Profit from a Nonprofit

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2008

Did you hear the one about the suicidal writer, the good-looking but frustrated female movie studio executive, and the rabbi? If you did then you attended last spring’s Sarasota Film Festival and saw the opening night film, The Deal.

The Sarasota Film Festival (SFF)—even with its current financial woes—is   an important cog in both Sarasota’s positioning of arts and culture leadership and in its overall economic and tourist impact. When an event dominates a market for several months and is the “hottest ticket” in town for the 10-day festival period, then it is a marketing force that should be considered by any smart local business.

Sarasota has many worthwhile charitable events (although the city is managing to lose several because of its lack of financial support). As a policy of full disclosure, I am on the SFF board of directors. Canvas Café is also a major sponsor, and our excellent experience can be a model to help you get more value and return on investment from your sponsorship of any nonprofit event. A case study is a good way to see tangible benefits of event sponsorships. Here goes:

The first question you have to ask yourself is, “Why am I doing this?”  If you just want to make a donation, then you really do not have to do any more than write a check. But if you feel that you can derive significant sales or promotional value, then you need to develop a plan to tactfully exploit the sponsorship.

Our overall plan is very simple. We want to build awareness as a major restaurant in Sarasota and to increase spring and early summer sales as a direct result of the SFF sponsorship. I can’t compete with Michael’s On East or the Longboat Key Club, both huge sponsors, so we develop a multiphased grassroots approach that begins immediately after the last festival ends. Let’s look back at the 2008 festival. We are going to start in January, when our efforts really kick in,

First we began by including our sponsorship on all printed collateral materials, advertising, on our Web site, in our flyers and on displays around the business. You pay for the privilege of using the association, so why not exploit it?

Our commitment provided tickets to various events. Instead of using them ourselves, this year we created a February promotion whereby our customers could fill out a coupon and win tickets to festival movies or one of several entertainment ventures, e.g. the Tribute dinner, a ticket worth $300. The benefits are good customer relations, and we build a database for future communications and offers.

We attended all the preview functions and promoted our sponsorship and created incentives for other sponsors to come to our restaurant. On the opening night we had a private party for a few “good” clients and then went to the gala premiere. We also arranged for a private table at the “after glow” party for the clients and contest winners. A little VIP treatment goes along way.

Throughout the festival we provided lunches and dinners for over 300 volunteers—somewhere between 900 and 1,000 meals. We also hosted a thank-you party for all the staff and volunteers two weeks after the festival. We had 300 people exposed to our food. Talk about viral marketing. If those volunteers told just 10 people, we would have a great base of potential new customers. Word of mouth is a very powerful marketing tool.

We took part in every event, including the World Cinema Celebration, where we provided food and arranged for free back massages. Again, another 1,000-plus people had a positive experience with our restaurant.

At the venue, we had a display with product literature, signage and discount coupons. We gave away about 3,000 coupons offering a 15 percent discount on food for a limited time. Did it work? Through May, over 200 coupons were redeemed. That is an incredible rate of return. But most importantly, we estimate that those coupons generated a minimum of $10,000 of incremental business. That alone would pay for the sponsorship.

And as the SFF expands into a year-round event with new programs, we’ll be there.

In my experience, too many businesses look at nonprofit events as a troublesome necessity and not a marketing opportunity. They put in the first $95 but will save the extra $5, which is the critical amount needed to help grow business. Think of ordering a banana split but not putting the syrup, whipped cream and cherry on top. It is still very filling but it is not fulfilling. Charity does begin at home.

Filed under
Show Comments