Date posted: 05/09/2018 7 min read

Sponsorship smarts – how to get a win-win

As expectations of social responsibility change, sponsorship needs to move beyond just writing cheques towards long-term partnering, says Giddy Up founder Brian Steele.

In Brief

  • Traditional ways of sponsoring are changing.
  • Partnering with community groups is now seen as a longer-term engagement, with more skills transferred.
  • New Zealand business adviser Brian Steele set up Giddy Up as a partnership vehicle to connect businesses with charity and community groups.

By Helen Ozolins

Are the traditional methods of giving changing? Brian Steele, the founder of business advisory service Giddy Up, believes so. “I think we’ve seen the sort of traditional sponsorship of corporates just writing cheques to community organisations severely diminish the amount of money around for that sort of arrangement. That way of sponsoring is over,” he says.

One of Steele’s aims in starting Giddy Up in January this year was to facilitate strategic partnerships between the community sector and business. As expectations of social responsibility change, sponsorship needs to evolve from the standard donation of money or time, he says. Partnering is “the only way you’ll truly align values and get both sides to put the effort in”. 

Giddy Up offers an opportunity for businesses to work with community partners and demonstrate they actually do care. New Zealanders are naturally high donors but that is often as individuals. “What we’re trying to encourage is more strategic partnering for business benefit, which will in turn increase community impact,” Steele says.

Generational shift

He believes a generational shift is playing a part. Business leaders need to connect with the community, he says, “and everything we’re seeing, especially with younger audiences, suggests they will only buy from and work for companies that they feel an affinity towards”.

That certainly aligns with the message coming from the latest Deloitte Millennial Survey, which found that millennials have become more skeptical overall of business’ motivation and ethics, and that 43% envision leaving their jobs within two years.

Benefits of partnering

Partnering is a longer-term engagement, where skills are transferred, Steele says. Business often is much better resourced than the community partners, and “when you’re looking for a community partner and you’re looking for that alignment, you’ll also be looking for what skills you can share with that community partner to make them stronger”.

But businesses also like getting value from the community organisation – ideally, using some of the skills the organisation contains, he says. With sponsorship alone, “probably there’s a money transfer but there’s not a sort of meeting of minds and a working together”.

Partnering also provides an opportunity to show consumers and employees what the company really stands for, Steele says – to “humanise” it. Giddy Up encourages staff involvement and, if possible, customer connection. “It’s that opportunity to really grow both parties and transform,” he says. “It’s also the opportunity for people to see that and come along on that journey.”

The process of partnering

The first step in the partnering process begins with understanding the company – its goals, its audiences, its purpose, Steele says. Next is finding community organisations that fit with that purpose and “effectively breathe life into the brand”. 

There has to be a strong alignment, as well as an ability to deliver on both sides, he notes. In this stage, Giddy Up advocates bringing the parties together to agree on a two-page term sheet detailing who each party is, why they’ve come together, what each will do and what will be viewed as a successful outcome. 

The partnership should be obvious to those looking from the outside and it should also survive should people move on.
Brian Steele Founder of Giddy Up

The recommended third step is engaging independent assessment at least quarterly to ensure the plan is progressing as agreed on the term sheet. The focus is less on goals and more on the idea of the parties working together, communicating, learning and having movement and growth, Steele says. The relationship shouldn’t be difficult. “The partnership should be obvious to those looking from the outside and it should also survive should people move on,” he says. The following are examples of successful partnerships.


CubaDupa, Wellington’s vibrant street festival centred on Cuba Street, demonstrates a successful and innovative use of the partnership model. In this instance, brewer ParrotDog developed a special beer and was able to test the recipe on a readymade audience. CubaDupa received a fee for licensing its name, but also provided a design and some sales and marketing support. In return, the brewer received not only an audience that fitted the characteristics of its target market but also an association with the festival.

Flick Electric

* Wellington-based electricity retailer Flick Electric linked up with the NZ International Comedy Festival to show that it was different. It wanted to appeal to tech-savvy individuals who had wide community interests and were tired of not being treated well as customers, Steele says. “They found an irreverent partner to effectively add some colour and some fun into their industry.”

Flick acknowledges that: “working with the comedy festival helped us reach deeper into an important market segment in our key areas; enabled us to create unique content showcasing comedians which we then distributed through our channels giving those artists greater exposure; and strengthened our brand through alignment with a well-loved and respected event”.

In Picture: Restaurateur AI Brown

Al Brown and Garden to Table   

* Similarly, restaurateur Al Brown of Logan Brown fame for Wellingtonians and also the Depot restaurant in Auckland, has partnered with the Garden to Table education program, that teaches children how to grow vegetables and how to prepare and cook food. The schools get money for the vegetables used in dishes at Brown’s restaurants, and the children get an opportunity to go into some of the restaurants he runs. “I think that’s a great one where you’re seeing both sides moving into each other’s playgrounds,” Steele says.

What of the future? While it’s early days for Giddy Up, Steele says companies and trusts are already starting to talk in terms of five-year horizons for partnerships. They are also increasingly looking at taking an angel investment type of approach, where there are milestones around giving more money, which encourages the partners to work together. 

Helen Ozolins is the deputy editor of Acuity magazine. 

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