This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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Small businesses are often approached with sponsorship requests, where the business receives some recognition in return for a donation that helps support a worthwhile cause or event. The amount of recognition the business receives is dependent on the size of the donation. Sponsorship opportunities include sports leagues; cultural amenities such as art exhibits, festivals, performing arts presentations, museums, or organizations; school programs; all kinds of non-profit organizations and the programs they present; and benefit galas or events – the possibilities are virtually endless.

But too often small businesses regard sponsorship as corporate charity rather than the promotional opportunity it really is. Here’s how you can evaluate potential sponsorships, and how to make the most of them once you pledge your support.

Evaluating a sponsorship opportunity

Many times, a business will choose to support something that’s important to the business owner, or that’s top of mind for them because of their personal lives – for example, sponsoring their kid’s soccer team. There’s certainly nothing wrong with considering personal preference in your sponsorship choices, but for larger donations especially you should consider other factors – such as:

What’s your objective? As in all promotional activities, you should first consider what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to build awareness, generate customer leads, drive traffic to a retail location, or what specifically? Having goals will help you evaluate opportunities, find ways to leverage the sponsorship, and measure how successful the sponsorship was after it’s concluded.

What is the sponsored entity? Educate yourself a little bit about the sponsored entity in order to evaluate a sponsorship opportunity. What’s its history, and how is it regarded in the community? How many sponsors does it have, and who are they? If the sponsored entity has a website, read it to discover how the organization presents itself and how it promotes its sponsors. Do you like what you see?

What audience are you reaching with this sponsorship? Sponsorship is a form of advertising, because your name will be associated with the sponsored entity. Who does the sponsored entity reach? What can the sponsored organization tell you about their audience? Generally, larger organizations that are asking for bigger sponsorships will have more detailed demographic information for you. Ideally, your audience will overlap with theirs as much as possible.

How does the sponsored entity plan to promote you? This can vary enormously depending on the opportunity and size of your contribution. Larger sponsored entities will often have pre-determined sponsorship packages with specific benefits associated with varying dollar amounts. Depending on what the sponsored entity is, your benefit package might include website hotlinks, inclusion of your logo on collateral, promotion through social media, signage, ads in programs, tickets to events, and announcements from the stage or podium. What else can they offer you? How long will promotion continue? Is there something you want from the sponsored entity that’s not being offered? You can always ask.

Is in-kind sponsorship possible? You might not be able to contribute as many dollars to the sponsored organization as they’d like, but maybe you can contribute products or services they need – at a reduced rate, at cost, or even free. How could your products or services benefit a potential sponsored entity in a way that works for you both? Sponsorship agreements like this are often unique to the sponsoring business, and for that reason may take some negotiation. Consider carefully what you’d like in return for your products or services.

Can you maximize a sponsorship with the help of a vendor or industry partner? Depending on the type of business you are, you can sometimes get more sponsorship dollars from a vendor or industry partner, so that together you can invest in a larger sponsorship package and get an even bigger bang for your buck. What opportunities exist within your industry?

Can the sponsored organization offer something for your employees or even your customers? If it’s a ticketed event or facility, can you get a few tickets for your employees and/or best clients? For larger sponsorships, you might discuss a cross-promotion opportunity where your customers or clients get a deal on tickets to the sponsored event, museum etc. with a coupon code, or other preferential treatment. That way, the sponsored entity gets the promotion they want, and you get to offer your customers a perk while advertising your support of a worthy cause.

Get your sponsorship agreement in writing. The bigger your sponsorship investment is, the more important this becomes. Beyond the benefits you receive, factors that should be addressed in larger sponsorship agreements include category exclusivity (so your direct competitor is not a sponsor too), number of sponsors at your level, and right of first refusal when the time comes to renew the sponsorship.

Making the most of a sponsorship

Once you’ve decided to become a sponsor, it’s your job to make the most of your investment. The sponsoring organization will promote you in all the ways spelled out in your sponsorship agreement, but from there it’s up to you – and there’s so much you can do to maximize your return, including:

Provide the sponsored organization everything it needs to promote you. The sponsored entity cannot promote you if you don’t provide them the basic tools they need to do so. Typically, the sponsored organization will need your logo in a high-resolution format and a hotlink to your website, at a very minimum. You will only look good if the materials you provide them look good.

Promote your sponsorship in any way you can. After all, you chose to sponsor an entity you think is providing something good to the community, right? So trumpet your support on your website, in your e-newsletter, through social media, and in any other promotional channel available to you. It’s one of the easiest, most direct ways to get what you want — positive promotion for both your business and the sponsored entity.

Consider your message. If your sponsorship includes an ad in a program or other collateral, your ad should reflect what might resonate with the sponsored entity’s particular audience. Presumably the audience supports the event/sponsored entity – so maybe you should use your ad to explain why your business does, too. Did you provide products or services visible to the audience as part of your sponsorship? Point them out in the ad! Remember, your ad will probably be one of many in the program. What will make yours stand out?

Make sure the sponsored organization is holding up their end of the deal. For smaller community organizations and events especially, volunteers are doing much or even all of the work – including sponsor fulfillment. Be sure you know exactly what benefits you’re supposed to receive, and watch to ensure you get them.

How can you leverage your sponsorship? How you can leverage your sponsorship will vary considerably depending on what you’re sponsoring and what kind of business you are, but this is an important step in making the most of your investment. Potential ways to leverage a sponsorship include having a table at a sponsored event; opportunities to distribute literature; distributing a coupon, coupon code or other promo benefit to help drive customers to your business; and distributing branded giveaways. Giveaways at a sponsored event can go far beyond company literature, and you can get creative – branded pom-poms at a sporting event, imprinted helium balloons at a children’s event, or old-fashioned paper fans at a outdoor festival in July, just to name a few examples.

Don’t forget networking opportunities. Some sponsorships (especially events like galas and benefits) offer significant opportunities to network with movers and shakers in your community. Attend the event, and be prepared to work the room. Sometimes events need volunteers – maybe work the event yourself wearing a company shirt.

After your sponsorship is over, consider your ROI. So, how did it go? Did you meet your goals? Are there any measurable outcomes that you can attribute to your sponsorship? What did you learn from the experience that could help you make future sponsorship investments even more successful?

The bottom line: sponsoring a worthy local cause, organization or event shows you’re a responsible member of the corporate community, but will also offer tangible benefits for your business. Your goal is to find sponsorship opportunities that give you the best chance at both.