Five Myths and Five Truths about Sponsorship

by Marcy Heim on November 17, 2017


Sponsorship is changing….and rapidly. Here’s what you need to think about as you plan how sponsorships will play into your giving goals…and what you need to do before the year’s end.


Sponsorship – 5 Myths and 5 Truths


1. You can count on those long-time corporate sponsors.

Nope. Companies are changing their giving goals and want to feel they are accomplishing something tangible and worthwhile for the community.  New corporate guidelines exclude sponsorships but will fund programs – something with a result more meaningful than “the reception sponsor.”

2. “What’s In It For Me” packages are key.

The “Here’s what you get” charts and levels won’t get you sponsorships like before. Gold, Silver, Bronze is not what’s in it for them any longer.

3. You can count on individual sponsors to come back year after year.

This is mixed news. You may well have some folks who will indeed be back year after year, but sponsorships they solicit from their friends will be less. “I’ll do $10,000 for your event if you’ll do $10,000 for mine” exchanges are fading fast.  Instead, they agree to just skip it. As one donor put it, “My bucket for MY passions is growing and my bucket for quid pro quo giving is running dry – just like I want it.”

4. It’s great to have friends out for these events.

Nope. Many sponsors are tired of pushing their complimentary tickets for their purchased tables. Their staff and friends do not want to spend the evening away from family to attend with then. No-shows happen because folks are just getting butts in seats to get the table full.

5. It’s a great way to expose these sponsors to your organization.

Honestly they know why you are coming. Any conversation at a values level is lost when they are in the mindset to have a transactional conversation – your sponsorship and what they get. “Let’s get to it. What are you looking for this year?”  For many of them, the ask is the only time they hear from the organization until they are back for the next ask.


1. An unexpected year-end thank you will set the stage for a new conversation with your current sponsors.

NOW, before the year is over, call or visit every sponsor to simply say, “Thank you.” Tell them you want to have a conversation about how your partnership will look in the coming year. If they are making decisions NOW about what to add to the budget, ask them to consider adding their sponsor amount but designated for program instead.  Then set up a plan to visit in January to explore just how this program gift would be implemented. Be open to a change.

2. Outline how a company can have a “hand’s on” relationship.

Instead of hawking what you get, ask them how their company can take an active role in a project you are doing, give tours, host an event for your donors at THEIR company that also includes a tour of THEIR company. Get creative.

3. Partner with your key individual donors to engage the gifts of their friends along their passions.

This past year I was involved with 3 efforts to raise over $1 million with a lead gift ($750,000) from the donor and the rest from friends they partnered with us to engage and ask. This was a far different experience than a one-night bash and raised more money. The giving was sparked by the friendship – not necessarily the cause but a few will stay donors beyond this gift in honor of a friend.

4. Smaller gatherings make for more personal interactions.

Sometimes I scratch my head why we think big numbers mean success. Long ago my Dad said after one of my major events, “If I’d have dropped dead on the floor no one would have found me until morning.” Even as well as we plan, do we talk with each sponsor? Do we race through the sponsor list generating a weak round of applause at the luncheon?  Maybe you need to do the same thing 10 times on a smaller scale. Time wise, there is actually an efficiency that comes from the repetition and the interactions are so much more meaningful.

 5. Create a real relationship. This is why we make a difference and how does that resonate with your giving goals?

I know…sounds like Major Gifts Marcy. BUT, if we take sponsors out of the transaction mindset and have genuine conversations about the difference they are making to help create a community where their employees want to live, work and raise a family, I think we’ll have results well beyond the sponsorship levels.

Now is the time to begin the conversations about what is meaningful NOW for your corporate and individual sponsors. Presenting a package that supports all arts groups instead of 5 separate asks may be a better win for all. Shorter, smaller events targeted at connecting specific folks may be better than one massive annual gala and generally build better relationships and raise more money. What other options are there? Maybe our sponsors know something we are not willing to admit about our events.


Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact Cathy Yerges at












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