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Welcome to the first part of our Sponsorship series, where we cover the basics of how your grassroots sports club can create successful sponsor partnerships. Click here to download our free club sponsorship guide. 

To kick off, Mark Cornish, LoveFootball Community Ambassador, explores the key differences between a sponsor and a donor – what they can bring to your club, and how you should treat them differently.

What’s the difference between a sponsor and a donor?

Before you accept money from any organisation, it’s essential you are fully aware of the relationship you will have with that company – are they a sponsor, or are they a donor?

  • Sponsorship: A sponsorship is a commercial relationship between you and a company, which carries with it an expectation of a return on investment. They will be expecting something back for that money they’re going to give you, or for the products they’re going to provide free of cost
  • Donations: Donors will not have an expectation for a return on their investment. They are simply giving to your organisation – whether that’s a cash donation, a free service, free materials or products – and they do not expect anything back from you

Free Sponsorship Ebook Download

What do sponsors gain from partnering with a sports club?

You may be wondering why a company would invest a lot of money in your club; what do they get back? Well, this would be a big commercial opportunity for them. By sponsoring your club, they would benefit from the following six factors:

1) Increased brand awareness

Think of a shop that has just opened, with a shopkeeper new to the area. No one knows who they are, so why would customers decide to shop there? The shopkeeper doesn’t know the community, but they have a desire to increase awareness amongst the locals. Building awareness in order to bring in sales is their commercial objective. And that’s where a community organisation, such as your sports club, comes in – you can help to get their name out there, in a way they can’t achieve on their own.

2) Community affinity

A company may wish to become part of the ‘social fabric’ within your local community. One of the best ways for them to do that is by partnering with your club, so that your members can become more familiar with who they are, and what they do.

It’s likely that some of your members will tell their social circles about the company, who will therefore benefit from increased community affinity via word of mouth. This is highly valuable to potential sponsors; a survey reported by The Drum found that 51% of consumers trust recommendations from their friends or partners over any brand advertising.

3) Networking opportunities

Your club’s facilities are a perfect place for companies to host events, such as lunches or breakfast meetings. Not only are these great opportunities for B2B (business-to-business) networking, they’re also a chance for the company to get to know your members further. A lot of companies will be very interested in hosting these kinds of events in order to meet your other sponsors, and further expand their awareness in the local business community.

4) Use of your facilities

As well as networking opportunities at your club, companies will also be keen to hire your facilities for events. These could be off-site sessions, staff sports events, or use your car park for overflow capacity. It sounds simple, but these things are a really valuable asset to companies.

5) Access to your followers

Your social media following is a hugely valuable asset. It’s likely you’ll have an engaged audience on social media, as your followers are genuinely passionate about your club and what you do. So if your sponsorship partners are able to share updates via your pages, there’s no question of the commercial value that brings them. The same goes for your CRM (customer relationship management) database. Being able to send commercial messages, special offers and discounts to your communities, via a CRM like LoveAdmin or your social channels, is probably one of the most sought after opportunities among local businesses.

6) Recruitment

Local companies are always hiring, whether that’s executive roles or apprenticeships. Again, your database is going to be such a valuable asset here; they can be pushing ads via your CRM when they’re looking for new team members.

So you can see just how valuable you are to local companies by offering them sponsorship partnerships; you give them a lot back. But sponsorships are about building that relationship over time. Typically, they may start out as two-year, perhaps five-year investments. But if you provide them with a great return on investment and help them to successfully activate, then the chances are that they’ll last for longer, and they’ll spend more money.

What do donors gain from giving to a sports club?

There is clearly a lot of commercial gain for sponsors when partnering with you, but what about donors?

Often, donations will come from local businesses who would like to support clubs within their community – perhaps it could be increase CSR (corporate social responsibility). It’s a good idea to give them some form of recognition for their donation. You could, for example, mention them in your newsletter, or add them to a patrons board in your clubhouse.

But the most important thing to remember here is that you should not give away any of your commercial assets as a way of a ‘thank you’ to your donors. If you do this, then you are losing potential income and revenue for your club.

Another key difference between sponsors and donors is that, more often than not, a donation is a one-time thing. And it can be very awkward and difficult to go back to them every year, asking for more money.

Sponsorships can be a source of long-term income for your club

Remember, sponsorships are a long-term investment from a company. And they have the potential to grow, should you deliver against their objectives. This is why sponsors are arguably more valuable than donors; it’s very difficult to keep income via donations coming in year-on-year. That said, it is important that you focus on both types of financial investment.

Hopefully, this first part of our sponsorship series has been helpful in reminding you of the key differences between sponsorship and donations. It’s important when starting a conversation with a company that you’re fully aware of which direction they’d like to go in, so that you can respond and act accordingly.

In the next part of the series, we’ll explore what it is that we need to provide potential sponsors with in order to allow them to evaluate the opportunity and make a decision.

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