When to say “yes” to the sponsorship ask + 3 ways to politely decline
By Crystal Wilson
As a business owner, there are certain seasons that one can expect to be more or less bombarded with requests from the community to be a sponsor for their event, or donate to their silent auction, or otherwise align themselves with a certain cause.
As an impact driven business owner, this can be pretty overwhelming. Our goal, in addition to making a profit, is to make a difference and support the good work of others. It can feel so counterproductive to say no to a request for sponsorship or donation because of the distinct desire to give and support others who are doing good work.
The answer is not to say “no” to all requests OR to say “yes” to all requests - the answer is to carefully weigh the costs and benefits and check in with your values as compared to the values of the organization requesting the support. Here are a few important questions to consider when you are approached with a request for sponsorship or donation:
- Why has this organization approached you specifically? Is there a personal relationship? Have you given to them in the past? Is it a cold ask?
- How do the values and mission of the requesting organization line up with your business’ values and mission? Sponsoring an event, or even donating a prize/item put you in alignment with the organization and what it stands for. It gives the public the idea that your business, and the organization/host are on the same page. Aligning yourself with a well-known organization that is a values match can work really well in terms of exposure and branding for a business - but aligning with an organization that doesn’t match up with you values wise can give the public the wrong idea of who you are and what you stand for.
- What is the request for? Is it cash? In kind services/support? Product/Service donation? What does your budget tell you about your ability to fill the request? If you haven’t budgeted specifically for sponsorship - perhaps it fits within your marketing budget - ideally, sponsorship will lend itself well to your marketing initiatives. It is important to consider as well, whether all or only some of the sponsorship amount will be eligible for tax receipting.
Evaluating the answers to these three questions should help you come to a decision about whether this specific ask is right for you at this time. Taking this approach can help you to not fall into the two ends of the spectrum; either turning down every request out of fear of scarcity, or accepting every request out of a desire to do good.
Flow was just recently asked to provide sponsorship for an event put on by a group of grade 12 students in a program called Beyond Borders. In our decision making process we looked to questions like those above to make our decision:
- We knew that the group was approaching us because of some personal connections between the students and our team members, they had identified us as a B Corporation, which they had learned about, and Flow has a history of participation as mentors and evaluators in this program.
- This program itself is on a mission to create amazing leaders out of these students. There is a strong focus on accountability, responsibility, and self awareness in their curriculum. There has also been a significant amount of attention paid to teaching alternative business models and the importance of considering one’s community and the environment when engaging in business activities. So, creating a world with strong, kind leaders, who are intent on doing business differently? Yeah, that fits our values.
- This ask was for a financial sponsorship and came at a time of year when we were developing our budget for the time impacted by the ask - so based on the answers to the first two questions, we were able to confidently work the sponsorship into that budget.
This was our first significant financial sponsorship, and so it was important for us to set a good precedent for making these decisions movingforward. We got to attend the event the students created (a benefit of sponsorship!) and watched them rock the night. They surpassed even their stretch fundraising goal, and despite the young age of the organizers, they were able to provide an entertaining experience for their guests. Their benefiting causes were chosen thoughtfully, and the students represented them well in their display and education spaces throughout the event space. We are really proud of the work that the students and their teachers did, and are so glad that we were able to participate in the event.
So, that is a case where the answer to sponsorship was “yes”. What do you do in the situations where the answer needs to be “no”? It can be an awkward conversation, especially if there is a personal connection, but it is important to be honest, and clear.
Here are 3 go to ways to gently pass on a sponsorship request:
- “I appreciate your interest in aligning with us, but our sponsorship and donation commitments have already been made for the year”
- “We aren’t able to provide financial sponsorship at this time, but if there is another way we can support the event/cause please let us know.”
- “I'm not sure our organizations are in alignment as far as values go. Have you approached ________ ? They may be a better fit for you!”