Sponsorships in Trouble

Fundraisers are scrambling more than ever this year to secure corporate sponsorships. Sponsorships are the key to making special events viable, and they are becoming harder and harder to get as companies take a hard look at their balance sheets.

Recently private donors stepped in to save the Washington Park Summer Festival, which had been canceled by the city of Portland after presenting sponsor Daimler Trucks North America (formerly known as Freightliner) withdrew its sponsorship.

The winners in this story? Portlanders, Washington Park, and... Hotel Lucia and Hotel deLuxe. That's right: the sponsorship was saved through a challenge from Gordon Sondland, CEO of said hotels. He and his hotels received prominent coverage due to the challenge. It's a great fit, becuase the hotels market themselves to an arty niche.

Nicely done.

The next Portland institution facing sponsorship woes: the mighty Rose Festival, which has seen a thirty percent drop in sponsorship renewals between this year and last. The good news: they are now just five percent short of their goal. There will still be elephant ears for all. Check out the link for a lengthy Oregonian article on the state of sponsorships in the city.

A couple of thoughts on this phenomenon:

1) It would be interesting to track post-recession revenues for companies that maintain or increase their charitable sponsorship dollars, compared to those that decrease their giving. This plays into that old adage that one should increase one's marketing during a downturn to position oneself to leap ahead of competitors once things turn around. Where does charitable giving play into this mix? (If anyone's trolling for a thesis, feel free to run with this idea. Let me know what you find out.)

2) It's a good time for non-profits to be thinking more broadly about corporate partnerships rather than just sponsorships. In his presentation on lean development shops last week (review coming soon) Michael VanDerhoef mentioned that Virginia Mason uses a partnership model of corporate relations rather than attempting to secure sponsorships for each individual event. Many corporations will continue to give; it's just a smaller pie, and the innovators are the ones who will get a slice.