Engaging sponsors for your small UK charity

There are two types of sponsors that every charity needs to engage if they are to thrive. The first are sponsors who give money so the charity has the funding it needs to continue providing services to beneficiaries, and/or expand the offering. And sponsors who give time, whether that’s volunteering to keep the charity going day-to-day, or volunteering specialist skills.

For small charities in particular, the latter is an important way to plug digital skills gaps that enable the charity to present itself in the best light – for example, a newsletter to keep in regular communication with donors or a website to help get your message out to a wider audience. Furthermore, it gives people who either can’t afford to donate, or don’t have the time to volunteer as a trustee, the opportunity to still get involved and contribute something really valuable.

Typically, sponsorship comes from three groups of people:

  • Grant funders
  • Corporate donors
  • Individual donors

But to successfully secure sponsorship requires you to understand the different motivations of each group, and engage them in different ways:

How to secure grant funders

With grant funders the focus is always going to be on money. And the process is relatively straight-forward: you’ll see a grant, submit an application, and you’ll either secure the funding or not.

One way to improve your chances of success is through your annual report. Typically grant funders will look at this alongside your application to assess whether they should invest their funds in your charity.

For more help with your annual report, read this blog…

Let’s assume that you secure the grant. Now what?

Well the relationship doesn’t end there, in fact, this is just the start. Your grant funder is going to want to feel confident that they made a sound investment, therefore you need to show them a return. This could be facts and figures about what you’ve done with the money, presented in a nice infographic. Or it could be a case study or written testimonial from the beneficiaries to highlight the impact their money has had.

Alternatively, it may be that you need to communicate bad news. COVID-19 has impacted a lot of charities, who have needed to change their plans very quickly. If that’s you, why not show them how you have diverted funding towards alternative services that equally help your beneficiaries, or simply keep them informed about when you hope to continue with your initial plan.

The most important thing…

Keep it personal and keep up the conversation. Grant funders have chosen to invest with you so take the time to keep them informed – either through an email, letter or phone call. If you can involve them in your plans, it’s likely you may secure future funding too, because they’ll view you as a safe investment.

How to secure corporate donors

Understanding corporates is a lot tricker because there are so many variables.

Firstly, you need to identify what ‘sponsorship’ looks like to them. At one end of the spectrum, they may simply be looking to make a donation because it’s easy to off-set against their corporation tax. Whereas at the other end they may be looking for a full-blown partnership where they help fundraise on your behalf, volunteer skills and have a corporate sponsorship programme that releases their employees to help for a certain number of days each year.

Secondly, you need to identify their motivations behind getting involved with your charity. For some, there may be a natural alignment between your charity’s purpose and what their business does – for example a local printer wanting to help local school PTAs with printing homeschooling packs. Others may have a personal connection to your charity, like a manager who also volunteers as a trustee. And for a few it will be the opportunity for publicity to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility.

It’s important that you understand all the reasons that a corporate may want to get involved with you, including the benefits that employers get out of sponsoring your charity – from supporting with their employee development programmes, through to team building and brand reputation – as well as all the benefits their employees get out of it – such as developing soft skills, creativity and confidence. Then highlight these opportunities either through your website, on social media or in a newsletter.

The most important thing…

Because every corporate is looking for something different from a sponsorship, you need to listen to their motivations and then echo them back. There’s no point pushing big photo opportunities with the press if your corporate is camera-shy and driven by the need to give back to a charity that’s helped them personally.

How to secure individual donors

When individuals agree to sponsor your charity it’s usually because it means something personal to them and pulls on their heart strings. And just like your corporate sponsors, they could equally support you with money/time.

It’s unlikely that you have the time or resource to speak with individuals on a one-to-one basis. Therefore, you need to be smart with your communications and make it simple for people to see how they can get involved.

For example, rather than ask for a £10 donation or go with a generic “Whatever you can afford”, think about how you phrase the proposition so that it becomes meaningful to that individual – “Donate £10 to feed a rescue puppy for a week, or donate £25 to feed them for an entire month”.

You should also think about highlighting legacy donations. It might feel like a tricky subject to raise, but the fact is that while 17% of Wills that go through probate include a donation, 40% of people say they would be happy to leave a gift in their Will. Think about including a page on your website, or look to piggyback off ‘Remember A Charity in your Will Week’, which runs in September.

If you need volunteers to help out in a shop, or to run an event, be really specific about what you need – “We need people to help out at our May Day fundraiser on Saturday 1st May from 10am – 2pm. Stalls still available include: afternoon teas, children’s face paints and the tombola”. Let someone know exactly what they’re in for upfront, and they can make an informed decision about whether they can help out or not.

And if you need specific skills, make sure it’s clear what you need help with, and what the ‘deal’ is – “We need a writer to help us create a case study about the impact our work is having. We can arrange an interview for you with our CEO and a beneficiary, and would credit you for the work.

The most important thing…

Make the action you’re asking people to take as simple as possible. If it’s a donation, only ask for the minimal information and include the option for Gift Aid. Or if it’s asking for volunteers, give them a personal email address and have someone ready to respond immediately.

Bonus tip!

Regardless of whether you’re looking for grant funders, corporate or individual donors, it’s crucial to cement and maintain that ongoing relationship. And the best way to do this is a simple, meaningful thank you:

“Thank you so much for donating £50. It’s enabled us to keep 5 homeless people warm this week with new sleeping bags and a hot meal in their bellies.”

Or

“We can’t thank you enough for helping with our new website, which now enables us to take donations online. We’ve had some wonderful feedback from the trustees too who say they’re proud to have a site that now properly reflects our mission. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

How to get started

For a small charity, where you don’t have a lot of people or resources at your disposal, it might seem a bit overwhelming trying to do everything. So don’t. Start by picking one group that you think will have the biggest impact on your charity.

If it was us, we’d start with corporate sponsors. It’s much easier to have that conversation when there are various routes you could go down – especially if you know they have a corporate programme in place before your start.

Think about the personal connections you have today and whether you know someone that’s able to make an introduction and break the ice on that initial conversation – it might be the company your partner works for, someone you know through one of your children’s clubs or even a neighbour. If you can go in warm (rather than cold calling local companies) you far more likely to have your case heard, and even if that person can’t help, they might know someone who can.

Keep in touch!

We’d love to know how you get on with securing your sponsors, particularly if you’ve found any useful tips or tricks that we can share through our newsletter with other small charities in our community.

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