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!