The Wharton Club of New York focuses most sponsorship efforts on their annual Joseph Wharton Awards Dinner. On average, this event nets approximately $350k to support club programming each year. Other sponsorship activity includes advertisements in the club’s magazine and donations of goods, services, or venues for events.
This appendix is part of the Revenue Strategies guide and will focus on:
- The Joseph Wharton Awards Dinner: Committee, Research, and Outreach
- Magazine Advertisements
- Donations of Goods, Services, and Venues
- General Tips for Success: Volunteers, Branding, and Staying Agile
The Joseph Wharton Awards Dinner
Three club committee members focus exclusively on the Joseph Wharton Awards Dinner. Between them, they have nearly 15 years’ experience working on the event. Continuity has been essential to growing the program to the flagship event it is today. Large corporate donations require diligent follow through and strategy to obtain and cultivate for years to come. A core team of extremely dedicated volunteers is essential to the event’s success. When recruiting volunteers to work on a project like this, consider how you will celebrate their dedication and ensure continuity through succession planning.
The club experimented with hiring an external agency to manage some of the work involved, but found that it was the same amount of work to manage the project through the agency, which did not justify the cost of the commission. Likewise, external agencies generally take a percentage of the total revenue raised, whether they actively brought it in or a club volunteer did. The upside of working with an agency is that you have someone available during the day and do not face the pitfalls of volunteer attrition.
A tremendous amount of research goes into identifying potential sponsors. Your staff liaison is an important partner in this research stage and should be involved in any outreach to alumni in School leadership roles. You should always consider the networks of the awardees. Who are their first-degree connections, past employers, or company partners? For example, an awardee that represents a multinational company may work closely with several law firms. By sponsoring the club, that law firm has an opportunity to show support for the awardee as a business partner. They are sponsoring the individual being honored more so than the club itself. It is an expression of goodwill toward the awardee.
Beyond network connections, there are also industry considerations and philanthropic trends to consider. For example, an awardee in the retail industry may garner support from very different sources than an awardee in the healthcare industry. It is important to think critically about how corporate sponsorship decisions are made. Are they to show support for an individual? Does that individual advance a cause that aligns with the company’s values?
Navigating Corporate Sponsorship
Once potential sponsors are identified, it takes skill, patience, and follow through to navigate the proposal process. Transparency should be maintained with the awardee and it should be made explicitly clear that the sponsorship opportunity will create a relationship with the alumni club, not the School. Finding a Wharton alumnus within an organization can be an invaluable help. Again, connect with your staff liaison before reaching out. The whole process takes months of preparation and execution as committee members filter internally for the right contact and develop the right messaging for each potential sponsor.
During the process, many companies will be interested in metrics to support the case for sponsorship. What values and priorities does the Wharton Club of New York represent? How is the club making a difference in the community? How does a donation to the Wharton Club of New York differ from a donation to The Wharton School? How many people does the club reach, including demographics and diversity? What does the money support? Having a clear sense of the club’s identity and priorities before embarking on a sponsorship project is key. Many consulting firms and banks have strict rules around what they will and will not sponsor – knowing this ahead of time can make an impact down the road. Your staff liaison can assist in this stage of the process by sharing data on alumni demographics for your region or affinity.
The Wharton Club of New York produces a magazine twice a year that includes advertising space, which brings in a small amount of revenue for the club. Magazine ads are considered a vehicle for engaging the community more so than a fundraising tool. For example, alumni can purchase ads to recognize one another’s accomplishments or promote their Wharton-owned business. The magazine operates more from an editorial perspective than a fundraising goal, even for advertisements. If your club is not yet prepared to scale to a print magazine, consider offering advertising space in a digital magazine, your club’s email newsletter, or on social media.
Event Sponsorship: Goods, Services, and Venue Donation
The Wharton Club of New York strategy for ongoing event sponsorship is to develop a wide list of supporters to draw from. It is important to avoid overburdening event sponsors so that they can be counted on to host events year after year. The club maintains a list of approximately 30 event spaces, and will call upon each of them once or twice a year. They are typically alumni-only events, but sometimes the club will be open to welcoming a small group of non-alumni to participate as well in a gesture of thanks. It is important to celebrate the generosity of each sponsor and have a conversation about what they might want to get out of the relationship. Whether it is access to networking with Wharton alumni or simply a gesture of goodwill toward an alumnus, be sure to engage in a value-oriented discussion. To generate a pipeline for donated meeting space, check out the Wharton Club of New York email template.
Focus on the volunteers
The greatest challenge when trying to apply regular business principles to club management is almost always volunteer attrition. When embarking on a project like large-scale sponsorship, be realistic and ensure the right volunteers are in place to follow through. Try aligning the responsibilities of the role with professional development and networking opportunities to develop a stronger sense of benefit to the volunteer. Be sure to document processes and periodically refresh individual responsibilities to avoid volunteer burnout.
Brand the club
When soliciting sponsorship, consider how you will identify the club in relation to the School. Wharton’s Global Clubs Network is unique in its size, impact, and independent nature. Be prepared to explain how your club fits into the broader ecosystem of the Wharton alumni community. Likewise, be transparent that a gift to the club does not qualify as a gift to the School.
Avoid templating your approach too much. In the decade since the Wharton Club of New York launched its annual Joseph Wharton Award dinner, the landscape of corporate philanthropy has changed significantly. Company priorities shift from year to year and require a constantly evolving approach. Aim to secure one or two reoccurring sponsors that can be relied upon from year to year, but always consider new approaches.