Working With Non-Profits

I know you were expecting something about Marketing this week. I will get to it, but I wanted to address something else first.

Over the past few weeks, I have been examining our firms relationship with the non-profits that we have worked with. We have spent quite a bit of time working with JDRF, Autism Awareness, The American Cancer Society, American Society for Suicide Prevention, The Ronald McDonald House, Boys and Girls Club, Make a Wish Foundation, Susan G. Komen, United Way, and Big Brothers / Big Sisters – just to name a few.

We have put together programs with our team sports clients that should help drive ticket sales on nights they are partnered with the charity, and that should generate a large donation for the charity at the end of the night. In all, it should be a win / win partnership between the two groups.

When we first meet with a team – no matter what the league – we ask them about their charity events. If it is a short season like arena football or indoor soccer, we usually map out for them ten or so charities in their market that they can partner with, and we schedule those appointments.

Before we meet with each charity however, we sit with the members of the sales team and map out both a plan and expectations.

You see, most of the time when teams approach a charitable organization, the charity and the club are on two different pages, and the end result is usually disappointment for both, and a very short term relationship.

THE TEAM wants to sell more tickets, and fill the building. They understand that the charity usually has a large base of members in which they can market tickets to, and they make the assumption that if they give $2.00 back on every ticket the charity helps them sell, that all of those members will scramble to buy tickets for the team and it will be an instant sell out. The team also usually believes that the charity has all kinds of free time to market tickets for them.

THE CHARITY must be in fundraising mode 365 days a year, and is completely focused on their cause. They view the team as an opportunity to raise some incremental dollars and have a fun night out, while sharing their message with the other fans in the arena that may not already support their cause. The people who are volunteers for their charity are some of the hardest working, most caring people imaginable, and the have been compelled for whatever reason to take up this cause. They are willing to assist in selling tickets for their event night, if they know exactly what they need to do, but they don’t have added hours in the day to do it, and their focus must continue to be what they do every day – raise money for their cause.

The team needs to present their charitable plan the way they present corporate partnerships. It must be a well thought out, fully developed program that clearly outlines the expectations for both parties. The team however, needs to take on a fully operational approach, and execute the night perfectly. After all, they could be raising money someplace else.

Here are the elements that we share with our teams that are the most important to a successful non-profit relationship:

1) Plan at least six months in advance. If you plan this six months before your season begins, you can drive the message through all of your internal and external mediums. Pocket schedules are great advertising, and a great way to get the charities messages out.

2) Give $1.00 back for every ticket sold that night – not $2.00 for every ticket the charity brings to the table. If you want an added incentive, you can give them the extra buck for each ticket they bring to the table – but if you are having “Autism Awareness Night” and have 9,000 people in the arena, budget for it (see where the planning comes into play) and give it to the charity. That check at halftime looks so much better than the $500.00 you would get from them bringing an additional 250 guests.

On a side note- if you do the right thing and give them the dollar per seat sold, make sure your announced attendance is reflective of the donation. If you announce 8,700 guests, the check should be fore $8,700.00.

3) Theme the night. Using autism as the example, if you are going to do a bobble head giveaway that night, and the team is going to be wearing autism awareness jerseys for the post game auction, then the bobble head should be in the autism awareness jersey. Your external media should be reflective of the event, and ALWAYS name the charity in your television and radio campaigns.


4) Silent Auction: While you don’t want to do 10 themed jersey nights every year (although we have worked with a team that did, and between the sponsorship and the auction revenue, they were able to give huge donations to their charitable partners), when you choose the two or three you want to do – make sure you plan it from start to finish to avoid conflicts at the table.

  • Publish the silent auction rules on your website three weeks leading up to the event. Offer fans the opportunity to email and ask questions related to the event, and always answer those questions with 24 hours.
  •  Publish the rules on a large poster sized sign next to the silent auction table. If you publish that your auction will end at the start of the third period, but you pull the bid sheets at halftime, you are going to have a problem (this actually happened to one of our teams). Make sure that every member of the staff knows the auction rules.
  • Have a clear check out procedure and a way for the fan to pay for the jersey. If possible, do not mix the credit card charges from the auction with the credit card charges from your retail business. We owe it to the charity to provide them with a final financial accounting of the auction before they go home, and nobody wants to be in an arena until 2am.
  • Offer to make the calls: Charities are way to busy to send email blasts or to make calls to their database. Ask them if it would be okay (on a one time basis) if they would be willing to share their database with you, and the team can make the calls. This makes the ticket sale much easier for both parties, the team can then deliver the tickets in their usual manner, and provide an accounting to the charity before the event of how many seats they have sold on their behalf. This will cut down on a lot of frustration.
  •  Understand your game presentation: If you are having an autism awareness night, indoor fireworks for your pregame introductions are probably not the best idea. Understand how your game presentation impacts the charity that you are working with, and adapt.
Wave Autism Jersey

We worked with the MISL’s Milwaukee Wave to develop their charitable jersey campaign.

Finally, when a problem arises (and no matter how perfect you are, or how well executed your event, there are issues), make sure that you have empowered every member of your staff to solve the issue, on the spot. When issues are solved appropriately and immediately, that customer will return and do business again with that company 80% of the time. If it is passed off, or tabled until the next day, that statistic is cut in half.

Know that when you are dealing with charitable organizations, you have emotionally invested people that have been personally impacted by something that has caused them to donate time, money, and energy to that cause. Find a way to solve the problem that meets their needs, not the needs of the team. You are trying to build a fan base and do something amazing for your community – keep that in mind when you engage an upset guest.

Now, go sell something.


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