As many companies and shareholders have squeezed philanthropic budgets, a number of organizations have placed charitable dollars into marketing department budgets. Investing marketing dollars can be a viable option that is favorable to non-profits as well, but marketers need to think long-term about sponsorship opportunities for real success and value.

With “corporate American being influenced by shareholder pressure not to give, but show returns to the bottom line” more and more businesses ask the question “is it better to give than to receive… or both give AND receive?”

Over the past few years, we have increasingly found ourselves attending meetings (on either side) between non-profit groups and companies that are their potential sponsors. Wait…Huh? Since when does fundraising and securing corporate giving fall under “Marketing Communications”? Well…since the economy took a downturn and businesses – a much greater number of potential sponsors/donors – started recognizing the benefits of channeling charitable dollars through marketing budgets.

Whichever bucket the dollars come from, the business will still see tax deductions – one being a charitable donation, the other a business expense. So, more frequently, savvy execs are asking, which option will deliver the biggest bang for the buck?

Many find investing marketing dollars a viable option to add to their mix, and one that is by-and-large favorable to non-profits as well. A win-win, right? Possibly – if the company is careful to allocate charitable marketing dollars with the same consideration and strategic acumen as it does ‘regular’ marketing dollars. Caveat: with non-profits it can be easy to be a small fish in a big pond… spending a few thousand dollars to get your logo with 75 others on a t-shirt, for example.

The strongest use of charitable marketing dollars most often will come from a pillar upholding every solid marketing strategy: relationships. The reason we often sit in the aforementioned meetings with our clients (non-profit or bottom-line oriented) is that rather than facilitating a one-off sponsorship, we want to foster true partnerships. Long-term exposure, and true care about being seen year-round as an organization that cares deeply about a cause can be more meaningful AND valuable to a sponsor company when the situation is right.

So, we sit down and we discover. We learn what the potential gains are from the relationship, in terms of public image and measurable results. We determine how the non-profit can support the business’s marketing, as well as what the business “has cooking,” and hopes to achieve in the near future. Then, we find the best fit, and develop a balanced package of what will be given and received (the benefits) by both parties.

We understand that people have a strong natural desire to be philanthropic, and that when we can stimulate that desire (without crossing any lines), they will give more both in terms of dollars and themselves in general.

Granted, it’s not always this easy. There may not be a fit. Non-profits can’t just make up opportunities, and you can’t just donate big bucks because you want to do good. Some criteria to consider when allocating marketing dollars for charitable giving include:

  1. Does the sponsorship make sense for your marketing objectives? Will it advance them? Remember, you’ll be measuring results just like any other marketing expenditure.
  2. Does the sponsorship have growth potential?
  3. Do you require exclusivity? Can other sponsors come on board without you becoming that ‘small fish’?
  4. Who looks at your charitable giving column, and how important is the amount they see? Will shareholders or your publics react negatively to significantly decreased amounts? Will you have to the opportunity to explain how the charity was given via marketing, and will they find this acceptable?

The bottom line is – well…the bottom line. It may at first seem like a perfect solution if shareholders squeeze philanthropic budgets, but corporate insists on growing the image as a responsible member of the community. However, throwing good marketing money into good works can only benefit everyone if it’s done strategically, justifiably and conscientiously.

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