A wide range of properties–from local festivals to international associations–struggle with utilizing volunteers in their sponsorship efforts. At one end of the spectrum are capable volunteers–successful individuals in their daily lives–frozen by a lack of sponsorship knowledge and in need of direction. At the other end are similarly capable people with a similar lack of sponsorship knowledge–yet they want to set their own sponsorship direction.

The former results in missed opportunities. The latter produces a whole host of headaches: longtime partners alienated by aggressive or amateurish sales pitches; package modifications agreed to with a handshake and nothing more; inconsistent fees that set impossible expectations or undercut the overall pricing strategy, etc.

Making sponsorship primarily a staff function–ideally as part of a dedicated position–would help alleviate these concerns. However, such a position is a distant dream for many organizations.

Still, even with the most capable of staff, volunteers can and should be integral to an organization’s sponsorship efforts. Volunteer leaders have the vision, the connections and the knowledge to contribute to a successful sponsorship program.

In the spirit of maximizing these valuable human resources, rather than working around them, we offer three keys to success when incorporating volunteers into sponsorship.

Have a plan. Most volunteer-related sponsorship issues are rooted in the lack of a coherent strategy. Such a situation creates a power vacuum that well-meaning volunteers rush to fill.

For example, we frequently work with associations who form a different sponsorship committee for each event and program, with the committees receiving a budget goal and, if they are lucky, contact information for the previous year’s sponsors. Forced into competition with each other, the committees race to cut deals without considering how the organization or the sponsors might benefit from more robust partnerships.

In such cases, we recommend establishing a central authority, either staff- or volunteer-driven, to help guide corporate partnership efforts. Such an authority can help by coordinating efforts across multiple committees; providing sponsorship knowledge resources; and instituting two-way accountability–from volunteers to the larger organization and vice versa.

That last point is vital, particularly if the organization has restrictions likely to hamper sales efforts–such as designating certain companies or categories off-limits. Volunteers deserve to know if the deck is stacked against meeting their budget goals and how the larger organization intends to deal with potential shortfalls that result.

Define roles. Not all volunteers are born to sell, fewer are born to service and some should not do either. One of the vital steps in leveraging volunteers is understanding the multitude of sponsorship roles they can fill (see sidebar) and determining fit.

Putting a non-salesman into a sales role often will result in missed opportunities and, even worse, deals that should never have been agreed to. Pressing Type A personalities into fulfillment roles can result in low renewal rates.

Formalize procedures. If a sponsorship strategy provides a roadmap to volunteers, sponsorship policies serve as guard rails to keep them on the road. Without a central authority, such policies could be the only means to bring consistency to a property’s sponsorships.

Among the policies that can help rein in volunteers, we would recommend requiring prospect lists be submitted for approval prior to sales outreach; also, all sponsorships above a certain threshold should be formalized with a written agreement, which also should be approved and signed by the property’s CEO or other qualified executive.