Nonprofit Events – Untapped Marketing for Small Biz

Posted by on May 9, 2010 in Journal, Marketing, Non-Profit | 24 Comments

Had lunch with a new small business client this week, and it sparked a great conversation regarding how small businesses can and should be using nonprofit events as marketing opportunities.  During my career in nonprofit, I’ve seen some businesses make outstanding connections through this type of marketing, but I’ve also seen many small business who have missed golden opportunities of this untapped resource.  Before I dive in, allow me to debunk a couple of myths for those small business folks out there:

  • Sponsorships & corporate partnerships are not for just large corporations.  Almost all nonprofits (or at least the smart ones) offer partnership packages at all levels of involvement.  You don’t have to be able to cough up several thousand dollars to be involved.
  • Partnerships are not only cash in nature.  Some of the best sponsorships are ones in which a business provides a product or service that the organization would otherwise have to pay for.

As a small business owner, we know your resources may be limited.  However, this doesn’t mean involvement isn’t possible.  Like for-profit events, nonprofit events can provide all of the marketing opportunities you should be looking for:

  • An audience that fits the demographic of your clients
  • Opportunities for product display/distribution
  • Face-to-face networking
  • Inclusion in promotional efforts

Unlike for-profit events, those organized by a nonprofit additionally allow for your business to be connected with a very loyal, hyper-local, community base who value entities that support the same values they support.  (Most times for much less of a cost too.)

Here are just a few of examples of partnerships for small businesses:

  • Outdoor Charity events (walks, bike rides, runs) – Consider investing in a booth at their event, perhaps it’s a walk and you can host a rest stop and hand out samples of your product or specials for your services. This may require some sort of monetary investment, but many times, a partnership can be crafted out of donated products/services & monetary donation. (EX: A local carpet cleaning company may want to host a rest stop along the route & hand out sample bottles of carpet cleaning solution to walkers. Not only do they get their info & product in the hands of potential clients, but they have the opportunity to talk to them about why their process is better than their competitors.)
  • Formal/Corporate Events (galas, balls, golf tournament) – While on-site attendance may be more difficult, it’s not out of the question.  But what might be more feasible is an auction package donation for a product or service your business provides. (EX:  A new floral design firm may want to offer a design package for a personal or corporate event as an auction package. Not only might it get them connected with a potential client, it also helps them build their portfolio of work to show future clients.)
  • Educational Programs (workshops, seminars) – Like outdoor events, many nonprofits offer exhibit opportunities at their in-person educational programs. (EX: A business that installs awnings on homes might get clients from exhibiting at an educational program for individuals who have sensitivity to sun.)

Partnership Tips for Small Businesses:

  • Know what your target demographic(s) is/are (You can’t align yourself with an event that fits unless you know this yourself.  Who are your clients and/or who do you want your clients to be?)
  • Do your homework, don’t just say yes to every charity that calls you, but chose the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.  Make sure to ask the right questions:
    • What’s the demographic makeup of their event? (Are the attendees primarily families?  Men? Income bracket?)
    • How many people are expected? (Make sure there will be enough people in attendance to make it worth your time, energy & resources.)
    • Where are their attendees coming from? (Ask if they can give you a zip code analysis of attendees.)
    • What partnership levels and entitlements  do they offer? (Look for opportunities that offer more than slapping your logo on the back of their event t-shirt. Think about it, how many times has some contacted you and said, I saw your tiny logo on the back of a Diabetes Run T-shirt and thought you might be able to help me.)
    • Ask them about in-kind sponsorships.  (Can you offer a product or service as part or all of your sponsorship donation?  Remember it has to be something the really need though.  While it might be beneficial to you, offering them coupons to put in their goody bags doesn’t really help them at all.)
  • Be on the lookout for events to partner with. (Pick up brochures & flyers on events as you are around town.  Jot down the info of PSAs you hear about in the media. Contact them to prospect & find out more about their events.  Make sure to ask the questions above.)
  • Be creative with your partnerships. If the nonprofit is forward thinking, they will be willing to think outside the box about a partnership, beyond what they have printed on their sponsorship levels. (Maybe you are a new children’s boutique in town and you can be in charge of staffing & providing supplies for the “ABC Boutique Kids Zone.”)
  • Be there in person if at all possible. ( While nonprofits are happy to have quality in-kind/cash donations, no one can tell your business’ story like you.  If you simply make a donation, and don’t attend, you are leaving prime opportunity on the table.  In addition to your donation, have all your staff & staff’s family volunteer at the event.  Brand them from head to toe in your company as ambassadors.  And make sure they know how to engage folks in conversation about your business.)

Partnership Tips for Nonprofits:

  • Stop asking for things & expecting not to have to give something in return. ( Look at your events as viable marketing opportunities for businesses, and offer enticing entitlements for their involvement.)
  • Reach out to small businesses whose clientele fits your event’s demographic. (And tell them that when you approach them.  EX: A local law firm that specializes in construction law should would be very interested to know that your golf tournament is organized by the heavy hitters of the local construction industry.)
  • Know your stats. (How many people to expect? What’s the zip code analysis of last year’s participants?)
  • Be flexible. Don’t just hold out for cash-only sponsors. (An in-kind sponsor should be given the same level of importance as a cash sponsor at the same value level.  EX:  A catering company who provides your event with all the food valued at $2,500 is an equal sponsor level to the cash sponsor who wrote you a $2,500 check.)
  • Don’t say yes to every business that wants to get involved. (If a small business wants to donate something that won’t provide a real value to your efforts, it is okay to say no.  Don’t waste their time or yours.)

In today’s market everyone is looking for that elusive diamond in the rough when it comes to marketing opportunities for their business.  Truth is, it doesn’t exist…at least not on it’s own.  We have to be savvy creators of our own opportunities in order to find the experiences that give us the leverage we desire.  And remember, charities are no longer just valid for handouts. So start connecting now.  Who knows, you might actually find yourself a changed person as a result.

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    Thanks for your comment, Patrick. It is very odd. I would comprae it to a situation like this: a local financial institution supporting a small, social service nonprofit on a very small scale project. There have been talks to expand that support on a much larger level, but it is still small scale at this point. That financial institution then encourages the other organizations in the community that they support to call a specific contact at the nonprofit (name and contact info provided by financial institution) to ask for sponsorship donations. It creates a very sticky situation the nonprofit is then positioned to say no to organizations it is looking to collaborate with in other ways, and word will get back to the financial institution that the nonprofit is not providing support. Is there a way to call out this sponsor and put it all on the table without damaging the relationship?

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