So, you’re dating. It’s going fine, but you secretly want it to go from ice cream on the couch to weekend trips to Paris, poetry under your pillow, or a pledge to grow old together. If you want your partner to put a ring on it, you need to pave the way. You need to proactively cultivate your connection, listen to their needs, bring what you’ve got now, collaborate, be solution-oriented, and be in it for the long-term.
The same goes for sponsor partnerships. Successful partnerships are relationships. Nurturing, honoring, and supporting key relationships is critical to your stability. Stability goes two ways. You need to discover how you can offer reciprocal value to each other. Now more than ever, You need to join forces. Share. Collaborate.
Sponsor relationships can be strategically cultivated and strengthened. We have best practices to prove it!
Proactively cultivate your connection. Will your event or fundraiser be canceled? It might seem like a scary prospect. If there is any cancellation buzz, don’t wait to tell your partners! Engage with them right away. Make sure to communicate they are on the top of your mind and that you are invested in the relationship. Talk long-term and reflect on the historical partnership if applicable. Check in about corporate initiatives they are using as guidelines to inform their decisions. Spend the time to find out what is on their mind and how they are feeling and thinking. Don’t leave them out of the loop, be as transparent as you can, and give them feedback about how they handle problems.
Listen to their needs. Relationships are not all about you getting your needs met. Don’t assume you can or can’t deliver. You might be able to give them exactly what they need, yet you won’t know unless you ask and let them speak for themselves. The simple act of inviting will demonstrate your care and commitment. Dig deep here. You might not be able to hand over the Top 3 things on their list, but you might be able to accommodate 5-7. Don’t just listen closely; give them the floor. Aim to make communications 70% them, 30% you. Every time.
Britt Carlson, Chief Executive Officer at Special Olympics Oregon spoke at the 2020 Sponsorship Mastery Summit on the topic “Building More Powerful Partnership.” Carlson provided valuable insights, like:
“You have to see and understand the partnership through their eyes. It’s trying to understand somebody’s experience, why they feel the way they feel, what their background is, what brought them to having the opinions that they may have.”
Time, and what you can offer, are of the essence. Think beyond the sponsorship, the venue, the fundraiser, the services. What is valuable to your sponsors for which you could give access to now. Something you have that could also be useful to them? Think about your e-mail database, social media campaigns, or the collaborative community services you could be providing as partners or that you can facilitate for the sponsor. What can you do to promote your sponsors’ efforts to support their communities during this time of need? You have a unique voice. Help sponsors spread their word now, just like they do for you when it’s event time.
Collaborate. Not just in person, but virtually. Every organization has an amazing store of brainpower. What do you have to offer that they don’t have? Maybe you have technical support that could be helpful? Maybe you could disarm some interpersonal competition by facilitating fun collaboration? Whenever you have the opportunity to connect your team with the sponsor’s team, do it. A virtual conference call to brainstorm ideas about making engagement better, more significant, different, or more immediate will pull your teams together. People love to share in exciting, well-facilitated open formats. Engage and lock arms. You never know what kind of magic will happen.
Be solution-oriented. In every interaction with sponsors, stay focused on being solution-oriented. Find common ground. Explore beyond your usual parameters. Surf around the edges of a signed agreement. True partnerships require curiosity. Get curious about what would make their lives a little bit better now –or down the line. An attitude of discovery will not just reap long-term benefits; it’s the right thing to do.
Britt talked about experiencing adversity with her partners in 2020 and how they worked through that together.
“I believe our partnerships are actually going to be stronger for having gone through this because they know we’ve got their back. We understand you’re going through something. It’s a tough year. Let’s be good partners. Let’s work through this. Maybe we have to give something back this year. Maybe we need to find a different middle ground, but that’s what partnership is. It goes back to, it’s not just what’s in it for you and it’s not just what’s in it for me – it’s, what’s in it for us. Now how do we build to honor that?”
Play the long game. Who knows how the aftershocks of 2020 will last. Today, as we write this, there are so many unknowns. Here’s what we know for sure: there have always been events. It’s the foundation of culture and community identity. People want to come together for a common cause. Entertainment is as essential as food and air. We have no idea how long gatherings will be delayed or banned thanks to the pandemic. But we do know eventually we humans need to be with each other again. We know we all continue to want to come together to support and promote the culture, celebrations, music, causes, arts, events, and venues we love. We only pave the way to a stable relationship if we stick together and commit to hope.
Lastly, don’t forget to show your appreciation. A sincere thank you note and acknowledgment for something above and beyond or a kind word will go a long way. Especially if you make it a daily practice. Just like your personal relationships, you have to affirm the relationships on a regular basis. Doing so strengthens and solidifies your mutual appreciation.
About the Author
Paula Beadle is the CEO of Caravel Marketing, a national consulting company specializing in sponsorship marketing, and the founder of Sponsorship Mastery, an annual summit and programming dedicated to improving individual and organizational sponsorship performance. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of developing smart strategies and creatively connecting the right partners. Paula has helped iconic events and major brands achieve their goals through innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.