This is part 3 in a 3-part article on Sponsorship Stewardship and Activation: Many organizations and even individual artists have supportive business relationships that help make arts and culture happen, but we don’t always use the label ‘sponsor’ to refer to these supporters. Whether you address them as partners, supporters, friends, or good neighbours, you can optimize the benefits of that relationship, for them and for you, by translating (i.e. adapting and applying) sponsorship best practices for your context. Sponsorship activation and stewardship are two essential components of that optimization. To help you better understand sponsorship activation and stewardship, Culture Days has organized a panel on sponsorship at the upcoming Congress. Tune in May 23 - May 24 to hear from a great set of panelists who have extensive experience on both sides of the sponsorship relationship. You can view the Congress schedule here.
Activation in the sponsorship world is about working with sponsors to promote their relationship with your organization. This usually requires the sponsor to allocate additional funds or at least staff time to produce some sort of activity to manifest or highlight the sponsorship. Sound confusing?
For a quick example, I turned to Congress sponsorship panel facilitator, Lucille Pacey, executive director of Arts Umbrella in British Columbia for some ideas on how they activate their sponsorships.
Arts Umbrella is an arts education centre for children and youth ages 2 to 19. They’re committed to delivering high quality visual and performing arts education to young people, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances. For their 31st annual Art of Splash fundraiser, Lucille and her staff successfully raised more than $450,000 in net proceeds. Reading about the event here, you can see that Arts Umbrella engages the support of many different business supporters.
Contributions ranged from financial support toward the costs of mounting student performances, or food and drink sponsors, to ‘product placement’ or a showcase area for sponsors to promote their brands. Furthermore, the Silent Auction at the fundraiser was both sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and organized with the help of PwC staff who volunteered their time to set up the auction at the event. The fundraiser is therefore a useful ‘activation’ opportunity where a business like PwC can highlight its support of Arts Umbrella, not only through its sponsorship of the Silent Auction but by engaging staff in the execution of the event.
In fact, every year, Arts Umbrella organizes a Day of Giving when local businesses large and smaller send their staff to volunteer for a day. Tasks range from painting walls to tickle trunks, cleaning students, and preparing programming materials. Activities like the Day of Giving and the Art of Splash Silent Auction go beyond “hey wanna put your logo on our website?” or "will you donate goods or services" to activating the relationship with a value-added activity that makes use of meaningful employee engagement.
In other words, for smaller cultural organizations or artists, the next time you ask a local business to buy an ad in your program book, find out more about their needs and priorities. Think creatively about some creative ways of enhancing that relationship. That local retailer that’s donating gift certificates for a door prize might appreciate more exposure; ask them if they might want to come on stage to say a few words and draw the winning ticket for the door prize themselves. You can offer to project an image of their storefront in the background while they’re on stage. The restaurant or bank that’s advertising in your program book might be persuaded to buy a bigger ad if you offer to come sing a few numbers or give a dance lesson at their next staff party.
Lastly, for some arts and cultural organizations, it may feel easier to ask a new potential supporter to contribute staff hours to a Day of Giving than to ask them for financial support up front. That’s a great approach. You can first develop a relationship with a potential sponsor by inviting them to bring their staff in to volunteer for a day or an afternoon. Before, during and after the event (in your reporting) you can help them see how this is a great opportunity to not only demonstrate the business’ commitment to community and corporate social responsibility, but to also contribute to team building, developing leadership skills, and improving employee relations. Meanwhile, as they volunteer, they’ll come to understand and appreciate more deeply the value of your work. While it can take work to organize a Day of Giving, the fact is that with some savvy stewardship and strategic activations to develop the relationship, that one Day of Giving can continue to give both you and your supporters many benefits down the road.
For more advice and tips on sponsorship activation and stewardship, be sure to tune into the sponsorship panel at the Culture Days Congress via the livestream. The Congress program schedule is available here, and the Live Stream will be available here.
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