As she looks back on the sponsorship endeavours of the Youth Emergency Shelter Society in Edmonton, executive director Deb Cautley says, “Every event was a logo graveyard.” YESS serves youth 16 to 18, providing emergency shelter, longer-term accommodation, skills development and educational programs. Compared to charities with high profiles and glitzy donor walls, they once felt they had little to offer sponsors.
“We were doing the same old, same old gold, silver and bronze levels. We didn’t even know what else we had to sell,” Cautley recalls. But after reworking their sponsorship tactics, they’re winning compliments from sponsors and prospects with sophisticated proposals aimed at their potential backers’ business needs.
The “opportunities team”
The agency doesn’t have fundraisers or development staff – it has an “opportunities team.” Sponsorship lead staff Sue Keating and Perpetuah Njihia are Opportunities Manager and Opportunities Officer respectively (although Njihia has also been awarded the internal title of “Sponsorship Goddess”).
In the plain language of sponsorship, YESS now has an “inventory of assets” to offer sponsors. The relationships might include volunteer opportunities that build corporate staff engagement; chances to present workshops to YESS staff and youth clients; prizes that include lunch prepared by a professional chef and a facilities tour; networking opportunities with other sponsors; and the chance to hire YESS graduates for entry-level positions.
The opportunities team helps sponsors to leverage their own relationships on the agency’s behalf. One sponsor boosted its United Way workplace campaign by promising to match all staff contributions with a corporate gift to YESS. Another, a bank, featured the charity in the promotion for a new series of GICs. Customers purchased enthusiastically and YESS earned $104,000.
It’s the kids that count
The YESS team keeps the focus on their youthful clients throughout the relationship. Sponsor volunteers don’t just paint shelter bedrooms in return for a plaque on the wall – they also add inspirational quotes. “The kids realize that the whole community is behind them and cares about them,” Keating says.
Sponsors helped even in recession
The recession delayed their sponsorship efforts. But by then, YESS staff and their sponsors were in mutually supportive partnerships rather than the old “cash for tables” mode. When YESS leaders needed business planning advice to avoid program cuts, they turned to their sponsors to provide it. “Because we’d already cultivated them,” Keating notes, “they felt like we were stewarding our business wisely, not bringing bad news.”
The top recommendation? “You’re selling yourselves too short. Ask for more.”
2010 looks like the year when all the preparation and cultivation will bear fruit. After achieving a solid $57,000 in sponsorship in 2008/09, YESS has almost twice that amount – $103,000 – confirmed, a further $230,000 looking good and another $100,000 in the pipeline for 2010. Much of that is the first stage of multi-year sponsorship commitments.