Of course, your business should give back to the community—but support for local charities and other non-profits can give back to your business with some sweet marketing benefits, if you know how to (respectfully) ask for it. We talked about getting the most out of sponsorships with Megan Hannay, co-founder of ZipSprout, a company that matches local businesses with local sponsorship opportunities:

How do you suggest local businesses get involved in sponsorships?

A lot of times local businesses are already sponsoring local events because they’re part of the community, they know people who are running in half marathons and so on.

So the first step is just taking it to the next level, talk to your employees about what local organizations they care about and seeing which of those organizations work best with finding people who might be your target customers.

And then seeing what sponsorship opportunities are available or seeing that your messaging better aligns with the events you may already be sponsoring.

How do businesses target their marketing through sponsorships?

Small businesses have a good idea of who their customers are, either within a certain geographic area or a specific type of person. If you’re a local pet store obviously you want people who are into pets locally but maybe are also into the shop local movement because they don’t like the big chains.

Whoever these people are, you have think about besides my business where else are they going, what else do they do?  So for pet owners, that might be the local dog park or events related to an animal shelter.  If you’re looking for families because you’re a dentist office, you might want to get involved with local schools. You can also ask your regular customers what are their hobbies and groups they are involved with.

A home improvement business would want to think about improving their standing in web search. So for them, finding local sponsorships that might include links on the non-profit’s website to their business website.

Another cool thing is to look for your competitors, to see where they are sponsoring.  The organization may not let you also be a sponsor but you might get an idea about similar opportunities.

Are local groups and non-profits sophisticated about the marketing potential of sponsorships?

We specifically search for local businesses that are sophisticated; we can tell because they already have website pages that are dedicated toward sponsorships. So that’s one way to avoid a learning curve.

Megan suggests running these online searches to pull up sponsorship pages:

Sponsorship Web Searches

A lot of groups particularly that are doing events and fundraisers are pretty aware of offering benefits to sponsors. And even if they’re not, you can certainly ask for something to show off your community contributions. Most local organizations understand that’s part of business and they’re happy to accommodate.

What other opportunities would a business owner want to look for?

A lot of times, if there’s a new sponsor, organizations will write a blog post about them, they might mention them in a press release, or social media shout-outs on Facebook or Twitter, or in an email newsletter, pretty much any online tactic that exists organizations are happy to thank their sponsors.

Offline, it could be anything and everything.  Little local theaters print sponsors on their tickets. A local little league team may need a new scoreboard. It may be hard to realize significant return on investment on a sign, but in the scheme of local branding it’s really relatively inexpensive. A small business that can’t afford a branding campaign, might get more mileage out of working with a local non-profit.

How should a business figure the marketing return on investment of a sponsorship?

Anyone considering the benefits should ask themselves what are their goals. Then it’s a matter of calculating and comparing what you are already spending. A social impression should have a value based on what you spend, a sign at a really big festival might be the equivalent of a billboard in the center of town for a couple days. A link on a sponsor page or on a blog could be a big thing for a business that depends on search – you can see if it helps your local ranking. You can also offer coupons to members of the organization and see how many people click the link and turn into customers.

Here’s the rule of thumb used by ZipSprout for ROI:

 Sponsorships Value

What’s the best way to build a lasting relationship with a community organization?

Understand that there’s a time commitment involved. It’s not the same as working with Google or Facebook. You might have to fill out paper forms or submit a check instead of doing it all online.

Remember the purpose of their organization isn’t to serve you, it’s to serve the people they’re helping. So be respectful of their time and their mission. Don’t negotiate hard and don’t be petty, this isn’t really your stage. Also, it’s not beneficial to anybody to commoditize these organizations just because they offer benefits.

That’s why we recommend working with organizations that are very much aligned with your business.  You’ll be doing something that helps your business but will click really well with you and your employees. And that can be a lot bigger that just giving money—it’s good for company morale.

Read more from Megan Hannay about local sponsorship opportunities