Your business’s bill of rights when you support a historical community event

History Smiths

I’m not going to name any names, but every year in my historic, seaside community an event takes place to celebrate our town’s maritime heritage. I’ve attended the last seven or eight. As an event planner myself, and a public relations/community outreach/marketing professional, I pay attention to how events are managed and who is supporting them financially – especially those with a historical theme, which is my business. What I have noticed with this particular event is that year after year the same small group of people dutifully writes checks because they are “supposed to.” Maybe the donor’s logo appears somewhere, maybe it doesn’t. And that’s it. The donors really are taken for granted because they are “family,” and the business goals behind the check writing are simply not considered. In my mind, this is just not good enough any more and the check writers should push back and ask, “What, exactly, am I getting for my donation?” Being “nice” and/or philanthropic is lovely and appreciated. But what about BUSINESS?

What you can do

Unfortunately, most of the nonprofits running these kinds of events don’t “get” that contributions from businesses are, ultimately, supposed to benefit the business. It’s not how they think. Adding a logo to a poster or a program is fine, but it’s only a start. Instead, the nonprofit event planners need to ask the donor, “How can we make this work for YOU to make sure you achieve your business goals?” And if businesses are not being asked this question, they should either ask it themselves or, frankly, take their money elsewhere. Tough talk, I know. But I think businesses need to ask more questions, stop being taken for granted, and determine their return on investment. The next time you are asked to support a historical community event, here are some ways you can leverage your donation.

• Ask about the marketing/promotion plan for the event, and find out where you can be included.

You will be told that your logo and/or your business name “will be included in all promotional materials.” Okay, but where, exactly? Ask if you can provide a quote for the news release about why you are proud to support the event, and a word about what you do. Provide a one-sentence descriptor to accompany your logo and business name wherever it appears (you also want this information to appear in the organization’s newsletter, on their Web site, etc.). Insist on a link to your Web site in social media messages, email blasts, and from their Web site. If there is a printed program for the event, make sure you are in it. Perhaps, in the program, you want to make a special offer for event attendees. (Note: You will be told that there isn’t enough space to do what you ask in a publication, or enough time to add links for “everyone,” or the organization has “never done it that way before.” As someone who has provided services to the nonprofit sector for 20 years, I’ve heard it all. Push back!)

• Have a presence at the event.

Staff a table where you can distribute information, answer questions, or make a special offer. Be creative! Have members of your team circulate among the crowd in matching t-shirts. They can hand out material, engage people in conversation, and help put a friendly “face” on your business.

• Ask to speak from the stage.

At some point during the event, someone will offer remarks, and you should be allowed to make a 60 second (at least) statement about how proud you are to support the event, what you do, where people can find your information table, and what you are offering to people that day. It is unacceptable for the event MC to simply read a list of donors or, worse yet, to thank “all of the donors” and direct people to the program to find out who they are. (This actually happened at the event I described above.)

• Promote the event through your own channels.

Nonprofits only have so much reach, staff, and ability, and you can boost their efforts by doing your own promotion. You will want to coordinate with the presenting organization to make sure the language describing the event is consistent, but beyond that you will really look like a hero to your customers and your community (potential customers) by publicly promoting the event. Naturally, you will call attention to the event AND your business, especially if you can make a thematic connection between your business, the historical event, and your community.

Insist on “more”

The reason you write a check to support a community event is, ultimately, to benefit your business. And the reason you want to go beyond writing a check is because these events provide a non-direct sales environment where you can connect with people. Your message, in all of the ways your participation is recognized should be, “We are proud to support this important historical event that our community cares so much about. We have a shared interest.” Your money is too valuable to squander an opportunity to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure your reputation as someone who cares about local history.

The next time a nonprofit wants your check to support a historical event, insist on “more!”