guest-staffordOur southern Colorado nonprofit community hosts hundreds of galas, luncheons and golf tournaments each year, and every event counts on sponsorships for revenue. But let’s face it, business owners and marketing directors tend to sigh when another proposal crosses their inbox.

In our community, sponsorship has traditionally been transactional. Your business partner, fellow parishioner, neighbor or golf buddy is on the event committee and asks you to purchase a table at a gala or fill a foursome at a golf tournament. Purchase a gala table, and you’ve checked off the donation box for the year.

But times and trends in sponsorship are changing rapidly due to generational norms, shrinking community relations and marketing budgets, and a growing interest in social return on investment.

As the workforce shifts from Boomers to Gen-Xers to Millennials, companies are increasingly having trouble filling seats at event tables. Invitations to sit at a corporate table used to be a way to climb the ladder; now it can be a chore.

At the same time, companies and their employees want to see the impact their dollars have on the community.

For many businesses, there isn’t the money in the budget to pay for multiple community sponsorships throughout the year and support employee morale and engagement. Where and how should a company invest its limited dollars?

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Corporate giving is evolving. According to a recent Giving USA report, while corporate giving has continued to climb steadily with an increase of 2.2 percent adjusted for inflation, it still has not reached the pre-recession high in 2005. Corporations appear to be looking at new ways of giving, like corporate sponsorships and employee volunteer programs.

Enter the nonprofit fundraiser and employee engagement event hybrid. For example, on June 24, Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation will host its third annual Climb for Courage stair climb race and family festival at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. When the foundation started brainstorming and researching an appropriate signature event in Colorado Springs, we were intentional about launching an event that made sponsorship more than a transactional experience for corporate partners, instead deeply engaging their employees and their families.

The core of the event is a stair climb race, taking timed racers up and down each of the 2,700 steps at Falcon Stadium, for a total of 1.7 miles. Knowing that not every potential sponsor or participant may be interested in tackling this level of physical challenge, we established an untimed Fun Wave on the lower level of the stadium. Also knowing that we wanted a comprehensive event, the foundation established a family festival and looked to sponsors to partner with family-friendly, hands-on activities.

Other organizations now offer event opportunities for employee engagement including Trails and Open Spaces’ Starlight Spectacular, which provides vouchers for sponsors’ employees (level-dependent). The event bolsters much of what we love as Coloradoans — cycling, outdoor activity and the use of bikeways, and often gets individuals back on a bike after not riding for years.

Instead of a “one-and-done” moment, consider creating an experience for attendees and employees.

No company embraces its sponsorship better than GE Johnson Construction Co., an employee-owned company based in Colorado Springs and general contractor for the new Children’s Hospital Colorado-Colorado Springs.

GE Johnson has decided to open up the opportunity to climb to its employees and their families. They have a team of more than 40 strong, comprised of company leadership and front-line employees from across the state.

They bring several branded tents and host an interactive booth at the family festival as well as an event headquarters for their employees. In 2016, they created a hashtag specific to the event for their team and encouraged employees to post on social media.

They produced branded team shirts, hairbands and cups. Employees are eager to spend a few hours of their Saturday morning enjoying the festive atmosphere, with the knowledge that their company is making an impact on an organization that they can all rally behind.

Jenny Stafford, philanthropy director for Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation in southern Colorado, can be reached at
jstafford@childrenscoloradofoundation.org.