In this post, we speak with Mariah Monique, a sponsorship strategy coach and educator.
Looking for a sponsorship or new source of funding this year? Keep reading to find out what advice she has for you. You can also learn more about Mariah’s work here.
You describe yourself as a sponsorship strategy coach. As a coach, how do you support nonprofit professionals?
As a sponsorship strategy coach and educator, I help nonprofit professionals position and package their events so that they can reduce their out of pocket costs, increase their income, and gain new long-term partners. It is important that the people I work with are educated on the process of securing sponsorships so they can build upon the duplicatable skill necessary for heightening their chances of bringing in more sponsorship dollars.
When did you first realize that there was a need for the work you do?
I first realized there was a need for the work that I do in 2020, when I was tasked to identify nonprofit organizations that were BIPOC led or that addressed specific social determinants of health such as food security and housing.
There were two things I heard most when meeting with nonprofits: “I didn’t know about sponsorships” and “I want to increase my impact, but I do not have the funds to do so.”
These statements bothered me because I had a solution that I knew would support their needs. I started The Sponsorship Catalyst LLC to help close the knowledge gap for already underfunded nonprofits that often served marginalized communities.
You have experience as a funder and as a seeker. Can you describe your work in those positions?
As a funder, I have reviewed hundreds of sponsorship pitch decks, negotiated, made fund allocation decisions, executed brand activations, and more. As a sponsorship seeker, I prepare sponsorship materials (i.e. proposal letters and pitch decks) to articulate the vision of an event in a way that makes the sponsor’s decision easier to make. Additionally, I navigate the conversation with my sponsors in a way that I would want someone to speak to me: relationship first, business second.
I work to build a relationship with the sponsorship gatekeeper I am in contact with so that I win over someone who would likely advocate for me within an organization after painting the vision. Additionally, I enter every conversation with my mind focused on learning about their sponsorship program and goals so that I can position my event as a solution for helping them meet their goals.
As a coach and a consultant, I help my clients put both of these things together so they
Present materials that make sense and articulate what they’re asking of the sponsors
Navigate conversations with confidence knowing that they bring value to the table that sponsors want access to
What do you wish nonprofits knew about sponsors and sponsors knew about nonprofits?
I wish sponsors knew that nonprofits are willing to be creative in how they highlight a sponsor’s support and that the support has a major impact on the community the nonprofit is serving. I wish sponsors saw nonprofits as critical to the build of our nation (i.e. nonprofit hospitals birthing the next city mayor, first response organizations caring for those in need, performing arts organizations bringing joy, and so much more).
I wish nonprofits knew that sponsors do not give money just because a nonprofit has a good cause. There has to be something there that will help them meet their goals because sponsorships are a marketing tool, not just a donation. That means there are often strings attached that come in the form of brand benefits (i.e. logo placement, vendor booths, event signage, etc.).
Securing a corporate sponsor or finding enough sponsors to cover the cost of a nonprofit event might sound overwhelming or even impossible to some people. What would you say to people who think they don’t have the capacity or ability to secure those funds?
Securing sponsors is an art and a skillset that, when duplicated over and over, can bring in a tremendous amount of funding. So, it is critical to recognize where you are while also extending grace to yourself along the journey.
Whether overwhelmed or lacking capacity or ability, one can consider hiring a professional like myself who can take the load of securing sponsors off of you and your team so you all can finish other aspects of your event planning/program.
Furthermore, there is a difference between overwhelm and capacity or ability. For someone who is overwhelmed, I recommend leveraging their team and board members by splitting up the sponsor research and outreach efforts. They can also make warm introductions to people in their networks that can turn into potential sponsors for the organization.
In addition, it is important to ensure that events are being planned well in advance in order to reduce feelings of overwhelm. I have seen many organizations putting events together 60 days before their event date, and while that may have worked in the past, it is not a long-term best practice, especially when sponsors are involved.
For those who do not have the capacity, reconsider if your organization has the necessary infrastructure to seek sponsors at the stage that you all are at. Whether you have limited staff capacity to secure sponsors or you don’t have the capacity to execute the brand benefits given to a sponsor are important factors to consider before you start seeking sponsorships. Another factor to consider is if your organization has the capacity to steward the sponsorship funds properly. If you fumble a relationship with a sponsor, chances are they will not return.
For those who don’t know, can you explain what a sponsorship deck is and why nonprofits should have one?
A sponsorship deck is a tool that is used to articulate to a potential sponsor who your organization is, who your audience is, what your event is about, and how they can be a part of what you are doing.
The importance of a nonprofit having a sponsorship deck is so that they can get buy-in from a sponsor, which in turn can help:
Reduce the out of pocket costs for your event.
Increase your event’s or program’s impact on the community your nonprofit serves.
Bring awareness to your organization.
Bring more credibility to what you’re doing.
What’s one common mistake you see in sponsorship decks and how can nonprofit professionals fix it?
There are several mistakes I see in sponsorship decks, but one of the most important mistakes is the omittance of audience data, both quantitative and qualitative. A sponsorship professional can fix this by helping nonprofit professionals understand how to frame their data, rather seemingly small or major, so that it is impactful.
Oftentimes, when I am working with small to mid-sized organizations, I recognize there is a belief that this undervalues the work they do in the community; therefore, they don’t believe their data is enough for a sponsor to buy into what they’re doing. This mindset has to be re-shaped if they expect to secure sponsors to support their mission’s work.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with nonprofit professionals who want to find sponsors in 2023?
Everyone within your organization should be bringing new relationships to the table, whether those are future funders or strategic partnerships. Relationship building is key to helping you all move your mission forward.
Leverage your existing networks by evaluating your sphere of influence, including social connections. Once you identify a contact, do not be afraid to reach out. Further, do not make assumptions of what the other person will think about your ask.
I also encourage you to be unemotionally attached to the result because you cannot control that. All you can control is the effort you put into your sponsor research and outreach. Lastly, make it fun and have your team set goals for securing funders or making new contacts and reward them for doing so.
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Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.