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Thinking of Sponsoring a Local Event?

As a small business situated within a close-knit community, chances are you receive requests to donate to and sponsor—whether it be your time, money, your name or something else— local events, drives, sports teams, schools and more.

To be sure, you’re always looking for great opportunities to increase visibility, connect with your target market and build goodwill in the community. And event sponsorships can be great when they’re done for all the right reasons. But it helps to evaluate all of these opportunities and offers before making any commitments to move forward.

“Determining whether to participate in any kind of event, especially a local event, needs to be looked at as a business decision,” says John Lusher, a media and marketing consultant based in Roanoke, Virginia

“Instead of giving an immediate answer, I tell businesses to ask themselves, ‘Does it make sense from a business perspective to take part in this event?,’” adds Lusher, who works closely with many of his small- and medium-sized business clients to evaluate sponsorship offers.

“Depending on the structure and size of the event, it could be as simple as writing a check,” he says. “But typically on a local level, participation involves more time or manpower than just donating money.”

Beyond Buying and Selling

For some businesses and their owners, participating in these events is less about decision-making and more about business as usual.

“If it is in our community, and it is a fundraiser that a client of ours or a prospective client of ours brings to our attention, then we are going to help,” says John Hiester, owner of three North Carolina auto dealerships, John Hiester Chevrolet in Fuquay-Varina, John Hiester Chevrolet of Lillington and John Hiester Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Lillington.

“We do it unconditionally. We aren’t expecting something back for it,” Hiester explains. “We feel like we have a vested interest in making a difference in the lives of people in our community,” he adds, listing kids’ sports teams, breast cancer awareness efforts, golf sponsorships and school auctions as just some of the events to which his family of dealerships is proud to lend its name and time. All of these events occur within a 15-mile radius of his locations.

Lusher agrees that there are many potential benefits inherent to event sponsorship and participation. “A business that gives back to the community or is involved in the community receives more PR than it could ever purchase,” he says.

There also may be financial benefits, Lusher explains, especially if the sponsorship involves a non-profit organization. (Always consult your accountant or financial advisor with specific questions or scenarios.)

Don’t Sponsor Just To Sponsor

Lusher reminds businesses of all sizes to consider the practical aspects of taking part in these events and activities. “Don’t sponsor just to sponsor,” he says. “And don’t say ‘yes’ just because you’re inundated with requests. I have seen many a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ given without ever looking at this as a marketing decision.”

The ROI Question

To that end, Lusher says that he tells his clients to have a clear idea of what kind of ROI—return on investment—they seek before they move forward with any event-related activities.

Some ROI goals may include increased foot traffic, email acquisition opportunities, general brand awareness or many other factors. “A business has to decide at the outset what it wants its ROI to be,” he explains. “Of course, some of these factors are intangible, but that doesn’t mean they can’t track them.”

Auto dealer Hiester knows that ROI is important, but he is less concerned about specifics and more interested in being a consistently active member of the community. “After events,” he says, “People come in and say, ‘I appreciate what you did for this cause, and that is the reason I am here.’”

In addition, Hiester explains, he and his team of general managers set an annual budget that’s designated for local sponsorships and fundraisers. “We are checking and reevaluating this regularly,” he says. “It’s part of the fabric of our mission. And as our business grows, our giving will grow.”

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