The Challenge With Community Event Sponsorship

This actually seems to be a topic that bubbles up every year before, during, and after VMworld.  Nobody is going to argue that community events are valuable to many people who attend them and bring others to them.  There is however an inherent challenge that has yet to be overcome by the ask for sponsorships at these.  I know I have been shot down multiple times advocating for managers to sponsor them in past years in various roles I have had.  That being said, there was a tweet last night that seemed to set off a chain reaction that really didn’t address the actual challenge and ended up turning into a complete Whiskey Tango Foxtrot situation.

While I replied to this initially with a comment about ROI to sponsors, which then turned into branches of other conversations about how spouses influence IT purchasing decisions, and what seemed like attacked on community events.  I’m pretty sure at some point there may have been a MEME of Shrek with my face on him simply for trying to explain my point in 140 characters.  It went completely sideways from the original issue.  So, since twitter SUCKS for context to anything you type here is more clarification.

Sponsorships vs Donations

I have run into this as we built out the sponsorships for the non-profit theatre I am on the board for.  We realized that when people “Sponsor” something they unfortunately have expectations about some kind of ROI.  Take VMworld as an example.  Sponsorship levels come with tangible benefits

  • Booth Space
  • Paid Sessions
  • Advertising

All of these things are aimed to provide a way for that sponsor to obtain LEADS to increase their business.  Same with the theatre I am working with.  The “Sponsors” get “commercials” or mentions before during and after shows.  They get ad space in the programs and around the theatre and on the website.  Now one is a non-profit and VMworld is clearly aimed at increasing business.

Donations on the other hand are simply funds provided in kindness with no expectation of return on investment.  The theatre will accept those as I am sure so would VMworld, but again not the same model.  I realize it is apples and oranges for illustration.

VMworld Community Events

Okay so back to the original tweet at hand.  I know first hand having asked marketing well before previous VMworld events about sponsoring the community events the answer was “We did in the past and didn’t really see the value in it”.  The budget money was spent on the booths, customer events, etc.  I don’t think one can get upset with someone who said no to community sponsorships who then spends money elsewhere on customers.  One has nothing to do with the other.  One is most likely more of a marketing / trade show budget decision and the other was probably decided on ad-hoc.

I still go back to the number of times I heard “We don’t see the value in it” from companies that sponsored previously.  That has to be addressed.  If you want these companies to start-up again, then need to be shown the value.  They need to have something measurable they can report back on and say “This helped us do more business or reach more people”.  They need to prove to the decision makers that the SPEND is worth the RETURN and there is a way to tie new business to it.  I’m sorry to be the agent of truth on this, but it’s just a fact of life.  New start-up companies may throw money at everything to get their name known.  In fact some of the more stable companies probably did that in the past and now need to make different decisions than they did before.

Frankly, it seems like the sponsorships are actually more like donations depending on how you look at it if you compare the examples above.  You want more community events to be sponsored you are going to have to find ways to prove to them the value.  As for the mass amount of tweets about how people will remember those that did sponsor for taking care of them or their family, I don’t buy into that.  I also don’t think that’s a large enough perceived value to make an argument on.  Budgets are tight, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.

If you want more things to get sponsored, maybe something has to change to show those sponsors tangible value instead of “perceived” value.  I get it, nobody will provide attendee lists, then you have to come up with a different way of measurement.  It’s a corporate game you need to play and change the minds of those that think there is no value in it.  Maybe this puts some of my replies in context, maybe it doesn’t, frankly it doesn’t matter.  The issue seemed to be someone was upset that money was spent on something other than a community event, but I think the actual challenge is much deeper than that.

About Chris Colotti

Chris is active on the VMUG and event speaking circuit and is available for many events if you want to reach out and ask. Previously to this he spent close to a decade working for VMware as a Principal Architect. Previous to his nine plus years at VMware, Chris was a System Administrator that evolved his career into a data center architect. Chris spends a lot of time mentoring co-workers and friends on the benefits of personal growth and professional development. Chris is also amongst the first VMware Certified Design Experts (VCDX#37), and author of multiple white papers. In his spare time he helps his wife Julie run her promotional products as the accountant, book keeper, and IT Support. Chris also believes in both a healthy body and healthy mind, and has become heavily involved with fitness as a Diamond Team Beachbody Coach using P90X and other Beachbody Programs. Although Technology is his day job, Chris is passionate about fitness after losing 60 pounds himself in the last few years.