Choosing the right sponsorships

Make your corporate sponsorship work for you.

Marketing Clinic

By   J. Carter Thomas
J. CARTER THOMAS is president of Market Development Resources, a Dallas marketing consulting and services firm.

W ith $4,000 to contribute, would you rather your firm be the main sponsor of a health agency's gala dinner, a trade association's two-day seminar, the chamber of commerce's breakfast or a social group's golf tournament? Or would you rather give $1,000 to each group and be listed on their programs in small type?

It is very important for small and midsize CPA firms to research sponsorship opportunities before committing resources. Often, one member of a firm may push a sponsorship and commit the whole firm (and its reputation) to a cause that lacks broad internal support. Before you sponsor an event, consider the following questions and turn a small contribution into a great marketing opportunity.

  1. How will the sponsorship affect your firm's image? Sponsorships can help position your firm as a community leader, enhance name recognition and build positive rapport with your prospects and clients. Simply put, people think more favorably of companies that sponsor local events. Nonetheless, the charity or event that you choose to sponsor should relate to your business. Consider sponsoring events that are visible to a large portion of your client base. For example, if your firm does a lot of retirement planning work, consider sponsoring a local event that involves senior citizens, such as a veterans gathering or an American Association of Retired Persons event.
  2. How will the sponsorship create new business opportunities? Your firm should see a return on its investment. A University of California-Los Angeles study of 156 U.S. businesses revealed that businesses with higher levels of philanthropy have benefited significantly from their investments. This is no coincidence-sponsorships can shorten sales cycles. A reluctant prospect could change his or her mind about your CPA firm if you share a concern for a particular cause.

    Also, check the list of event sponsors and avoid events to which your competitors contribute significant amounts-unless you have a personal interest in the cause or the event is too important to ignore. Being selective can differentiate your firm from the competition.

  3. How "fresh" is the event? Unique events get more attention. Sponsor those the media is most interested in covering. If the fifth annual five kilometer run (5K) you sponsor competes with several other events the same day, the media will choose the newer, one-of-a-kind, most visually appealing event. If your event is the fifth of five speaking engagements that week for a politician, your only hope for significant coverage is a late-breaking news story on which the politician could comment. If your 5K competes with three other 5Ks, a balloon festival and a food fair on the same Saturday, you can forget media coverage and any name recognition for your firm.
  4. How will the event be promoted? Make sure the sponsors (especially your firm) are listed in all of the event's advertising materials, including television commercials, print ads, billboards and brochures. Also, ensure the promotional material is distributed widely. For example, if a bank is your fellow sponsor, distribute the brochures at all of the bank's branches.
  5. Who is the honored guest? To heighten excitement, events often feature appearances by politicians or entertainers. Unfortunately, it is common for public figures to send substitute speakers at the very last minute. Find out if your honored guest has a reputation for canceling appearances.
  6. How comprehensive is your commitment? Find out whether there are different levels of sponsorship and whether the sponsor list is organized in order of contribution size. This is very important when establishing your firm's visibility and clout for a particular event.
  7. How much time can you donate? Consider designating someone from your office to attend the organization's meetings. However, because your employee's time is valuable, be sure to examine the sponsorship for its long-term potential to justify the extent of your firm's involvement.
  8. Will your best employees attend? Be sure your staff members attend the event your firm has sponsored. If you are going to pay $500 for a table, plan ahead and invite your best managers and their prospects instead of asking just anyone at your firm an hour before the event. Remember, you are marketing your firm and you should always make your strongest impression.
  9. What will the return be? Ensure your sponsorship dollar directly supports the organization's programs and services. Would you invest $10,000 in a stock without reading a prospectus? Understand where event proceeds are going. If the organization is constantly having to produce fund-raising events, there may be internal problems. By contacting existing sponsors, you could uncover any negative issues related to your sponsorship.


Thousands of philanthropic opportunities await you. The vast majority are worthy of and desperately need your support. Choosing the best opportunity for your firm requires careful study, not seat-of-the-pants investing. As Thoreau said, "If you give money, spend yourself with it and do not merely abandon it to them."


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