By shifting from seeking philanthropic support to offering marketing-oriented partnerships, MZA Events has seen a sharp increase in sponsorship revenue for the nonprofit fundraisers it produces.

For example, MZA has posted a 30 percent increase in sponsorship revenue over the past two years for AIDS Walk New York, an event benefiting Gay Men’s Health Crisis and other AIDS service organizations.

New sponsors for the ’09 event include MasterCard Inc. and WCBS-TV, while returning partners Bloomberg, LP; Manhattan’s Decoration & Design Building; Delta Air Lines, Inc; and drugstore chain Duane Reade, Inc. have all increased their commitments.

MZA has seen similar success at its two other major events, AIDS Walk Los Angeles and AIDS Walk San Francisco.

While MZA has offered sponsorship to its events over its 23-year history, the company has focused on marketing-driven deals since the ’07 hiring of COO Colin Weil.

With experience working for marketing agencies and commercial film producers, as well as a 20-year history of personally participating in AIDS Walks, Weil recognized MZA wasn’t taking full advantage of what the events had to offer, beginning with each one’s extensive marketing campaign.

“There were missed opportunities because our campaigns are sophisticated, and we didn’t share that with marketing folks,” he said, pointing to print, TV and radio ads, transit media, point-of-purchase displays, street banners and other high-profile vehicles.

Below, four steps MZA has taken to increase sponsorship revenue for AIDS Walk New York and other events.

Invite marketing to the table. Acknowledging the growing popularity of strategic philanthropy, MZA now tries to include representatives from both corporate giving arms and marketing departments when pitching new deals or contract renewals.

“Marketers love to gain access to what the company’s foundation is doing to bring their brand out into the community,” Weil said.

While MZA offers the same six sponsorship levels as it did prior to Weil’s arrival, each now includes proportionate marketing benefits.

The marketing-driven strategy was instrumental in upselling Duane Reade, which stepped up to the New York walk’s highest level $100,000 Premier Sponsor package this year after coming on board as a $50,000 second-tier Grand Sponsor in ’08.

Although the chain continues to fund the deal out of its charitable contributions budget, MZA was able to upsell the company by involving marketing staff in the negotiations, Weil said.

Duane Reade receives speaking opportunities at the event, branding on AIDS Walk ads on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and other benefits. The New York walk’s other Premier-level sponsors are Delta and Bristol Myers Squibb Co.

Offer more online benefits. To make its sponsorship packages more appealing, MZA has added online benefits that are of interest to many prospective corporate partners.

MZA last year revamped the Web hub for its AIDS Walks––as well as the individual events’ sites to drive more visitors and provide sponsors more online engagement opportunities.

Upgrades include a rotating “featured corporate sponsor of the week” section on each event’s home page, the ability to host online raffles, and mention in email blasts sent to more than 45,000 participants before and after each event.

MZA also has added more event-themed content to the site “so that our constituents are spending more time there,” Weil said.

In addition to Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, MZA also consults with Milwaukee’s AIDS Walk Wisconsin.

Use corporate teams as prospecting tool. Knowing that many companies support events and causes championed by their employees, MZA scouts employee teams to identify potential partners.

When making a pitch, MZA highlights the opportunity for the company to stand behind its employees, said Brent Colby, the company’s national manager of sponsorships and communications.

That strategy helped MZA secure a new in-kind deal for AIDS Walk New York with WCBS-TV at the Grand Sponsor level. “It was very easy to set up a meeting because the station’s general manager knew about the AIDS Walk through its team,” Colby said.

CBS 2 becomes the event’s exclusive broadcast television sponsor.

Use visits and post-event sponsorship reports to whet interest. MZA secured a new deal with MasterCard by inviting the credit card company to the event and subsequently sharing a copy of a post-event fulfillment report.

MZA also has used the sample reports as a tool in closing deals with prospects who start hedging when it comes time to sign the contract, Colby said.