Designing a Sponsorship Program
We cover picking a price point, promoting your sponsorships, developing ethical guidelines, and how sponsors help us make MVC.
This is part of a series on Funding — how we do it at Model View Culture, and what we’ve learned along the way. In this post, we talk about all things sponsorship!!!
I really like sponsorship as a model for funding small, independent organizations and social justice/feminist/community initiatives. It’s really flexible – you can get sponsorships for anything from stamps to travel costs to whole productions of content, performances and large events. It can be a great alternative to advertisement, and can be easily confined to something short-term which can make it low-friction and low-risk for everyone involved. You can adjust the price points as needed, and seek more or less sponsors depending on your needs and as your work evolves.
At Model View Culture, we have community sponsors for every one of our online issues. Community sponsorships cost $100, and go directly to subsidize our author payments, editing costs, and operational fees like accounting and bookkeeping that we need to do to keep up with the administrative side of our business. In this post, we go through a few of the considerations for building a sponsorship program!
FINDING THE VALUE
Most of our sponsors are avid readers of Model View Culture, many of whom already are subscribers or support us on Patreon, but want a way to provide additional, personal support to our publication. I would estimate about 15%+ of our sponsors actually are repeat sponsors, sponsoring 1-2 issues a year.
We acknowledge sponsors on our issue pages, on social media and in our newsletter if sponsors are OK with it, using their name, Twitter handle or website. While some opt to sponsor anonymously – this is particularly important to provide for political organizations because some sponsors might be compromised by being publicly associated with your work – acknowledging sponsors publically is a great way to show our appreciation for their contributions, for them to get recognition from the community, and even as a recruiting tactic for other sponsors
However, lots of the value sponsors get is just from knowing that they’ve contributed to something specific we’re doing. Having sponsorships for specific issues is great because people know that their money went into that specific offering, funded those specific authors, and supported our platform for that period of time: a tangible, positive impact on something cool we’re doing.
We always make sure to send a thank you note to sponsors after their sponsorship is complete and their issue goes up, to re-iterate what they’ve let us accomplish and to help build a relationship.
KEEPING IT ETHICAL, AND SETTING SOME BOUNDARIES
It’s important to consider the ethical implications of your sponsorships – like, who and what you’re taking money from. Because we don’t want to publically uphold specific tech companies, or comprise our editorial perspective by taking their sponsorship, we focus just on getting individual sponsorships from members of our reader base. While corporate sponsorship might make sense for you, and can certainly be more lucrative, keep in mind that it often comes with a higher order of concerns like: is the corporation in line with your goals? Will the corporation try to use their sponsorship to get special considerations or favors from you? If the corporation does something unethical at some point, will you be forced to make a statement or return the money? Is the company just using sponsorship to make themselves look good, while they slack off on making more impactful internal changes?
Regardless of the funding source, it’s important to set boundaries with sponsors so they understand what their sponsorship entails. Communicating what is covered, and isn’t covered, by sponsorship is essential to stay on the same page and prevent misunderstandings. At MVC, we use a lightweight, one-page sponsorship agreement that outlines the terms of the sponsorship, how much it costs, when the money is due, what we do in return, and also specifies that sponsorship does not entitle the sponsor to any influence over our editorial direction, the articles we publish, etc. Of course, we take feedback from sponsors just as we do from any other reader or community member, we just want to be clear where the boundaries are. We haven’t had any problems yet, but if we ever had a disagreement or problem with a sponsor, the contract would help protect our interests.
DETERMINING A PRICE POINT
It’s important to figure out what price point you want for sponsorships. This depends on what you want to give sponsors in return and the time/effort involved; how accessible you want to make the sponsorship; and how many sponsors you want to have.
We picked a flat $100 sponsorship level because it contributes a sizeable chunk to paying for our articles. It allows us to only have to work with 5-10 sponsors for each issue, which is important so it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time from our schedule. Since much of our audience is made up of well-paid tech employees, a $100 one-time payment is affordable to many of our readers: we have a big enough pool for it to be sustainable. And, $100 isn’t such a big chunk of our revenue that we are relying disproportionately on sponsorships or any specific individual – which keeps us in check for our financial goals of having our funding be distributed over a large number of readers and revenue streams so we are resilient, sustainable and independent.
Your sponsorship price point might very well look different. Things to consider while developing it:
- Time/effort per sponsor vs. money received per sponsor
- Level of income/financial access present in your community base
- Revenue goals for the sponsorship program
- Ability to recruit new and returning sponsors
- Frequency of sponsorship cycle
- Reliance on sponsorships and how this impacts sustainability over time
OPTIMIZING YOUR SPONSORSHIP PROCESS
It’s important to think through what your sponsorship flow looks like and optimize it to be fast and simple, so you aren’t spending a ridiculous amount of time each time working with sponsors, and inconveniencing sponsors with an overly arduous process and miscommunication. Some tips:
- Have a standard bullet-point list of what you need from sponsors that you send to each one
- Wait until you have your sponsors lined up and then process and send any paperwork needed – contracts, invoices, etc. – all at once
- Narrow in on one or two payment platforms you’ll take sponsorship money through – in our case, we use PayPal because it has high penetration in the tech community. We also will take checks in some instances, which we get mailed to our PO box and then deposit with our bank’s mobile app. While we sometimes get people who want to use another payment solution, so far, it hasn’t been worth adding a whole new payment platform to administer, manage and report on
- Recommend any technologies sponsors will have to use for things like electronic signatures, in case people aren’t familiar or set up on those tools
- Take and fulfill sponsorships on a regular and predictable schedule, so it becomes just a standard part of your to-do list and work schedule
FINDING YOUR SPONSORS
We find sponsors almost entirely by putting up calls on social media. In the vast majority of cases, we’re able to get enough sponsors for each issue just by advertising and requesting people @ reply or send us a direct email. We sometimes include a note about seeking sponsors in our newsletters. And, as mentioned earlier, promoting people who have sponsored us is also a great way to advertise your overall sponsorship program! Their friends, colleagues, etc. see that they’ve supported, and will want to do the same.
To promote sponsorships, I like to include a “taste” of the issue I’m seeking sponsorship for. That way, someone who is particularly interested in one of the topics or themes we’ll be focusing on might be particularly motivated to sponsor that issue, and they’ll feel a special connection to that issue.
Though we usually just use social media, since sponsors are almost always some of your most committed fans, you can find them anywhere you are! Instagram, mailing list, your website, your print issues, your events… all you have to do is design the system and reach out.
Sponsorships are a great way to help fund your work – but it works best when sponsorships are focused, designed for mutual efficiency, and keep in mind the ethical goals and parameters of your organization. Good communication is important – from expressing appreciation publically and privately, to setting appropriate expectations and boundaries.