Getting Local Businesses to Contribute
Identifying Your Playspace Audience & Assets
Who and what in business
Learn how to size up your project's potential from a business point of view. Remember, business sponsorship is a transaction, and you've got something valuable to offer!
Identify your audience
Before sponsors get involved, they may want to know whether your list of clients overlaps with theirs. So if they ask "Who does your project serve?," don't just say "Children!" and let it go. Your playspace project also serves parents, grandparents, teachers, facilities staff, young couples, neighbors, volunteers, local officials, handymen...the list is endless! And each kind of person is a valuable customer for a variety of different businesses.
Start by sitting down with your project colleagues and brainstorming a list of all the kinds of people who may be involved in or affected by your project. Cast a wide net. What about out-of-town graduates and relatives? What about congregation and volunteer organization membership lists? Through one channel or another, you could probably involve everybody in town!
Identify your assets
You have many things to offer a potential sponsor, from publicity and a good name to team-building opportunities for employees. Now it's time to flesh out those ideas and really start brainstorming more specific things you can offer.
To help, we've borrowed an idea from author Patricia Martin. She suggests dividing your assets into intangibles and tangibles. Look these over and then come up with as many ideas as you can; later on, when you're getting ready to approach individual businesses, you can use your list to devise a tailor-made pitch. The key to business sponsorship is finding the right button to push to get that 'yes.'
These are business outcomes that are valuable, but cannot be measured in dollars. Be sure to use them as keywords in your pitch; business ears will perk up.
Businesses are big on face-to-face networking, because you never know what's going to happen when a group of people get together in the same place at the same time. Think about ways your project can encourage that community interaction: for example, maybe a company could sponsor a big fundraiser like a golf tournament or a gala auction. Bringing a group of employees out for a hands-on Build Day project is another way to rub elbows with new people.
- Emotional experience
You might not believe it now, but trust us: community playground builds are extremely moving and emotional experiences. They fill participants with hope, determination, joy and confidence. Businesses want to tap into that, both from a marketing perspective and from an employee-motivation perspective. So think of ways you can personalize and amplify emotional aspects of the project. Maybe you'll have children write personal thank-you notes, or design a project poster with the sponsor's name and children's drawings of the future playground. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are also a great way to make the experience more memorable; brainstorm ways to involve the sponsor's name, product, and/or volunteers in the final ceremony.
- Customer loyalty
You and your committee will always remember which local pizza parlor donated pies for volunteers, or which construction guru lent you a backhoe for site prep. That's called customer loyalty, and it's a great motivation for businesses to offer in-kind donations of products and services. Be sure to think beyond the build itself; businesses can be great resources for auction or raffle items. Be creative! One of our favorite fundraisers is the truck touch, in which utility companies, construction contractors and firemen park their vehicles in a lot and let children explore them. It costs the companies very little, and establishes great customer loyalty!
Business owners want to be perceived as trustworthy, genuinely caring individuals. (And most of them are!) Remember to stress how much this new playspace will mean to children and their parents. If you're starting to lose a business's interest, just forget the publicity, forget the dollar signs and speak straight from the heart. If you're authentic and genuinely caring, people will follow.
This is where you really sell yourself...this is no charity case! Signing up with you is just a smart business move.
The media coverage and general attention that your build will attract is potentially worth thousands of dollars in advertising. Since you can't guarantee media coverage, brainstorm ways to get sponsors' names out there: project newsletters, promotional flyers, company logos on banners and T-shirts, radio spots, letters to the editor, a project website, buttons, ribbon-cutting programs, and more. And then there are the permanent thank-you's: a playspace plaque or sign, benches with nameplates, inscribed fenceposts, memorial bricks, or even a mural that incorporates the sponsor's name and products. For much, much more, visit the Public Relations section of the Toolkit.
Forum to showcase products
A company's product is its most valuable asset, and well-attended community events are yours. Invite a restaurant to cater your fundraising dinner with its newest dishes, or set up a food-sampling tent during Build Day. Allow a car dealership to park its flashiest model next to the build site for test drives, and ask a local hardware store to donate tools. Getting new products in front of receptive customers is a constant business challenge, so help them out!
Have you got your lists? Great! Jump ahead to the next two steps: who to ask, and what to ask for! Scroll to the bottom of this page, or download the printer-friendly version here:
Identifying who to ask, and what to ask for
Identifying your prospects
You may already have a list of potential sponsors: business owners you know personally, businesses you frequent, or obvious players like construction companies and food markets. That's great! To supplement that list, go back to your list of "clients" and brainstorm all the businesses that may serve those people.
Then look over this list to catch any you might have missed:
- Sporting-goods stores
- Cable TV companies
- Cell phone shops
- Dance/martial arts studios
- Craft stores
- Rental companies
- Video rental stores
- Video arcades
- Bowling alleys/driving ranges
- Major/minor league sports teams
- Toy stores
- Printing/copy shops
- Party supply stores
- Gyms/indoor sports facilities
- Doctors'/dentists' offices (great tie-in with preventing playground injuries!)
- Car washes
- Mini-golf courses
One final strategy is to get in your car, drive around town, and whenever you see a business sign, write down the name. These people are all part of your community and should all have an opportunity to get involved!
Identifying what you need
When you get closer to actually approaching businesses (we will get there, don't worry!), you can decide which businesses are most likely to donate a particular item. For now, just brainstorm a list of what your project needs. Here's a sample to get you started:
Local businesses might donate teams of volunteers for your build. Hardware stores and construction companies are particularly valuable as sources of skilled labor. If that's too much, businesses may be willing to pass your volunteer flyers along to their employees, vendors, suppliers, and customers. Get the word out!
Some businesses will have access to heavy equipment that you need: augers, Bobcats, and other site prep necessities. Or they might loan you hand tools, safety equipment, sound equipment, tables and chairs, or some tents for the build.
- Logistical Support
How about a donation of telephones and phone lines for a phone-a-thon fundraiser? Your committee will also need to use meeting space, a computer, a printer, a copy machine, and other planning tools. If you don't already have them, a couple of cell phones would be great too!
Make up a preliminary list of what your project really needs, both at the build and throughout the planning process – food, drinks, office products like paper and posterboard, fun stuff for children's activities, and so on. Be specific! Try to estimate exact quantities and have some idea of when you'll need them. On top of that, you can always be looking for door prizes, raffle items, and auction fare...great sources of cash!
Donated professional services can save you loads of time and hassle: Think site preparation, advertising, web design, catering, accounting, liability insurance, legal help, grantwriting, even fundraising! It would also be great to have a nurse and a couple of childcare professionals on hand during the build.
- Training and technical support
Businesses may be willing to provide a brief seminar for your committee and/or your volunteers: on bookkeeping, sales tactics, landscaping, construction safety, graphic design, computer skills...whatever would help!
Last but not least...some businesses would rather just write a check and be done with it. And who can say no to that?
Why businesses sponsor
In our experience, local businesses are some of the most generous donors to community-build playground projects. They have deep roots in the community, they're grateful for the success they've attained, and they're often happy to give something back when they can.
But nonetheless, it's important to remember this simple rule: when you're working with businesses, you need to think like a business. Unlike foundation grants and individual gifts, which are focused on your project's needs, business dealings can be a transaction in which you have something valuable to offer.
Here are some of the more selfish reasons that businesses have for getting involved in their communities, and how you can plan accordingly:
To attract more customers
Businesses spend a significant amount of money on advertising because they need to reach more people and increase sales. And guess what you have...people! Lots and lots of people will join committees, attend fundraisers, receive mailings, build the new playspace, and use that playspace once it's built. So which businesses in your community cater to parents, families and children? Who caters to the handymen that will be working on Build Day? To a business owner, having the company name or company products displayed before a captive crowd like yours is valuable, valuable stuff.
And then there's the potential for free publicity when your build gets covered by the local newspaper, radio station, or TV news crew. Businesses hire pricy PR consultants with the hope of doing just that!
To improve public image
What would you think of a company that actively supported play? Wouldn't you want to support them in return? Businesses love being associated with positive images and feelings. Think of companies that may have nothing to do with play, but could always use a little image boost: tax services, law firms, insurance agents, car dealers, banks, and so on.
To provide employees with a meaningful, hands-on service opportunity
Businesses know that happy employees are loyal, hardworking employees, and their positive attitude means better service for the customer. One way to make employees happy is to build a sense of teamwork and a sense of meaningful contribution within the community.
Most KaBOOM! corporate sponsors come to us because they wanted just that kind of experience...why pay for a day of ropes courses and retreats when you can send employees to a playground build and make a real impact in your community to boot?
The best part is that your project needs labor, and they've got plenty of it. Remember, this is business: always look for the win-win!
For more about win-win proposals, view this PDF on setting sponsorship levels.
Developing your approach
If you've read the rest of the guide, you have a firm knowledge base for really pitching your project. You know who your business audience is and what they stand to gain from being involved. Maybe you've already developed a straightforward, organized way for them to get involved.
The next step is to craft some written sponsorship materials. First, find out who makes sponsorship decisions for each of the organizations you plan to approach. Inquire whether that organization has a standard process for reviewing proposals. If so, just follow directions! If not, here are some sample materials that our community partners use as a template:
- Sample query letter (introduces the project and proposes a meeting)
- Sample mini-proposal (gives more details about what, where, when and how much)
- Sample solicitation letter (asks for a very specific donation)
- Sample phone script
- Sample business donation receipt
Always keep your writing short and sweet, and make sure to highlight the following information:
- What your project plans to achieve, and when
- Who's in charge of the project, and any participating organizations
- What your project has to offer a potential sponsor
- Where this potential sponsor might fit in (e.g. by donating money, volunteers, or in-kind donations)
- What sponsorship packages are in place
It's fine to float your proposal in writing initially, but you should never be satisfied with an email, snail mail, or over-the-phone response. Always, always arrange a face-to-face meeting (even after a "no") so that you can really sell the project and gauge why the person might be hesitating. It's harder to say no in person, and persistence is the most valuable asset you can have as a fundraiser.
Cultivating long-term relationships
A sponsorship relationship shouldn't end when the check is cashed, or even when the playground is built. True playspace friends will stay by your side throughout the life of the park, if you show them how. How about an annual playground clean-up event, or a seasonal fundraiser for upkeep and maintenance? Once mutual trust and confidence are established, you may want to collaborate on entirely new projects...the sky's the limit!
Follow these simple steps to make sure your sponsors become lifelong friends:
- For donors, send an immediate confirmation letter thanking them for their support and outlining the terms of your agreement.
- Send thank-you letters to everyone you approached, even if they said no to your project. Always leave a positive impression...they could change their minds!
- Add business sponsors to your list of contacts for fundraisers, celebrations, photo ops, and other special events. Make sure they're aware of how the project is progressing. (But don't flood their inboxes! They don't need to know every last detail.)
- If you're providing publicity for sponsors, make sure to document the exposure they're receiving on television, radio, newspaper or through other venues. Show them how their involvement is paying off!
- Keep thinking of ways that management, staff or volunteers can be involved in the project, and keep thinking of creative ways to recognize them publicly!
- If a sponsor does send volunteers to an event, have someone take pictures or video to compile a short presentation for company management. If the sponsor is a large company or corporation, you could also conduct informal interviews with participants. Positive employee testimonials can be a company's best reward!
- Think outside the checkbook. After all, sponsors have more to offer you than just money, supplies or volunteers. They're also well-connected community members with a lot of experience. If you've got a good rapport established, ask for their advice on thorny issues, or invite them to committee meetings to give an expert opinion. People like to feel that their input is valuable!
- Keep saying thank you! Showing appreciation is the best way to reward sponsors and build long-term commitments.