The Nonprofit Exchange Podcast

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Connecting with High-Level Decision Makers for Corporate Sponsorship


No matter your nonprofit size, corporations are interested in hearing about and possibly supporting your good work.The Boardroom Playbook

Lori Zoss Kraska

Lori Zoss Kraska

Lori Zoss Kraska, MBA, CFRE, Founder and CEO of Growth Owl, LLC, is a renowned expert in securing corporate sponsorships for associations and purpose-driven organizations. With a strong track record, she conducts impactful sponsorship training, guiding leaders in engaging C-suite decision-makers. Lori’s leadership spans PBS/NPR, DAC Group, I Heart Media, and the University of Phoenix. She is a sought-after speaker and workshop leader who shares her expertise on corporate sponsorships at national conferences and podcasts. Holding an MBA in Systems Management from Baldwin Wallace University and a CFRE certification, Lori empowers organizations to thrive in the corporate sponsorship landscape.

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The Interview Transcript

0:01 – Hugh Ballou Welcome back to the Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, founder and president of Center Vision Leadership Foundation. Whoa, we have a great topic today, like always, but… This one is really important because we’re fumbling in the dark trying to figure this one out. And no matter what size organization you have, sit down, and get a notepad. If you’re on Facebook, share it with somebody, and take notes. This will be an episode which you’ll learn some things from Our guest today is Lori Zoskowska, and Lori’s from Cleveland, Ohio.

0:37 – Hugh Ballou And Lori, tell people a little bit about you and why you’re doing this important work.

0:42 – Lori Zoss Kraska Absolutely. So I am the founder and CEO of GrowthOwl LLC. I started GrowthOwl back in help 2018 nonprofits, associations, other purpose-driven organizations position themselves effectively in front of corporate sponsors or corporate foundations. And that work was formulated by the time that I spent in public media. I worked with PBS and NPR for just about 10 years. With a group of folks here in Cleveland, Ohio spearheaded their efforts to find corporate sponsorship for our station.

1:17 – Lori Zoss Kraska So I thought to myself, it would be great if we could take the success that we’ve learned to have in public media and help translate that into other types of nonprofits. So that’s how Growth Owl was born in 2018. And we do everything from representation to training to working and mentoring specifically with executive directors and presidents on how to effectively communicate and outreach with corporate decision-makers, and just to really learn and understand the landscape of how corporate sponsorship and how corporate funding works.

1:53 – Lori Zoss Kraska And I am in Cleveland, Ohio, as you said, but I have clients all over the country.

1:59 – Hugh Ballou Whoa, whoa. Your company is what? Is who?

2:06 – Lori Zoss Kraska Growth Owl LLC.

2:07 – Hugh Ballou Growth Owl, that’s fantastic.

2:09 – Multiple Speakers How did that come about?

2:11 – Lori Zoss Kraska Well, I’ve always been a fan of owls. And if you think about an owl and its actual characteristics, they have phenomenal characteristics of a good advisor. They can spin their head 270 degrees. They can see things others can’t. Owls can also see in the dark because they’re nocturnal. And I think a good advisor for an organization, again, can see things others can’t. They’re very stealthy. You know, when they’re hunting, they strategize. They don’t just go after something. They really take a look at it, think about it, and then make their moves.

2:42 – Lori Zoss Kraska So I think there’s a lot of good attributes of an owl compared with a good advisor for your organization.

2:50 – Hugh Ballou I love it. We were talking a little bit before we started the show about the source of sponsorships. And you said there’s at least three different pockets or segments that we go to. Would you cover that again for folks?

3:04 – Lori Zoss Kraska Absolutely. So most people start with the marketing department, which makes a lot of sense because most people think marketing, they have a budget and they do the most outreach. Marketing is a place that you can start, but honestly, I think a more effective area to start for a nonprofit organization, no matter what your size, is if a corporation has a foundation. A lot of larger and mid-sized corporations have foundations. Walmart has a foundation, Kohl’s has a foundation, and that money is specifically set aside for 501c3s to support various programs, and various things going on in the community.

3:42 – Lori Zoss Kraska So because I would think most folks on our stream here today are 501c3s, the whole idea is to line you and position you with the area of the company where you have the best chance for success. I think foundations are a great place to start. And then another area is corporate social responsibility. You might know it as CSR. Other organizations call it public affairs. And a lot of folks don’t realize that they have budgets. And especially for organizations that are watching today that are very small, corporate social responsibility is a great place to go to in order to engage with a corporation whose interests are about getting involved in the local community.

4:24 – Lori Zoss Kraska So it’s a great way to go to a company that might be headquartered in your area. Start with Corporate Social Responsibility or Public Affairs because they usually have some sort of budget set aside for sponsorship, especially if it represents any of their pillars of funding that they like to support. Every company has interests in certain things. Maybe it’s food insecurity, helping small companion animal and animal rescues, what have you. So you can find out those things just by going to their website.

4:54 – Lori Zoss Kraska But those are the three primary areas that you tend to be able to reach in order to find sponsorship.

5:00 – Hugh Ballou Well, that prompted a lot of questions in my brain, but before David gets a question in, so you’re talking about like Fortune 500 companies, American Express, Walmart, those companies. Now, there are also sponsorships, which is ad money that you might have in your community, like a financial planner, a local bank, or a local realtor. So there are different levels of corporate sponsorship sizes.

5:29 – Lori Zoss Kraska Absolutely. That’s a great point. And I’ll tell you something specifically about banks. If you are a local organization and you’re looking to find the local contact for your bank, my suggestion is to Google who the regional vice president is. Because it’s usually the regional vice president that has the authority to yay or nay sponsorship dollars for branches. So that’s a great tip that you can utilize right away. You know, just go to Google and typing, maybe you’re in the Memphis area, regional vice president, XYZ bank, Memphis, see what comes up.

6:03 – Lori Zoss Kraska And that would be the person I would start with. Same thing with real estate as well. Some of the larger professional business to business organizations usually have a regional person that oversees that area. That’s more effective than going to a branch manager or to a manager of a real estate location. But yeah, that’s a long-winded answer to your question. Yes, there are different levels.

6:29 – Hugh Ballou Yes. David, are you taking notes?

6:31 – David Dunworth Yes, I am. And I’ll tell you what, that’s a great tip for our audience and for people like us too, because we’re in the business, but you always learn something or you bring something back from the back of your head up into the front. Speaking of that, let’s take a look at it from a small nonprofit standpoint. They’re looking for sponsorship opportunities. What are the companies that they might address What are they looking for to evaluate whether their money, their sponsorship is going to be going to the right place?

7:08 – Lori Zoss Kraska Can you give us a little insight on that? Yeah. So if we’re talking about smaller nonprofits that are very local, there’s usually a budget specifically for that. And that usually lives in community engagement or CSR, or it usually does live in an area like the marketing department. And what they’re looking for is what local organizations are most aligned with our interests in community engagement. And this goes back to you doing a little research on the website. Every company’s website, no matter how big or small the company is, they usually will have a section of who they support in the community.

7:50 – Lori Zoss Kraska That will give you a really good idea if they will support you. So, education is a huge, huge category that a lot of organizations like to support. Anything with children or families or family events is also very popular for support, but going to the website is the 1st place to be able to find that. And they’re, they’re looking for when they’re evaluating, because they get thousands of requests every year, right from different organizations. When they’re evaluating, they’re looking for creative ways that their brand could be integrated into what you’re offering.

8:30 – Lori Zoss Kraska So this means going beyond the logo on the website or signage at the event or a table at the event. What else might you be able to offer that’s creative? You know, something that’s really simple that can help diversify you from others that are in your community looking for funding that I suggest for a lot of smaller nonprofits is if it is an event, inviting the representative of your sponsor at the event to make an introduction to a large portion of your event. So if it’s a fundraiser and you’re going to have a speaker there or entertainment there, you can invite your sponsor to intro that.

9:11 – Lori Zoss Kraska Those little things actually have value and it allows your sponsor to have a representative there to get involved with your community. So that would be my biggest piece of advice. Going beyond those traditional elements like logos and tables and ads, how can the people within the organization that’s sponsoring actually get involved and participate in that event or sponsorship opportunity?

9:40 – Multiple Speakers Super.

9:42 – Hugh Ballou That’s a win-win. So, Laurie, this might be self-serving, but I’m going to do it anyway.

9:47 – Multiple Speakers Sure.

9:48 – Hugh Ballou I want to put myself on the hot seat for coaching. Okay. All right. So, we’re going to, and let’s talk about live events, in-person events. Yeah. So, I’m sure this applies to a lot of people out there. Not just like your annual gala, but we do events for different reasons. Center Vision does live events. We’ve done in 22 different cities and we land in a city and we teach the fundamentals of leadership skills. People will join our private community and continue that growth. So, we go into a community, we have, so we’re prompting one right now in a few months.

10:25 – Hugh Ballou So, it’s a place we don’t live. Now, doing it in the city where we live, I’ve got relationships with those people, the financial planners and the realtors, but I don’t in another city. But how do we begin developing relationships and talking to both those small local companies and the bigger companies and talking about the value How do we get to the right person? First off, because a lot of these people have gatekeepers. How do we get the right person and why should they care about my event?

10:54 – Lori Zoss Kraska Yeah, so there’s a lot to that question. So I’ll try to pop up the things that come to my head first. First of all, I like to say, start with your friends. And what I mean by your friends, who are your existing supporters that sponsor you? And see if you can get referrals because many of your existing sponsors have colleagues that are outside of the market. So if you’re already established in Dallas and you’re looking to do something in Houston or in San Antonio, you can see if you can get a referral to those colleagues through your existing sponsors that are working with you.

11:31 – Lori Zoss Kraska That’s probably the easiest way. Business is a lot like life. We wanna work with people that have worked with us, right? Or that we have comfortable familiarity with. So referrals are golden, no matter if you’re a small, very small two-person nonprofit or a much larger nonprofit, we love referrals. In terms of getting, finding the right people, I am a huge fan of LinkedIn, big fan of LinkedIn. And it doesn’t matter if you pay premium for LinkedIn or you use the free service, keep in mind that you can use LinkedIn kind of like a search engine.

12:08 – Lori Zoss Kraska So if you’re looking to try to find who is the senior vice president of banking in San Antonio for XYZ Bank, Instead of going to Google, type in that title in LinkedIn and see who comes up. You might find, it might not be the exact title, but you’ll find somebody that is within that area. And what I’m finding is many times if you click on the person’s contact information section in LinkedIn, more and more people are putting their email addresses in there, which is great. Which is really good.

12:44 – Lori Zoss Kraska But also what’s nice about LinkedIn is you can reach out to people on LinkedIn through messaging. So that’s another great way to go. And another tip that I like to give, especially much smaller nonprofits that are extremely budget-constrained. There’s a lot of great software out there that can find email addresses for you if you purchase a fee every month. But a great free way you can do this is if you use your local library. Most local library systems have business databases that you can get into for free from your own laptop as long as you have a library card.

13:23 – Lori Zoss Kraska And like LexisNexis is one. I know RocketReach is available at some library systems and you can utilize those for free just as a card carrying member of your library. So a lot of the, some of the resources that I personally, my business pays for, you might be able to utilize for free as a nonprofit at your library to get contact information. So those are a couple of tips that I would give to get you started in terms of connecting with Outreach.

13:52 – David Dunworth Wow.

13:53 – Unidentified Speaker Okay. Interesting.

13:56 – David Dunworth Now, I didn’t realize that libraries carry that type of data. As long as you have a library card, that’s one thing. But like Hugh was mentioning, we’re working on rolling out a program a few months from now in a city far away. Now, we do have some people there that we know that we’re coordinating with. I wonder, could we find a way to get into that library data system or would we? Have to go through a conduit like somebody in the local area?

14:34 – Multiple Speakers Or are we doing our library at home?

14:36 – Lori Zoss Kraska Yeah, that’s what I mean. You would use your local library. So now, I can’t speak for every library in the United States, but I do know that with my library card access where I am, I can log in. They take my library card information. They verify that I am a card-carrying member of the library. And I can log into their business databases at no charge and get the information that I need. And any nonprofit can do that. Also, college libraries are great if you’re an alumni of a local university.

15:13 – Lori Zoss Kraska Many local universities have amazing business databases that will let you in even if you’re an alumni. I just want to make sure that I provided some free resource ideas because I know we have a lot of smaller nonprofits on our webinar today. But in terms of maybe a much larger scope, like for instance, Hugh, you were talking about starting an event outside of your area. What I would start doing 1st is, you know, do a little research on Google in terms of who are the largest employers in that area and the largest companies based on revenue.

15:50 – Lori Zoss Kraska And that’s fairly public information that you can find on Google. And then from there, I would then take those companies and then go back into LinkedIn and see if I can find contact people. And that’s how I would reach out. And in terms of finding an email address, if it’s not readily available, I personally subscribe to RocketReach, which I think is a great tool to find email addresses. Otherwise, that library workaround that I provided might be a good way for you to find info as well.

16:24 – David Dunworth OK. Great, thanks.

16:27 – Multiple Speakers So what do you think?

16:29 – Hugh Ballou I’m thinking like when you go for a grant, you want to know about the foundation of what they want, what they’re interested in. What kind of research do we need to do about, if we’re going to a corporate sponsorship, like we’re talking about, if we’re going for the marketing money, We’re going to write them an email. We need to at least need to spell their name correctly.

16:54 – Multiple Speakers I hope so.

16:56 – Hugh Ballou Yeah, I hear all kinds of stories about people getting turned down. You didn’t spell. So what kind of research do we need to do to understand their product, their service, and what they’re interested in before we even show up and pitch them?

17:08 – Lori Zoss Kraska Yeah, so as a nonprofit, the best thing to do is again, go back to Google and you can search corporate social responsibility and then the name of the company or charitable contribution to the name of the company. That will get you to a part of their website that basically spells out what they support. I would say if they don’t support what you do, I wouldn’t approach them. I think that the biggest misconception is that just because a large company is in your backyard, you should approach them.

17:41 – Lori Zoss Kraska That’s not always the case. I mean, if there’s a large company in your backyard, let’s say it’s a grocer, for example, that’s headquartered in your community. Groceries tend to have a huge interest in helping in the food insecurity area. Makes total sense, right? Sometimes they’ll get involved in other things in terms of education and kids and families, but they don’t really veer that far off. So if you’re a nonprofit that’s nowhere near that, maybe you’re a nonprofit that wants to save the turtles.

18:14 – Lori Zoss Kraska I’m just making that up, I don’t know. If that’s not specifically something that’s listed of interest on their website, don’t engage them. That’s the biggest probably pet peeve that a lot of my corporate contacts have, that you just assume because we’re near you locally that you should engage us. You obviously haven’t done any research that we’re really only interested in these things. Now, is there an interest in helping hometown nonprofits in general? Yes, but they can’t help everyone.

18:51 – Lori Zoss Kraska And that’s why they’ve created these guidelines that you can find on their website in terms of who that they want to help.

19:00 – Multiple Speakers What do you think, David?

19:01 – David Dunworth Good point, good point. Yeah, you know, something struck me while you were talking, going back to that first Question or we 2 discussed about. Researching and evaluating and so forth. What you mentioned. You know, beyond marketing is, you know, do a table, do this introduction, the logo on, you know, this type of things. Are there any other opportunities that you can share with our audience that maybe, you know, they haven’t thought of yet, some stuff that’s out of the box?

19:42 – Lori Zoss Kraska So maybe not so out of the box, but definitely something that companies would be interested in is if you have an e-newsletter, If you’re able to somehow build them into your newsletter in terms of, you know, referencing them as a sponsor, then maybe some sort of what I would call a slug line, a brief line where they could either provide their slogan or say something like, you know, proudly supporting your organization. Email marketing, inclusion in emails, that’s really nice, because it’s also trackable.

20:17 – Lori Zoss Kraska You’re able to tell an organization how many people you’re sending emails out to and how often and frequency you do that. So that would be definitely another area. And social media posts. So anytime that you’re posting on social media about your event or this project that you’re looking to sponsor, you can include the sponsor in the social media posts. And honestly, this is just something that we’ll say, you know, the big media outlets honestly just really started doing a couple of years ago.

20:49 – Lori Zoss Kraska So it’s not like, you know, they’ve been doing it a long time. They’re just figuring out how to do it correctly. And really how to do it correctly is just incorporating brevity. Let’s say you have a kids event that you’re looking to have sponsored, and you have a post about it in terms of information. At the very end, you can reference, and we thank XYZ grocery for their support of this event. I mean, just something very simple. But that social media post is basically like a marketing impression, right?

21:22 – Lori Zoss Kraska So that’s also something that’s very trackable. So I think those would be two things that you could incorporate that I think, I don’t wanna say are relatively easy, but if there are things you’re doing right now, it’s something you can already build in without a lot of extra work.

21:37 – Multiple Speakers That’s a great idea.

21:38 – David Dunworth You know, that’s something that they’re doing or more or should be doing more regularly anyway by adding in that sponsor tagline or whatever you call slug line.

21:51 – Multiple Speakers Did you call that?

21:51 – Lori Zoss Kraska I call it a slug line.

21:53 – Multiple Speakers Yeah.

21:54 – David Dunworth Then that gives them another touch. Yeah.

21:59 – Multiple Speakers audience to the marketplace.

22:01 – David Dunworth That’s great. Thank you.

22:02 – Multiple Speakers Yeah, sure.

22:03 – Hugh Ballou Good idea. Love it. So we’ve done our research. We found a company that fits. We found a person, Jane Smith. She sits in the seat. Maybe Jane’s got an assistant. So we’re going to create the magic email to see if Jane has put it on her LinkedIn. What does it need to include and is the subject line important?

22:25 – Lori Zoss Kraska So I want to start with the length of the email because I think that’s where most nonprofits get in trouble. Most emails are way too long. Way too long. And I like to audit my clients emails before I start training with them on this. And yeah, I would say the average email that’s going out for the first time to a decision maker is 400 to 500 words. That’s way too much. So my formula for success is an email that’s under 250 words. And you basically break it down. Who are you? Section one, who you are.

22:59 – Lori Zoss Kraska The second section is why are you choosing to contact this sponsor and how do you connect to them? So this goes back to the research. So tell me the why and how do you connect to me as a sponsor? So if we use our food insecurity example with the grocer, if you are having a family event and you want it to also be an outreach event, maybe to gather food donations, there’s the connection with the grocer. Because you’re interested in food insecurity and making sure San Antonio’s families are having healthy meals, etc, etc.

23:41 – Lori Zoss Kraska We’re reaching out to you today. That shows you did your homework, and you can do it within a few words. It doesn’t have to be a whole white paper as to why you’re contacting them. And the last part of the email is, what do you want? And I don’t mean you want them to get a sponsorship. It is, what do you want next? So is that an opportunity to send more information? Is it an opportunity for a half hour Zoom call? Is it an opportunity to meet with you? Be very clear as to what you want next. I find that if you follow this formula and you keep it brief, because I think decision makers respond very well to brevity, you have a really good chance of somebody responding to you.

24:25 – Lori Zoss Kraska Subject line, it is important, but don’t overthink it. You know, I love to experiment. I like to say sponsorship for me is like a science. So I’m always experimenting, trying new things. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. So don’t overthink it. I’d rather you have clarity in your subject line than ambiguity that tricks them into opening it. That’s. That’s never a good thing. People don’t like that. And I know that’s kind of like a little trend people are doing now, being very ambiguous in their subject line.

24:57 – Lori Zoss Kraska That really turns corporate decision-makers off at all levels.

25:02 – Hugh Ballou They’re busy. You don’t want them to think you’re wasting their time. So Laurie, if we go to this fascinating place, The Growth Owl,, what’s there?

25:18 – Lori Zoss Kraska Yeah, so you can learn about my services. You could learn about Growth Owl Academy, which is my online training for corporate sponsorship, which is good for both CAE and CFRE credits. I have a media section with videos with all different types of educational videos. You can check out my book, The Boardroom Playbook, which is my book about corporate funding, and then lots of updates and news and articles and free resources. So there’s a lot there that you can peruse.

25:48 – Hugh Ballou It’s worth going to look at that. Look at that And this is stuff you do in the Academy and then your media videos podcasts.

25:56 – Lori Zoss Kraska Yeah different downloads. Yeah, absolutely I think it’s it’s great to resource people as well as educate them. No matter what stage they are in their corporate sponsorship journey We’re not in the dark anymore David.

26:08 – David Dunworth We got an episode. This is great.

26:10 – Hugh Ballou I So we have this private community, Laurie. People can find out about it by going to, And you can be part of a group where we have Q&A every week, and we explore topics. We have workshops. And of course, we have guests. This is an Outgrowth of the Community. The Nonprofit Exchange podcast is an Outgrowth of the Community. So Laurie, what do you want to leave people with today?

26:40 – Lori Zoss Kraska That’s a great question. No matter what size organization you are, if you’re one person just trying to start up a nonprofit, or you’ve got a huge staff and lots of resources, just not sure where to go, you can engage corporations, no matter what size the corporation is either. If anything, I’ve seen in the past couple of years, larger corporations being very interested in helping much smaller nonprofits. Because think about it, they could give $10,000 to a small nonprofit organization, or give that same 10,000 to a multi-million dollar organization, and they can see the results and see the impact much more clearly in working with the smaller organizations.

27:23 – Lori Zoss Kraska So timing to start a corporate sponsorship strategy is perfect, no matter what size organization you have.

27:30 – Hugh Ballou and everybody can play and participate in this party. Laurie, Zos, Kreska, thank you for being our guest today on the Nonprofit Exchange.

27:39 – Multiple Speakers You’re welcome.

27:40 – Lori Zoss Kraska It was my pleasure.

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