Nonprofit 411: Up Your Game- Improve Your Performance to Succeed with Sponsorship

By Gail S. Bower

GailBower color photoGail will be presenting at MNN’s annual conference ADVANCE on October 21. Click here to learn more about this topic or the 20+ other exciting and essential options.

If you had two employees selling sponsorship, and one closed big deals in 3 to 6 months while the other took 9 to 12 months to land meh deals — and frankly you weren’t quite sure what he or she did everyday — which one would be more valuable to your organization?

Right. The first one.

What’s the difference between the two?


High performing organizations and individuals have a competitive advantage over low-performing ones. Considering the competition that your organization faces for sponsorship dollars — and not just from other nonprofits or associations — upping your game will make a difference between mediocre and meteoric results.

A difference between deficit anxiety and the potential for having surplus unrestricted or non-dues revenue.

By the Numbers

I used to think that sports properties commanded 68 to 70 percent of all sponsorship dollars in North America, consistently for decades, because of the access to expanded worldwide audiences offered through broadcast rights. Indeed this advantage is important value.

But lately I’ve realized that another key advantage sports offers over other sponsorship categories is performance. And not just in terms of sales effectiveness. Eight important indicators affecting sponsorship success and year-over-year gains comprise Bower & Co.’s definition of high performance.

While sports franchises — collegiate and professional — have been improving their results, other categories are falling behind. Sponsorship spending has increased by about 30 percent since 2009 (using IEG’s projections for 2015). That year, sports commanded about 68 percent of sponsorship dollars, and now that figure has grown to 70 percent. Two percent may sound trivial, but that’s about $428 million not going to causes, arts, festivals/fairs/annual events, and associations this year alone.

When you dig into the numbers, the nuances are even more interesting. Overall sponsorship spending has increased by 30 percent since 2009. Getting more granular, you see that that figure applies only to entertainment tours/attractions. For sports it increased by 33 percent. The other categories have realized only smaller gains: by 27 percent for causes; 19 percent for associations; and 14 percent each for arts and festivals/fairs/annual events.

Wait Till You Hear This.

Cone Inc. released the results of their global CSR study in May 2015 and reported that “90 percent of global consumers would switch brands to one supporting a cause, and 84 percent report seeking out responsible products whenever possible.”

So at the same time that almost all consumers around the globe (90 percent) are telling us they’d prefer buying from companies that support a cause, companies are spending more money with sports and less money with the nonprofit sector.

That makes no sense.

Except when you factor in performance. And that’s the good news for you.

Your organization’s performance is in your control.

From the quality of your sponsorship program and your events or sponsored initiatives to the competence of your organization, from the quality of your client relationships to the competence and sets of behaviors by your staff and management, high performance across the 8 areas of your organization that comprise sponsorship operational success are variables that you can improve.

When your organization commits to high performance, you can start taking a bite out of that pie going to sports. At least that’s my dream.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with sports.

I just see that nonprofits, festivals, arts organizations, and associations offer a lot of value. But sadly, many are not realizing it.

My vision is for the properties in that 20 percent category — causes, arts, festivals/fairs/annual events, and associations — to regain their lost 2 percent and begin to take a bite out of sports.

Are you with me?


Author of How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times, Gail Bower transforms organizational complexity into strategies that result in sustainable revenue, increased growth, and greater value. CEOs of top nonprofits, associations, and destinations seek Gail’s expertise and future orientation in creating more dynamic business models and organizational strategies and in developing or strengthening brand- and revenue-generating assets, such as corporate sponsorship programs, events, and fees for service.

She will be presenting From So-So to Superstar: Creating a Sponsorship Strategy That Draw Sponsors to You at MNN’s annual conference ADVANCE on October 21 at 10:30. Learn more about how to enhance your sponsorship performance.