social media. Who needs to see more corporate logos in their feed?

Surely, there’s a good middle ground here. Where do you think that is? What’s enough? What’s too much? Share your advice in the comments!





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  • Scarlett Bauman

    A follow up survey to sponsors could help determine the type of branding visibility that is most valuable for their sponsorship dollars. I think most businesses will understand that nonprofits are sensitive to wanting to give them a great value within what’s doable and most economical. The responses collected could then be used in a meeting between the development office and the communications/marketing offices to create a plan for sponsorship levels, logo usage, work load, and deadlines for collateral materials. This is a very important meeting as the development office may not understand how long it takes to create collateral materials, and the meeting can also determine who is responsible for tracking down logos and in what formats.

  • flath2o

    We have created a list of benefits at contribution levels which makes it clear to the sponsor exactly the public recognition and other goodies they will be receiving. At the time the development people secure a sponsorship, they ask for the contact person for logos. I actually have created a form that development can fill our or leave with the donor to pass along…sometimes it even gets filled out and returned.
    As far as e-blasts, social media posts, website, and other digital marketing, I create a banner of logos for our exhibits and programming. I can resize and re purpose as needed. Admittedly, I rarely have more than 10 sponsors to recognize, and so they don’t get too obnoxious.
    Still, I feel everyone’s pain.

  • Gail Bower

    You’ve outlined a good list of the ways marketing communications can become compromised when sponsors are involved. Actually, I would argue that these are symptoms of bigger problems an organization needs to address. Marketing must be an equal — and valuable — partner at the sponsorship sales table.

    To deepen the discussion on this critical topic, I offer this blog post, “Sponsor Logo Clusters and Other Marketing Problems,” in response. http://bit.ly/2vraflh

    Great discussion, and thanks for raising the Times Square effect issue.

    • Thanks so much for your response post Gail — great advice to follow!

  • Danielle Kempe

    Great timing for this post. I’m working on a sponsorship package for the RESPOND gala in April.

    I’ve been moving more towards creating customized sponsorship benefits packages after talking with the companies we’re asking.

    That way, if the money is coming from HR budget for employee engagement not a marketing budget, you don’t have to add a company name to social media blasts. The company will appreciate you setting up volunteer opportunities for their staff instead, just for 1 example.