About the Author

Who is Robyn
Robyn Braley is committed to helping Rotarians grow their clubs to become better equipped to help people who need help. He has led two club teams that were awarded RI PR Awards and served as the District 5360 PR Chair. He has been a Rotarian since 1999.

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Robyn draws from his experience as a Rotarian and as a Communications Professional to share ways to more effectively tell the Rotary story to your community. He starts by asking the questions, "Is your club ready to grow, and why does it matter?" The ultimate focus is on attracting new members.

He is available to speak at District Conferences and Rotary leadership training institutes. Content also applies to other not-for-profit organizations.

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Contact him at robyn@unimarkcreative.com

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Your Service Club can Unleash the Power of Sponsorship (Part I)


Written by Robyn T. Braley


There are two reasons why you need to understand basic sponsorship theory. Either you are a sponsor who is funding a project or you have a project you are trying to fund through attracting sponsors.


Rotary and other service clubs can find themselves in either position. Your club may have started a project and are seeking collaborative partners to help fund it. It might be a children’s festival, community park or an educational, health or other project.


On the other side, you may be making a sizable donation to a community project. With the gift, you have asked for an acknowledgement package that will raise awareness and draw attention to the service work you do.

Brand Synergy

Before digging too deeply into sponsorship function or structure there are two basic questions that must be asked.
  1. Is there brand synergy between your company and the cause or event your are about to support?
  2. What could go wrong with your relationship and what would the consequences be? 

The Big Question
Does sponsorship work? That's a  good question.


My friend, colleague and fellow Rotarian Brent Barootes has built a consulting business valuating and helping organizations, including Rotary clubs, to structure sponsorships.

Brent has written a book called, ‘Reality Check-Straight Talk about Sponsorship Marketing.’ He also speaks at conferences about sponsorship and provides training for companies, municipalities and not-for-profit organizations throughout Canada and beyond.


When asked whether sponsorship works, he answered with an unequivacle, 


Sponsorship Specialist Brent Barootes




“Yes! And, why does sponsorship work? I could give at least 30 reasons. I have narrowed the list down to four key elements.”





Brent’s Top Four Picks

1.    Engagement – Sponsorship engages people
2.    Targeting – Sponsorship allows you to target an audience segment
3.    Branding – Enhance audience experiences to build brand affinity and customer loyalty
4.    Traffic – Drive customers to your brand 


How it Works

At the risk of being over simplistic, this is my explanation of how sponsorship works.


If people feel good about a good thing
in the community, they will feel good about
the companies and other organizations that 
help to make that good thing possible. 
- RT Braley

Let me put it another way. You may not particularly like opera or blue grass music, but you believe both make valuable contributions to the cultural fabric of your community. 

Therefore, when you see a television, radio, newspaper or social media message promoting the event with a liner like this, “This concert is sponsored by XYZ company” above their company logo, you think it is a good thing.

In practical terms, there may be an audience segment the sponsor wants to 'feel good' about their products, services or activities. An awareness campaign can be created to let those people know about the good thing sponsor is doing.

Further Confusion

Funding may come from a sponsor’s advertising budget or donations budget. The gift may be driven by a well thought out marketing campaign or public relations strategy. Or, the donation may be given simply because it is the right thing to do.

You ask, “Can a philanthropic gift be structured as a sponsorship? Does it then become advertising? Where do charitable receipts come into the mix?”



Sponsorship is complex. It is not strictly advertising but may incorporate elements that look like advertising. However, just because it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and smells like a duck, it doesn’t necessarily mean sponsorship is a duck.

Here is the final kicker. The components of the acknowledgment package of one sponsorship deal may be completely different than that of another even though the funding amount is the same.

Why? Successful sponsorships are driven by meeting clients needs. The first sponsor’s needs may be entirely different than those of the second. 



One sponsor may require the full meal deal acknowledgement package while another may only want a tax receipt, a letter of thanks, a plaque on a donations wall, and perhaps lunch with the Chair of the not-for-profit organization. 

Why Organizations Sponsor

Never, ever assume you know why a potential sponsor might be attracted to your project. Sponsorship is used by large companies, small businesses, government and not-for-profit organizations to achieve specific goals and objectives.

Building sponsor relationships requires open conversations to gather information through asking key questions. Your ultimate goal is to build a win-win strategy that will achieve the goals of the sponsor as well as your organization.

The decision to fund a project will be dictated by a variety of reasons. Just because you need funding to stage an children’s festival does not mean sponsors will line up holding cheques in their hands.The pool of potential partners may be quite small. 

Reasons for Sponsorship

·         Positioning within the community or with other sponsors
·         Brand building
·         Promotion and sales
·         Community, investor, government or employee relations      
·         Access to influential people         
·         The Owner or President likes it

For Not-for-Profits

·         Raise funds
·         Heighten brand awareness
·         Positioning as a leader
·         Community relations

What Meeting Needs Means

For a number of years, I was the Sponsorship Manager for our public broadcaster in the Province of Alberta. We produced programs that were broadcast or used for educational purposes in countries around the world.

In addition to our own content, we broadcast programs like National Geographic Specials, nature programs, documentaries, how-to programs and other educational shows on our TV and radio services.  

I quickly learned I needed to identify the unique needs of each sponsor. Once that was accomplished, we designed an acknowledge structure for each one (More about that in Part II)

Sponsor’s Needs


·         Chevron wanted to be seen as contributing members of the community
·         Esso wanted to support educational programs for youth
·         Canada Safeway, Alberta Treasury Branches and SunRype Juice wanted to be
       seen to be supporting positive family programs
·         Fanny’s Fabrics wanted to make seamstresses and homemakers aware of their       products and services by sponsoring a sewing program

Never Assume

I secured a grant for $50,000 from an historic foundation that had a legacy of funding worthwhile community organizations and events. With an air of arrogant confidence I started talking about all the cool things we could do to draw attention to their gift.

The foundation people were horrified. Why? They drew my attention to the fact that such a campaign would undoubtedly be highly successful. 

The campaign would raise awareness and that was the problem. Other not-for-profits would also see it bringing hundreds of funding requests from other organizations. Many would not fall within the foundation's interests but would require staff time to review and formally reject the requests. They were already inundated with proposals as it was. 

Hmmm! I hadn't thought of that! They finally settled for a standard 10 second 'thank you' credit on the front and back of the program they were helping to produce.

Drilling Down – Beyond the Obvious

When I first started my branding business I did some fundraising. One of my clients was a small town in northern Alberta that was building a museum.

The area is dominated by oil and gas industry activities. The way the industry is structured, a single producing well may have dozens and even 100’s of investing partners.

However, you may think it is owned by one company. It is easy to assume that as you see company trucks and buildings displaying prominent logos. Many neighbors may work for the company and are easy to spot because of company hats, jackets and coffee mugs.

I have a friend who owns a small energy company. After explaining my challenge, he invited me into a backroom to research potential donors using highly classified maps showing the ownership breakdowns of the various wells surrounding the town.

Gulf Oil stood out as a majority owner in many wells even though the company seemed to have zero profile in the community. I cold-called the company and was granted a meeting with their VP of Public Relations.. 

I knew I was onto something when I went to my first meeting in their head office in Calgary. Historic company items like vintage gas pumps and manikins dressed in early service station uniforms were showcased in the foyer and throughout the open work spaces. Recognizing their history was part of their brand. 

In the end, they responded with a 5-figure donation. Their reason? Their donations policy included supporting projects that enriched the communities in which they worked. The museum was a perfect fit.


Being curious, I asked the VP of Public Relations why the company hadn’t funded other community projects in that region. Gulf was a national company and I anticipated he would say they funding requests from throughout the country and their donations budget was only so big.

His answer surprised me! He explained no other funding request had ever been received from NFP organizations operating in the town. Finding sponsors sometimes requires going beyond the obvious and thinking outside the lines of accepted fund raising practices.

The End

What do you think? Do you have stories about sponsorship? Do you have tips? Did you start a conversation with someone who became a Rotarian? Your insights are welcome. Please comment below. 


Robyn Braley is a brand specialist, professional speaker and writer. He is also a Rotarian who is passionate about Building the Rotary Brand. He has led two teams that received the Rotary International PR Award. He has also served as the PR Chair for District 5360. He often speaks at Rotary clubs, conferences and leadership development assemblies. He currently serves on the District 5360 Membership Committee.

Contact Robyn

Email: robyn@robyntbraley.com   Connect on LinkedIn Follow on Twitter: @rtbraley_rotary 

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