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Truth be told

publication date: Jan 18, 2012
author/source: Brent Barootes
Every day, I watch the marketplace. Sponsorship and sponsorship marketing is not just my career, it is my passion. At the Partnership Group - Sponsorship SpecialistsTM, we work with a large number of charities and nonprofits. Brands or sponsors are also on our client list. Brent Barootes photo

Last fall, the Consumer Sponsorship Rankings showed that 55% of Canadians would switch brands if that brand supports a charity or cause. Furthermore, 63% of Canadians would prefer to conduct business with companies that support charities and causes. The problem with this strong affinity and crossover to sponsorship is that there is often too much "good-washing."

The Social Good Report by communication agency JWT was profiled in the September 30 issue of Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy from The Hilborn Group, and referenced "good-washing." In my mind, it is a huge issue.

Sponsorship can be branding disaster

Every day, I see another company tagging onto a charity and not paying for the brand equity it receives. I see charities charging for affinity and delivering poorly. I see brands such as KFC tying themselves to breast cancer with "pink buckets of chicken" or (again) KFC to Juvenile Diabetes with $1 per $2.99 mega-jug of Pepsi going to the cause (read that this drink has the equivalent of 56 spoonfuls of sugar and 800 calories)! Who is initiating these catastrophes? Furthermore, what charity wants to damage its brand like that?

The Social Good Report notes that there must be more transparency to avoid such "good-washing." I say it needs more common sense.

Alignment makes sponsorship effective

Brands that are not aligned with the mission of the property have no right to be there. An "ethics meter" needs to be placed in corporate sponsor offices to ensure that the properties don't get taken for a ride. I saw a situation where a telephone card company wanted to work with a major Canadian charity. The deal was awful for the charity, but they took it because they saw dollars coming their way. The calling card company couldn't care less about the charity and its mission. It just wanted to reach that charity's international audience.

When we recommended that the charity walk away from the deal, they felt they could not. They felt that they needed the money to fulfil their mission. Ironically, the money never flowed and their brand and image were tarnished. Great deal that was!

Brand even more important than money

You know, I say it is always about the money ... and it is. But the value of a corporation's brand and a property's brand is enormous. If the partnership can cause harm to the brand on either side, the deal should not be done no matter how much cash is on the table. Properties need to say no! Properties need to move from the "Woe is me, I need the money ... my stakeholders will forgive me" line to understanding that donors, sponsors, and constituents are not that forgiving. When properties just grab for the money, they will soon pay the price.

Good-washing. The only way it will stop is when the few companies out there doing it are "hung out to dry" and the charities that enable them are punished for such stupidity.

Brent Barootes, president of Partnership Group - Sponsorship Specialists, has worked directly or indirectly with many Canadian professional and amateur sports teams, nonprofit and charitable organizations as well as major corporations to develop, design, and build effective sponsorship programs.

His expertise includes sponsorship valuations and audits, inventory/benefit development, package development, and mentoring of staff and volunteers for both corporations engaging in sponsorship as well as charitable, nonprofit and for-profit events and organizations.

Contact him by email or visit

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