I’m going to tell you the end of the story before I begin.  I suggested to my boss to not support an event that was probably going to end up supporting a worthy cause.  Why?  Disorganization and admittedly rookie mistakes on the part of the organizers.  I’m hoping this helps other small non-profits (and those that want to support non-profits) avoid the same pitfalls this group ran into while trying to raise money for their cause.

The story begins during an event my employer was recently hosting.  The organizer of the event I’m writing about began talking to me about his event moments after our event had completed.  We were both raising money for generally the same topic – breast cancer awareness.  He had a passionate story: someone he knew died as a result of breast cancer.  He was interested in creating a fundraiser for a local non-profit organization that works towards helping women in various areas.  So, I was interested, and I asked him for a marketing plan.  What I got was an eye opener.

When I ask for a marketing plan, I expect a concise, well-packaged, easy to read piece that gives me information like:

  • What the event is for
  • When and where the event is taking place
  • but most of all: How much.

How much will I have to invest in being a sponsor of an event is key to any group trying to raise money.  Aside from fixed costs, as an organizer, you want to set a goal for your fundraising event.  What I received was a rookie attempt at a marketing package.  And, the pitchman was adamant about that fact: they were new at this sort of thing – being fundraisers and event organizers.  A four page, one sided stapled document with vague references to what they were trying to do.  But, no numbers.  And lots of red flags to someone like me who is responsible for the marketing budget of my organization.  Some of the red flags?

  • “…and also donate a percentage of the proceeds to a local breast cancer organization.”  A percentage isn’t a number.  Tell me 50% or “all money raised after covered costs” will be donated gives me something to go on.  Also – no specifics are outlined.  Granted, he verbally told me the organization he was trying to raise money for, but then that raised another question:  That organization does their own fundraising – how could this (or would this) interfere with their fundraising efforts, especially if he were purporting to be raising money for this organization?  A slippery slope to say the least.  There seemed to be a lack of legitimacy in their fundraising package.
  • “Expected date of event…pending on sponsorships and donations.”  Another red flag.  What happens if you don’t get enough sponsors or donations?  Would I get my “donation” back?  (I put donation in quotes because it plays an important role the decision as to whether or not to support this and other events – more on that later.)
  • “With many more featurings and activities to be added.” Aside from the poorly worded sentence, another red flag.  In reading the first two pages of this package, I had already asked myself what was I considering buying into more than once.  It wasn’t getting easier to say yes to this seemingly well-intentioned fellow.
  • “To support, donate or sponsor contact…” Now, in the non-profit world, the word “donate” means there’s usually a tax-deductible aspect to the donation.  There’s no evidence of who I’m giving it to, let alone if any “donations” made are tax deductible.  Now, I know the group he is purporting to raise money for is a tax exempt organization, but there’s no official sanctioning of any kind by that group that gives me reason to believe dime one is going to said organization.

Finally – how much?  Sure, there are great, heart-tugging catch phrases used throughout, aiming to cause you to give without much consideration.  And, when you hear the plea of the young gent, it all sounds good.  But, there’s no bottom line in the proposal.

All of this was observed in the first 5 minutes of the plea.  So, I ask about the money.  His answer was a vague “we’re not really sure what to ask for since we’re new.”  Yet, another red flag.  Not trying to burst his bubble, I encourage him to email me with some numbers on Monday and I’ll give it some thought.

Flash forward to Monday.  Here’s the email – with words removed to protect the identities of certain organizations.

Good afternoon Marc,

This is XXX we spoke at the XXX event. I am following up on our conversation about donations/sponsorship for the event we are having. Like mentioned proceeds from this event will go to the XXX. We are working closely with the lovely XXX and her staff. They have been a great help in guiding us on this, like I also mentioned that day and as it’s indicated on the events name this is are 1st annual event. So we are not ashamed to say that we in fact do not really know what we are doing. The only thing we do know is we want and are doing something to help this cause. We start with something small to raise some funds to help those whom helped my XXX XXX whom passed away XXX now in November and it has taken a life of it’s own.
I was recently informed that XXX will be donating the gift bags, which was one of several things that was in need. We are still in need of some funding for the children activities and/or catering. We have some potential hopefuls but we can’t just sit and wait on it. We need to have the for sure, sort of speaking.
On Saturday you asked me to email you today in regards to the event, but you also mentioned options and numbers on sponsorship. Well the event is on the XXX of this month which is this XXX. The options of sponsorship that I have on hand is more for private businesses. They include flyer/poster/banner/radio & stage inclusion etc. So with the event being so close and your XXX not being a private business, I do not believe this fits your needs, sort of speak.
With that said I really don’t know what to suggest as a sponsorship deal?  Did I mention this is are 1st & we rally don’t know what we are doing? …LOL
All we do know is we need all the advice and help we can get!
Thank You for your time and listening to me rant.
Please see what you can do for us or at least lead us in the right direction to achieve our goal.
OK.  Let me be VERY clear: I am not picking on this man.  Through this entire process, I’ve been trying to help him, at the very least, give him money to support his fundraising effort.  And, by writing this, I’m hoping others will learn from his mistakes.  (By the way – still no numbers!)
  1. A private business?  Other than government agencies, all businesses are private.  Does the fact that I’ve been asking you what it would cost to sponsor your event mean anything…aside from the fact that I’m interested in sponsoring your event?
  2. You’ve made it very, very clear that this is your first event/first time doing “this”.  Please don’t keep reminding me of that while I’m trying to give you money!
  3. The event is one week away.  Timing is everything.  (Yes, yes, I know – it’s your first time doing this…I get it.)
  4. “Please see what you can do for us or at least lead us in the right direction to achieve our goal.”  I have been – but you can’t seem to understand the concept of telling someone how much it costs to sponsor your event!

So, I asked for clarification as to what his definition of a “private business” is.  His reply:

Hi Mark I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. What I meant, it is more orchestrated for smaller businesses I am used to working with, not corporate etc.  What it is it includes what they mostly look for which is their name and/or logo on flyers posters banners etc. (see attachment)


Well, now we’re getting somewhere.  I’ve finally received the “how much”, now I just need what I’m getting for the “how much”.

By this point, my efforts were futile.  I didn’t want to go down the road of asking things like how many posters/flyers were being printed and how many radio commercials they were purchasing to promote the event.  Or, what the “comp vehicle placement” was and why they reserved the right to size and placement.  Or, what car for that matter?

Needless to say, I chose to decline sponsorship – and not for all these reasons listed above – but for one that hasn’t been mentioned: There was not one stitch of a guarantee that the organization being mentioned as the recipient of the monies raised would see dime one from the event.  The organization wasn’t even mentioned in the promo materials to give an inkling of support from that organization.

Want to know how I would have handled it?  I’ll give you the entire road map, in my next post.