Are Your Sponsors Commitment Phobic?

Do you have trouble getting your sponsors to sign on the bottom line?

Planning a fundraising event is challenging and time-consuming. You need a minimum of six months to plan an event (yes, I know it can be done in less, but it begins to get ugly if you have less time than that) and, ideally, nine months or more.

Lining up sponsorship commitments is usually something you do early in the process because that way, you can offer your sponsors maximum benefits—they can be in all of the pre-event publicity like participant registration or ticket sales and event promotional materials.

What if your sponsors delay making their commitment decisions?

Certainly, I’ve heard hard-line board members say things like “Just move forward with the event deadlines without them” or “If we print the t-shirts without their logo this year, they’ll learn to get their commitment in on-time next year.”

These are thoughts that, in theory, make sense. But the reality doesn’t seem so simple. If our sponsors (who, in my opinion, are corporate donors), are not shown the love, respect and treatment they want, they won’t come back. There are plenty of other causes in town that will be happy to take their dollars and accomodate their schedules. I strongly suspect that with most of them, it won’t be that they’ll pay for the sponsorships with us and simply accept being omitted from the t-shirt. Instead, they won’t pay this year. They’ll elect not to be our sponsors. We won’t show them; they’ll show us.

Or, at the 11th hour, our organization will be paying an extra fee to run the t-shirts back through the printer’s to add an extra logo, maybe to some prominent place on the t-shirt like the front of it or the sleeve. “We’ll show them,” indeed.

Because we wait to make sure that all of our key sponsors have renewed their commitments or at least given us an answer about whether or not they are going to renew their commitments, our event production schedule becomes delayed. We wait on going to print with our posters, our invitations, our registration materials. We waste time, energy, and effort circling back to our sponsors to see if we can answer any questions or provide any more information when really we just need them to make a decision and give us an answer.

So, what can you do if you have commitment-phobic sponsors who are holding up the event production line?

  1. Offer incentives to commit:  Can you throw in extra benefits that other sponsors—sponsors who don’t commit until later won’t receive? For example, one organization that I am working with right now, is offering sponsors who make an early commitment an opportunity to receive the additional benefit of being a named sponsor for a 2nd event, receiving benefits of sponsorship for this second event! This organization is very motivated to get the sponsors to commit early. The event the sponsors are slow to commit to is a peer-to-peer fundraising event and the sponsors slow decision making about sponsorship commitments makes the organization’s leadership slow to start the hard (and important) work of coaching team captains and walkers. They recognize that if they can get the sponsorship campaigned completed and behind them earlier, they’ll be better able to raise more participant dollars—smart move!
  2. Lock-in a lower rate:  Consider offering your sponsors an opportunity to lock in the 2015 prices. Now is a great time to deploy this strategy. 2015 is coming to a close. Are you planning to increase your rates for your sponsorship levels in 2016? If so, let your sponsors know this now. Consider offering those who make commitments between now and December 31st the 2015 rates and let them know that after January 1st, they’ll be paying 2016 rates.
  3. How about a sale? Do you have some sponsors you’d like to upgrade to a higher sponsorship level? Give them an incentive right now. Offer them a one-time opportunity to purchase the higher level sponsorship at a discounted rate if they purchase it before December 31st. This is also a great strategy if you’re phasing out a lower sponsorship level. Offer those who have been buying the lower sponsorship level the opportunity to purchase the next level up at a discounted rate if they commit now to soften the blow that you are eliminating their current sponsorship level.
  4. Commit now, pay later: One of the things I repeatedly find with sponsors is that they delay making a commitment because they have the impression that they have to be able to cut our nonprofit a check the day they sign the sponsorship commitment form. As someone who is usually doing the event planning, I just want them to commit now so I can move on with the planning and I’m completely happy to invoice them later for the dollars. I always try to make this clear in the written sponsorship materials, but the message is often overlooked. If I have a sponsor who is stalling or delaying, I try to re-iterate this message because I sometimes find that this is the problem, that once the sponsor knows that the dollars can wait until sometime closer to the event, the commitment can be made.

Each of these strategies are strategies I’ve used at one time or another to work with potential sponsors to get them to move from “undecided” to “decided.” It’s important to clear that undecided column, to be able to move forward with event planning, to begin the hard work of selling tickets, recruiting team captains, and delivering on all of your sponsors’ benefits.

Have another good idea for encouraging a sponsor to commit? I’d love to hear it!