Sponsorships versus Donations

(Yes, there’s a difference.)

We are big proponents of philanthropic support of any type, and we believe these donations are a great way to support organizations and causes for which you have a personal passion. However, you should not confuse a donation with a sponsorship because they are very different things.

Donations usually involve writing a check or providing in-kind services to support a non-profit’s mission outright or possibly a fundraising event. These are generally critical to the ongoing success of the non-profit or the fundraising event. For your donation, you will likely receive some level of recognition (e.g. your logo on some materials, brand association with the organization/cause, and you can network at the event). This is a great way to show your support and encourage others to do the same. Likely, you are doing this because you feel compelled to do so for one reason or another and don’t have a real expectation of an ROI for your donation.

Sponsorships, on the other hand, are an investment with the expectation of a commercial return. They are not donations. You are paying for access to exclusive assets, not just recognition. To be truly effective, sponsorships require activation. This means you have to plan how you will leverage the brand association and emotional “equity” that typically accompanies these partnerships. This might include experiential opportunities for client engagement, often in a unique setting that only you can provide via the assets you are paying to access. These are measurable activities that should generate appreciation for your company, additional business or strengthening a relationship with an existing client. For example, if your organization is sponsoring an SEC athletics organization, you can negotiate the ability to communicate a special promotion or share an awareness campaign for your brand via the scoreboard video, create branded giveaway items for the fans that permanently link your brand with the team and live beyond the event itself, or use your hospitality benefits to entertain clients and prospects, or as a way to recognize and reward your employees.

Further, both organizations should use their respective social media channels to share and enhance your activation efforts related to the sponsorship. This creates shareable content both before and after the event. All of these activities should be tracked and measured to determine your ROI, and this will help in your decision to repeat the sponsorship or help improve your results going forward.

In my opinion, sponsorships are a valuable part of a comprehensive plan and should be a part of your marketing budget. And, your organization should set aside additional dollars and time, outside of the sponsorship fee, to support and activate the sponsorship to ensure you derive the full value from your investment.

-Brian Sullivan