Non-profit organizations and trade associations often lament the lack of results when it comes to fundraising efforts and “non-dues” revenue generation. Answering to the board as to why revenue budget targets are not being met is difficult. In the ever-increasing hunt for “non-dues” revenue, organizations need to address the factors involved and take steps to fill this SALES knowledge and resource gap.
Let us begin with the simple truth… fundraising is hard work! It is time intensive and a successful sales campaign involves many important factors coming together. The reality is most association executives have a full plate each day. Serving and communicating with members, government and public relations, managing teams, preparing for board and committee meetings, planning advocacy efforts, delivering education and programming. Fund-raising and sponsorship sales can easily get pushed to the corner of the desk resulting in lost revenues for your organization.
So how do we fix this? There are volumes of white papers, consulting reports, best practices documents, YouTube videos and all sorts of training materials one can find when it comes to learning “how to sell sponsorships”. That is NOT the issue rather struggle in this area often boils down to improperly planning and scoping the level of effort required and allocating the required time and resources needed to get the job done.
Underestimating sales effort and project scope is a non-profits Achilles heel.
Where association leaders miss the mark is in properly evaluating and resourcing the effort that must go into this key activity. This includes properly managing fund-raising tasks assigned and the effective resourcing of assignments (both qualified sales personnel and tools/advertising in support of the sales team). When budget time occurs at most associations, justified expense categories include advocacy, communications, and program support, all receiving their fair share of the allocated resources however sadly in most cases there is no sales team or sales support line items.
The challenge is in first identifying and dedicating the time required to be successful at sales in the context of an association’s needs. The process involves research and engagement of sales prospects, preparing the required marketing materials for the sales team, cultivating relationships and on-going strategic communications, preparing proposals and the required follow up in order to close deals and negotiate customized sponsorship packages. Time is a factor as well as often these fund-raising activities are tied to one-off or annual events such as a conference or trade show. If you miss the mark you only get one chance!
We start by recognizing that achieving our revenue objectives is not a “corner of the desk” activity we assign to non-sales staff, or certainly not without proper training and resourcing them with the tools and knowledge required to get the job done. This begins early and often, in the initial phases of budgets and organizational planning. It requires consistent reporting and tracking mechanisms with on-going adjustments based on results-to-date.
During the planning process, we need to scope the activity properly and to identify the resources required that will drive sales success. This can include hiring or training staff, adequate sales tools they will need including a sales/prospect contact (CRM) system and time management tools, sales collateral required (website, sales prospectus documents, and promo materials), and budgeting enough time and effort to achieve the objectives set.
In the scoping of a sales project, a very simple (yet effective) exercise is to follow a 1-10-10 rule. How it works is that if we need to find one sponsor, that means we need to send out 10 proposals (9 of which will be rejected). In order to get interest from 10 prospects, that means we need to start with a qualified list of 100 leads, we need to communicate with. In order to find those 100 qualified prospect leads that have the interest and capacity to potentially invest in sponsorship with your organization this requires significant research and outreach effort. Translation… if you need 10 sponsors to achieve your budget goal, your sales team must research, and outreach/communicate with a target list of 1000 companies!
And don’t forget… the companies you are asking to sponsor you have budget cycles of their own so starting this process 6 to 12 months in advance of when you anticipate closing the deal or have your event is often a prerequisite to achieving success and a planning piece overlooked.
Every organization is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fund-raising. If you are consistently achieving or beating your revenue targets, then you are doing something (many things) right! However, if you find yourself struggling with fundraising and sponsorship sales, begin at the beginning and don’t fail to properly scope out the effort involved and to ask your board for the resources needed. Whatever you do… don’t leave this sitting on the corner of the desk. If that is your plan, you have already left “money on the table”.