I know what you’re thinking: “Why do I need tips to grow my network? I love cold calling!” I’ve heard it thousands of times, fundraisers want to spend all of their time cold calling giant companies and asking them for silent auction items or a CSR grant. Well, I hate bursting bubbles but there are a better ways to sell sponsorship than the cold call.
Here are some approaches that I use to grow my network when looking to sell sponsorship, cause marketing and corporate fundraising:
Host a networking event
This is one of my favourite ways to grow the network of the charities I am working with. I love it because it lets me engage my board and committees in something easy and fun. The model is simple and it works: Ask a board member to host a networking breakfast at their office and to pay for the coffee and snacks. Ask this board member and two others to invite three professional contacts to network and hear about a cause they care about.
You will have a full room but not so big that you can’t work it. Have your host introduce you and your charity after 20 minutes of networking and, in three minutes or less, describe what you do and what you want. You only want two things, by the way: for each person to meet you for coffee and for someone to agree to host another event just like the one they are attending. One hour before the work day starts, quality networking, small room- what’s not to love. These events are easy to do, cost you nothing and people love them! Best of all, I have raised tons of sponsorship dollars with this approach.
Use your board
Your board is ultimately responsible for your charity’s financial health and that they must have a hand in the fundraising process. I find that simply telling boards that they must fundraise doesn’t work. I suggest you try a different approach.
Something we forget as fundraising professionals (corporate or otherwise) is that we have to treat our board members like donors, sponsors and prospects. Demonstrate to your board members how you will treat their contacts by stewarding them and showing off your skills. Rather than asking your board for “contacts” at the next board meeting, ask each board member for a cup of coffee one on one. Tell them you want their advice on how to connect to certain markets and industries. When you meet with them, ask them for their advice! When they give it to you, ask them who they know in that space or sector and watch the introductions come pouring in. To make it even easier for them, do some research before you meet. Visit their LinkedIn page and see who they know that you want to meet. Ask them in person if they could introduce you to company or individual X. Suddenly the most fundraising averse boards become treasure troves of corporate contacts with this approach.
The best source of new sponsors and corporate contacts often comes from warm referrals from current partners. You have no doubt noticed that every single fundraiser in your city somehow knows every other fundraiser. Well, this is true of virtually every profession. Human Resources, CSR, Marketing, CEOs and people within the same industry network together, they go to conferences together and work with/for each other multiple times throughout their careers. If you have done a great job with your sponsors, you’ve earned the right to ask them for a referral. Ask them if they can make a warm introduction to someone at a non-competitive company and you will be surprised, I guarantee it.
The Will Rogers approach
Will Rogers said it best: “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.”
How on earth does this translate to growing your network of corporate prospects and sponsors? Simple. The quickest way to grow your network and sponsorship revenue is to keep every single sponsor you work with. Some attrition of sponsors and corporate partners is unavoidable but if you deliver a stellar activation and fulfillment strategy and do everything you said you would (and more) then your sponsors will stick around. If you never lose your network, you don’t have to replace it and you don’t have to grow it as aggressively. When you treat your corporate partners well they will offer referrals without you having to ask and when they switch companies, they take you with them as a trusted partner.
Keep cold calling if you have to. I know it’s hard to give up a good thing! In addition to calling strangers though, try these tips to warm up your next call and see if it makes it easier to sell sponsorship.
Chris Baylis is a cause marketing, sponsorship and corporate social responsibility (CSR) specialist and is the chief blogger at The Sponsorship Collective. Chris has managed both national and local cause marketing campaigns and is a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.