How Bad Apples are Hurting Cause Sponsorship

Fresh AppleIn recent months, several people have asked when I’m doing my next pro bono training program for charities. The answer is, I’m not… at least not anytime in the foreseeable future.

Over the years, I’ve done a half-dozen or so really big sponsorship training programs for charitable organisations. Unfortunately, my experience with doing them has been less than satisfying. It’s also been enlightening, as the very thing that was causing me so much frustration is why those same organisations struggle to get (or keep) sponsorship: Entitlement.

A few years ago, I did the 100 Charities Project. I offered two people from each of 100 charities in Australia and New Zealand the opportunity to attend a two-day, nearly $2000 per organisation workshop for about $300. The terms were, they had to have two people registered, at least one of them had to be a decision-maker, and both people had to be there for all of both days. Basically, I wasn’t going to invest my time, travel to five cities, and make a huge loss on a training program if they couldn’t be bothered to make the most of it.

I had several organisations register two people, but send only one. I had people tell me on the day that they wouldn’t be there that afternoon or the next day, because they had a meeting or something happening at work. In every case, I told them that if they didn’t meet the terms, they wouldn’t be able to stay. People demanded their whopping investment of $300 back (but didn’t get it) and I got abused for expecting charitable organisations to actually abide by the terms.

In 2010, I reprised my very successful Sponsorship School on a global scale, using technology for training and coaching sessions. Almost 100 organisations applied, and about 10% of them were selected. Those who were selected got six private webinars, six months of on-demand coaching with me, and a lot of other benefits. Two of the organisations completed the whole program. Two attended all of the webinars and had a couple of coaching sessions. The rest attended the webinars and didn’t interact at all aside from that. Almost $20k each in value on offer, and they used about $700 of it.

When I contacted them to see why they weren’t using the opportunity they had, and were wasting a place in the program that could have been used by someone else, every one of them copped an attitude like how dare I expect them to meet their obligations or act in a businesslike manner. Didn’t I know they’re a charity?? They’re very busy and plus, I should be providing these resources for free.

To be fair, the vast majority of charities I’ve dealt with over the years have been very professional and a real delight. But the few with entitlement issues – the ones copping the non-profit version of “don’t you know who I am?” – have been enough to scare me off doing another pro bono project for a good, long time.

Which brings me to sponsors…

I work primarily for corporate sponsors. I assist them with strategy, audits, and negotiations, among other things, so I am privy to a lot of discussions about their relationships with sponsees. Virtually every one of my corporate clients has been burnt multiple times by charitable and community organisations, who sell them a marketing opportunity, then don’t deliver or service well. They’ve all had charity sponsees who continually go back to the sponsor for more, or who have threatened to go to the media or to the CEO, if they don’t get the renewal. They’ve all invested marketing money, then been taken for granted, as if it had been provided with no strings attached.

Yes, sometimes these things happen because the organisation really doesn’t understand their role, which is fixable with education. But it becomes really galling when, upon the issues being addressed, the response is a slightly more polite form of, “You didn’t really expect something for your money, did you? I mean, we’re a charity. You should be giving us the money!”

Again, this happens in the small minority of charitable and community sponsorships, but every time it happens to a sponsor, they become more wary of investing in that sector. And if they do invest in that sector, what I’m seeing is a tendency to prefer the bigger, more commercial organisations. The presumption is that those bigger organisations understand they’re in a marketing partnership and will deliver on their promises, whereas smaller organisations are less likely to get it. The upshot is that those few bad apples are making it much more difficult for the legions of astute, responsive, commercially-minded charitable and community organisations – and particularly the mid- and smaller-sized ones.

I can tell you that if I could be guaranteed participants that would take full advantage of the opportunity, I would roll out one pro bono program after another. And if every charity organisation treated sponsors like commercial partners, not donors, the entire sector would be more successful. There are huge opportunities for sponsors to get a commercial return – change people’s perceptions and behaviours – through charitable and community sponsorship of organisations big and small.  But nobody likes being taken for granted – not you, not me, and not sponsors.

The situation reminds me of an adage about how it takes ten compliments to undo one criticism. I don’t know how many good experiences a sponsor has to have with the sector to undo each bad one, but I can tell you we’re not there yet. Maybe it’s education to reduce the number of those bad apples. Maybe it’s the sector committing to raise their game to a level where the bad apples seem more like freakish anomalies, and less like a sector-wide risk. I don’t know.

So, what do we do about this? How do we, as Francis Bacon put it, “hang a question mark on the things some have long taken for granted”?

I’m going to throw it open to you for suggestions. I am also happy to volunteer my services to a fundraising association (or similar) who wants to work with me to develop a plan specifically to elevate the sector and reduce the incidence and impact of this counterproductive approach, and put the initiative on project status.

I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I guess I still am an idealist, after all.

Need more assistance?

For all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.

If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265


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9 responses to “How Bad Apples are Hurting Cause Sponsorship”

  1. Lori D. says:

    Thank you for your insight and perspective! My non-profit holds conferences for various youth-worker audiences and I have experienced the entitlement attitude from other non-profits who feel we shouldn’t charge them to exhibit at our events, or that we should discount it because they are a smaller than we are.

  2. Jason says:

    Dead on!! Drives me crazy when others in my office have that EXACT attitude. I was up for a similar opportunity and did not get selected, found out 2 months later that neither of the charities chosen sent anyone to the seminars, they “forgot”. Unreal. Great blog Kim, thanks for the insights.

  3. Remco says:

    Being in the not for profit sector SPORTS, I very much recognize the attitude you describe.
    I have that same problem with the volunteers who work in sportmanagement, and even experienced that charging for events (like a training) gives you a completely other audience, than if you do it for free (like I used to)

  4. Kim Skildum-Reid says:

    I hear you, Remco. I thought by charging at least a small amount ($300) for nearly $2000 worth of training, the charitable organisations would value it and take it more seriously. If anything, it made it worse!

  5. Jacqui says:

    Kim, I too have recently seen the difference between how a charity values a sponsorship and that of an athlete or corporate entity – it can be worlds apart, which is so unfortunate.

  6. Alex says:

    Kim, great blog, thank you. Have to say, this line really struck home ‘every one of my corporate clients has been burnt multiple times by charitable and community organisations, who sell them a marketing opportunity, then don’t deliver or service well’. As someone selling and servicing sponsorship in a community organisation one of my biggest challenges is being creative and offering value as part of opportunities that the organisation can actually deliver on. Getting buy-in upfront is one thing but support and delivery when it matters can be another entirely!

  7. Raffy says:

    “Fortunately” I haven’t come across charities that act like the sponsors owe it to them to be sponsored. The worst I’ve come across are those that wait for the money to come without really giving anything substantial back.

    And as for giving stuff away, we avoid it because it is under or worse not appreciated. We’ve come to label such attitude from recipients as a case of “easy come, easy go”

  8. Richard Freedlund says:


    Excellent blog post.

    A few years ago, an organization I served looked into getting sponsors for its website. I explained to the group that we would have to offer a good return for the sponsors investment, since sponsorship is advertising. Unfortunately, the board at the time could not agree on what was the best things to offer, and the project was tabled. I am now on the board and we are revisiting the idea, so I hope that this can now be done in a way where both sides win.

  9. THANK YOU for this post. I couldn’t help thinking about how it relates to the many, many requests entertainers receive, sometimes daily, for free or discounted entertainment. I’ve gotten as many as three requests for free entertainment in one day. Some of the requests come from out of state!

    What is irksome, is when the vast majority of these requests come off as demands: “We are a non profit, so you owe us”. When no effort is made to make a connection with the entertainer everyone loses.

    I get a three page letter urging me to renew a magazine subscription. From some non profit organizations I get a one sentence request that reads more like a demand than a request. My time is worthless; their time is worth everything because they are a “non profit”!

    Again THANK YOU for sharing your insites. I’m looking for ways to use this information to help grow our variety entertainment business using a sponsorship business model for our solar powered Bubble Tower.