The COVID-19 crisis has thrown into disarray the plans for many large- scale charity fundraising events and created a particular challenge for corporate partnerships. What do you do to preserve your corporate partners and sponsors when your event becomes a non-event?
At our webinar last week, we heard from lots of charities having to conduct some urgent conversations with corporate partners about key fundraising events. Depending on the nature of the event and latest government advice, you’ll need to make some difficult decisions, so here are some tips and suggestions that we shared with the group to help you work through the issues.
- Evaluate the options- cancel, defer, reinvent
Cancel outright- this may be the case for face to face large gatherings that are now prohibited e.g. a gala ball, food festival, fun run or concert. Can you postpone or defer the event until the crisis is over? Can you offer the corporate partner next year’s event instead? It may be a good way to preserve the existing investment from your partner or sponsor if you can deliver the same event at a later date that’s mutually agreeable. Take some time to consult directly with your corporate partner and ask for their suggestions and feedback- they’ll appreciate making the decision in partnership with you.
Can you reinvent and deliver the event a different way? Large conferences have been shifted online very successfully, so can you create virtual participation? One charity was looking to broaden the inclusiveness of its annual cycle ride by incorporating a virtual ride using Zwift technology. Could this be applied to the entire event? Another charity repositioned its Walk to Cambodia and created an online program of fitness options to encourage participants to recreate the number of steps in another way. If you were planning a silent auction for your gala ball, think about conducting the auction online and create new marketing and promotion opportunities for your corporate partners. Don’t forget the opportunities for staff engagement and volunteering at your events- can you pivot to provide a different way to engage? With so many employees working at home or differently, your corporate partner will appreciate new ideas on how to create meaningful engagement.
2. Providing a refund- complete or partial
If you have to cancel the whole event and consider a refund on your corporate sponsorship or partnership deal, firstly check the contract. What did you commit to delivering to your corporate partner? If it’s just logos on signs at the live event, then you’ll probably have to give them a full refund if the event is cancelled as you can’t deliver them value in another way. If you’ve been smart and included a range of other assets and benefits in the partnership then look at what you’ve already delivered in activations, product sampling, ambassadors, media impressions etc. If you’ve already delivered on some of the key elements you may be able to negotiate a partial refund.
This is the time to test whether you’ve really understood your corporate partner’s motivations and what’s important to them rather than you. If you’ve got a good understanding, then you have the chance to create different activations or shift to another opportunity. The standard ‘gold, silver, bronze’ packaged approach to logos on collateral creates mainly goodwill value to corporate partners and doesn’t give you any wriggle room to adapt. If, however, you’ve uncovered their core interests in the partnership and they’re more interested, for example, in accessing your event’s celebrity ambassadors, then you can pivot to create new and valuable opportunities for your partners in a different way.
3. Consider the long-term relationship
Weigh up the impact on your long-term relationship with your corporate partners- is it worth holding them strictly to contractual terms or should you wear the immediate cost and create more value for the future? Consult with your partners, offer them options and ask for their feedback. It’s likely that every choice will cost you something, but you can minimise the immediate impact on your charity and position the corporate partner relationship for greater long-term value.
4. Build a strong foundation for future event partnerships
It’s likely that the current crisis has shone a harsh light on the strength of your current corporate partnerships and the basis for their support of your event. If corporate budgets shrink as a result of the current crisis, you’ll need to have a more compelling offer for your future partners than just logos on event signage. That means a deep understanding of their motivations and needs, a detailed profile of your event audience and a complete view of the assets and value that you’re offering to your corporate partner.
It’s true that events and corporate partnerships support will be particularly challenging in the next few months. However, some thoughtful relationship management, creative thinking and the ability to adapt quickly will put your charity in a strong position to revive opportunities when the situation stabilises.
If you need an action plan to help your charity survive and thrive in corporate partnerships during these tricky times, then contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.