Life is full of experiences that seemed good at the time but which we’d rather not repeat. For me it’s a curly perm, shiny lycra leggings and dancing on the bar after a jug of strawberry margaritas. They might have been fun for a short while but we’re not in a hurry to make them a permanent fixture of life. There are always hidden costs and consequences. It’s like the $20 introductory gym membership that sounded a bargain until you forgot to cancel it and you’re locked into an eye wateringly expensive two-year contract.
Partnership tiers, when non-profits create gold, silver and bronze pre-made packages for corporate partners, were popular in about the same era as my shiny lycra. It’s also when they should have been retired and never brought out in daylight again. It’s shocking to see that they’re experiencing a comeback with some non-profits. It’s a sign of leadership that hasn’t moved on with partnership trends and thinks it’s all just easy income. But partnership tiers can be a straitjacket and a value destroyer for your partnership people and your organisation.
What are the hidden costs and pitfalls of partnership tiers?
They’re full of unwanted items
When you create partnership tiers they are typically structured around your marketing assets. They include social media posts, logo placement, event tickets and speaking opportunities. But corporate partners want different things from a partnership and there will be a heap of things that they’re not interested in, but you’ve contracted to deliver. When St Kilda Mums offered a sponsorship to their gala lunch event, the corporate was lukewarm about the logos, banner and media. All they really wanted was more volunteering opportunities for their staff. They agreed to support the charity but most of the package was irrelevant to them.
There is a cost in time and resources for you to deliver those items you’ve assumed they wanted but they actually don’t really value.
They cost more to deliver than you think
We worked with a performing arts centre who had a tiered approach to partnerships. The tiers included all of the usual things like free tickets, access to hospitality, logo placement in programs etc. But on opening night a heaps of seats were empty because their partners weren’t that interested. They just wanted to be seen to support their community arts centre, not attend performances. We evaluated the costs within the packages and found that they were double the price of the packages themselves.
You may think that what you offer is low cost for a big donation. Social media posts and logo placement are cheap, right? Wrong. When non-profits embark on partnerships using tiers, they generally aim for volume; the more packages sold the better for the revenue KPIs. I’ve heard of non-profits setting targets of acquiring 25-50 corporate partners. Let’s assume that’s 5 partners at gold level, 15 at silver and 30 at bronze. If each level requires social media posts at least quarterly, that’s 200 days when your social media is consumed with corporate partner promotion. Your gold level partners are likely to want even greater frequency and across multiple channels. How does that inspire your core audience when all they see is partner promotion? They come to you for your expertise, inspiration and rich content, not endless advertising. You’ve also just eaten up the time and creativity of your marketing team, who have to create and schedule the posts. Then if you’ve got to showcase everyone’s logos, you’ll have to redesign your website to fit everyone on.
It constrains your partnership growth
If you’re offering ready made tiers rather than bespoke partnerships, the corporates looking for cheap goodwill will always select the cheapest level. Then they’ll try to squeeze the maximum exposure and attention in return for their purchase. If they think they can get away with trading on your reputation, content and engagement opportunities for $10,000 then how are you going to get them to give more? You’ve probably put a lot into your packages to make them enticing, so you may be barely covering your costs. You’ll have a portfolio of energy sucking partners that prevent you spending time on bigger, more valuable opportunities.
Your non-profit is more than a collection of marketing assets. Among your intangible assets you have expertise, thought leadership, inspiring content, and a highly engaged tribe of followers. Those are things that corporates value much more highly than a mention on your website and logos on a banner. The full range of your assets, tailored to address the corporate’s priorities and pain points are what they will pay big money for. Don’t be tempted to sell them cheaply.
Partnership tiers are a relic, best relegated to the bin where I consigned my lycra leggings. Build your partnerships to shape each individual partner and you’ll create more sustainable relationships and long-lasting value.