When seeking corporate sponsorship, nonprofits often split up into two camps. Some go all in – developing programs and sponsorship opportunities to fit any brand or budget. Others only bring a few options to the table. I have noticed that smaller nonprofits especially, don’t always have the organization or funding to develop programs that appeal to corporate donors; or they worry that they’re not big enough for corporate dollars.
But in fact, I’ve spoken with many nonprofits who prefer individual or corporate donations over governmental or foundation’s grants because most corporate donations don’t come with strings attached. No reports to file, that take up extra time and resources – just funds to help your nonprofit do what you do best – serve people.
While spending too much time on a corporate or individual donor who will only give $1000, is a waste of your organization’s resources, there are ways to garner micro-grants with minimal effort. Passive income – a term used to describe income generated from a single effort that pays out indefinitely – is a topic normally reserved for the likes of Tim Ferriss (of “The Four-Hour Workweek”), but some of its philosophies can be applied to fundraising.
Applying Passive Income Strategies to Nonprofit Fundraising
The idea behind ‘passive income’ is to create a product or a lead generation tool that’s evergreen enough to attract customers (or donors) with minimal future upkeep. And most of its practices exist thanks to the Internet. Your existing fundraising efforts can be structured into a model that attracts donors.
Here’s the other end of the ‘Passive Income’ equation – there is an ecosystem of businesses looking for relatively inexpensive local marketing opportunities. They may be local businesses with small budgets, or they may be larger businesses who want to spread their spend among many local entities. Just like most nonprofits don’t have the resources to chase after a $500 donor, most of these businesses don’t have the time or resources to call up local nonprofits to find out if they offer sponsorship opportunities to fit their budget. Instead, they’ll look to your website. If they don’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll move on.
To be clear, these are not your typical donors – they may be able to show up at your annual awards dinner. But they are looking for local marketing opportunities, whether that be via mentions in your newsletter, a booth at a public-facing event, or a mention on your website.
While these sponsors will not likely fill your budget, they can provide to areas of need, without much ongoing effort on your end.
Step 1: Optimize Sponsorship Opportunities
It doesn’t just have to be events. Does your supply room need sponsorship? How about your website? What ongoing line items, especially those that require between $500-$2500 in annual funding, could benefit from a single donation? Passive income sponsorships don’t have to be sexy, but they can be quirky. “Buy our restroom supplies for a year” or “Pay for our email marketing campaigns” could work.
If you do have sponsorship-ready events, be sure to list these as well. Even if the events have their own pages on your website, or are displayed on different web domains entirely, you’ll want to list them all together to help potential sponsors see all possible opportunities.
Step 2: Show your sponsorship opportunities on your website
In order to attract businesses looking for local sponsorship opportunities, you will need a few hours of upfront work, for the following two tasks:
- Create a distinct web page where you list sponsors and sponsorship opportunities
Many organizations list sponsors on their home page. This works too, but depending on how busy your home page already is, the listing may get lost. It’s better to have a separate page exclusive for sponsor thank-you’s and to list sponsorship opportunities.
On this page, be sure to decide ahead of time how you’ll list sponsors. Will you use their logos or just write the business name? Will you link out to them (a preferred benefit of many sponsors)? If you work with a web developer, make sure she or he sets up this page so you can easily plug and chug for sponsor fulfillment. Ease of automation is one of the tenets of passive income – don’t let any single task become a bottleneck.
- Include a page or PDF that lists specific sponsorship opportunities, plus marketing benefits to thank donors.
Here’s where the sponsorship opportunities you outlined in Step 1 get to shine. Get creative, but also be specific. List the exact recommended donation for each sponsorship and the benefits of each level. Make sure to include contact information, preferably to a frequently checked general email address (info@ versus Sam@), so that the email address remains relevant even if Sam moves on, or gets promoted to another area of the organization. You may even want to consider using Stripe or PayPal to allow online donations and further simplify the process.
Note for sponsorship newbies- it is within the confines of non-taxable fundraising to thank sponsors by mentioning them, as long as you don’t drift too far into advertising territory, listing prices or comparing sponsors to their competitors, for example. See this post by a law firm, and this post by the National Council of Nonprofits for more info on staying within the limitations of the IRS.
Step 3: Use Your Juju
Your organization’s juju is your fingerprint. It’s what sets you apart from other nonprofits in your region, and further. It’s the volunteer who’s been with you for decades. It’s the story you tell on your website. It’s your style.
This style can com across in the sponsorship opportunities you create, and it can also be used to parlay great sponsorship stories to the press. Using sponsorships for storytelling can be a great way to build chatter around your sponsorship programs. So many nonprofits use their blogs exclusive to list events and they’re missing out on storytelling moments for potential sponsors and donors, press or even prospective volunteers.
If no one on staff has the time or resources to develop a blog, see if you can find a volunteer to do so. A high school or college student who’s looking for experience in digital marketing could be a great candidate.
While content creation is an ongoing practice, its results account can account for numerous “passive” successes. The more content online about your organizations and benefits of sponsorship, the more likely you are to be found in the digital space. Even if your organization is on the smaller side, no one says you can’t have a huge digital footprint.
Megan is the CoFounder of ZipSprout, a startup agency and tool that helps brands find grassroots local marketing opportunities. She also hosts a weekly podcast focused on local marketing and storytelling. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, she returned from a four-year stint in California to enjoy the more community-oriented atmosphere of Durham, NC, where Megan volunteers with the Durham Literacy Center and local running clubs.