Trends In Cause Sponsorship

In follow-up to Chris Mann's recent post on tips to maximize cause sponsorships, I wanted to share a few distinct sponsorship trends that are helping some sophisticated corporate and nonprofit players get noticed in today’s competitive marketplace. These were gleaned from a combination of industry chatter, Cone client work and takeaways from the 2010 IEG Sponsorship Conference.

  1. Sponsorship Squared: Creative sponsors are leveraging current and new sponsored properties together to bolster returns on both, while carving out a niche to stand out from the clutter.

    Example:, as a new sponsor of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, leveraged its existing Nascar relationship, allowing fans to have a loved one’s name incorporated into driver Bobby Labonte’s pink tribute car design by visiting their site and honoring those impacted by the disease.
  2. Partnered Promotions: More and more, sponsors are seeking introductions and co-promotions with other non-competitive, complimentary sponsors of the same properties. This can be a win-win-win. The cause property gets more highly engaged sponsors, one sponsor may get a benefit like access to a new customer base and the other may benefit from new, emotional content to further connect with customers.  There are a number of ways to slice the varied interests of parties involved, depending on their goals and core assets.

    Example: Children’s Miracle Network struck a deal with Microsoft’s XBox to sell bundled games. The games were sold at Walmart, an existing Children’s Miracle Network corporate supporter. The partnership tied all three organizations together, which proved highly beneficial to all parties.

    Example: For a promotional period, pairs of New Balance pink sneakers benefitting Susan G. Komen for the Cure also included customer applications for the new Bank of America pink credit cards that benefit the same cause.
  3. Niche is Necessary: While sponsors understand they may be sharing the limelight with other sponsors unless they shell out big dollars for total exclusivity rights, they are expecting a custom niche to help them stand out from the “logo soup.” Satisfy their craving for customization by developing unique, creative solutions and offering “ownership” in a multi-sponsored campaign.

    Example: (PRODUCT) RED allows companies to customize their participation with brand-appropriate terms. The Bugaboo baby stroller is adorned with the word Ado(red),  Flower Power markets its promotion using Flowe(red), Converse goes in a slightly different direction using Make Mine (Red). Sponsors get a sense of ownership, yet the (PRODUCT) RED brand tie-in is still obvious.
  4. “Non-Cause” Causes: Many companies “invented” their own causes. Sponsors are not always looking to define their philanthropic focus through nonprofit beneficiaries – they are coming up with unique causes and giving the money away to multiple charities, to individual contest winners or to non-traditional partners.

    Example: Green Mountain Coffee created the Revelation to Action Changemakers competition to provide grants for innovative solutions to solving community challenges. Its partner is Ashoka's Changemakers, not a traditional charity partner, and the money goes to individuals to help make change in their communities and not to nonprofits directly.
  5. Starter/Teaser (not Discounted) Packages: Especially in this economy, it is important for properties to offer a range of options. It may be more difficult for sponsors to take a “leap of faith” and pony up for the top tier sponsorship. They may be more likely to spend less money to get a sense of how their objectives may be met on a lower tier package before taking the plunge. It is important not to succumb to discounting, as this makes it difficult to return to your fair market value. Instead, think creatively about how to offer smaller, start-up packages.

    Example: The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women (Cone client) does this by offering multiple tiered sponsorship packages, including short-term cause marketing opportunities to simply use the logo and raise funds for the cause. Companies can start here and see if they want to opt-up to larger opportunities with more tangible benefits.

I hope these trends help sponsors and sponsees think creatively about cause strategies. I know I will be using them in my counsel to clients on both sides of the sponsorship!

- Anne Erhard, Vice President


Back to Insights