Business Partnerships 101

You know not to put all your funding eggs in one basket. But when it comes to support for your artistic endeavours, business partnerships can be the golden egg, so it is a great one to crack. Flipside: it can also be the hardest.

What is a business partnership?

Business Partnership (aka sponsorship or corporate partnerships) is when a company gives you support (cash or in-kind) in exchange for commercial return. Unlike a donation which is tax deductible, corporate partners receive a business return on their investment that is measurable.

It can be a fantastic way to meet your costs but as more and more organisations look for support, including charities and sporting groups, it’s getting harder for individual artists and small arts organisations to be noticed. And depending on the nature of the partnership, it can take more money and time to manage compared to individual donors.

What are the trends?


  1. Competition – as funding is getting harder to come by, competition across the sector is increasing. Industries that traditionally support the arts are investing in fewer organisations but for longer. They can also pick and choose who to support, so it is critical you can effectively sell the opportunity and manage deliverables. Anticipate that everything will be measured against its commercial return as there is no such thing as a free lunch.
  2. Less cash, more in-kind – deals are shifting to in-kind support in place of money and when liquid assets are being discussed, there is often less cash available. In-kind can be very valuable, as long as it’s something you actually need i.e. offset an expense you would otherwise pay for. When talking money, consider how the partnership could meet needs of multiple business units, spreading the partner’s financial investment across the whole company.
  3. Ethical alignment – there is increasing pressure on arts organisations to think carefully about the type of corporates they are willing to partner with. You need to decide which sources of private sector money you are willing to accept and be prepared to manage stakeholders with differing views or priorities.
  4. Projects – businesses unfamiliar with the arts may prefer to test the market by supporting short-term projects or one-off events. If you offer a year-round program, aim to leverage any initial project engagement for a multi-year commitment in the long-term.
  5. Digital – is all about tech. If you know what geotargeting and geofencing are thenyou’re in the right game. Partners want to target the right people at the right time. The arts should be good at this, as we know our audiences well. Thinking creatively you can get your corporate partner’s brand noticed and generate conversation in a fun and memorable way.
  6. Co-create, co-fund or co-work – the trend is to get partners participating in and collaborating with you in an authentic way. Leverage the partner’s expertise to fill gaps in yours, while giving them a platform to demonstrate their business capabilities. More engagement equals more value for everyone.
  7. The search for unique – some brands seek a cool and independent vibe. Small, local, underground or grassroots events are an opportunity to stand out from the corporate crowd. As are exclusive assets, content, or experiences to distinguish between multiple partners aligned with the same project.

What do sponsors want?

They don’t want to feel warm and fuzzy. They want you to help them solve a business problem. They have a product or service to sell and a brand to promote and protect, and they think joining forces with you will help them do that.

This is what they’re looking for:

Shared values and brand fit – increasingly, consumers expect brands to reflect their values and will hold them to account if they fail to act with integrity. Partnering with the arts can help a business demonstrate their values and social responsibility, which they hope will attract and retain customers and staff. You wouldn’t sell chain saws to Greenpeace. Make sure you know their mission statement and avoid conflicts.

  • Business results – this is different for every partner, so it is important you find out what their ‘business problem’ is and why you are best positioned to help them solve it. This isn’t always easy – it will require research and in-depth conversation with potential partners to truly understand their challenges and develop partnership solutions.
  • Audience relevance – do your people match their people? Understand your audience demographics and research theirs. Ask yourself if this partnership makes sense and if you’re comfortable promoting business partners to your audience.
  • Engagement and experiences – the arts are incredibly impactful when experienced firsthand, so provide access with free tickets, exclusive offers or experiences, money-can’t-buy opportunities, behind the scenes access, a networking opportunity or invitations to an opening night. The more unique, the better.
  • Exclusivity – we’re not suggesting you re-title your play but giving naming rights is much more attractive than being towards the end of a long list.
  • Publicity – building awareness is usually a key benefit. However, it can take time and money to get good publicity. If you don’t have the resources for appropriate marketing, work with the partner to secure publicity and promotion.
  • Understanding and flexibility – make a commitment to good communication, cooperation and being as flexible to their needs as you can. Try to exceed their expectations and there is a good chance they’ll renew.

How do I get a corporate partner?

This is the million-dollar question. Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer. You just have to think strategically, plan rigorously and involve teammates, colleagues and hopefully your Board in the process of securing partners.


Check our website for plenty of case studies, partnership profiles and inspiration on successful relationships between arts, business and donors.

Take a look at some of the ways arts organisations and sponsors have worked together in our partnerships profiles.

How do I get a corporate partner?

This is the million-dollar question. Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer. You just have to think strategically, plan rigorously and involve teammates, colleagues and hopefully your Board in the process of securing partners.

Step 1: Identify & Match

What is your mission? What can you offer? Be clear about your audience demographics and have statistics to demonstrate them. Next, think about businesses that meet your partnership policy*, reflect your values, share a similar audience, operate in your location and demonstrate a willingness to invest in arts and culture. Research potential targets and start a list. Check out their website for mission statements, business goals and objectives, work locations, new developments, and who they are already partnering.

*It’s important to set partnership ground rules for your organisation in the form of a policy or other documentation that is endorsed by the Board. Ask yourselves – which industries are you willing or not willing to accept money from? What factors will be considered when evaluating the suitability of a potential partner? What is the internal decision-making process i.e. does your Board need to sign off on certain partnership tiers or types? By discussing and formalising these decisions, you are better equipped to identify and manage risks, maximise benefits that flow from partnership, and establish structures and processes for good management and accountability.

Step 2: Approach & Listen

Arrange your first meeting and begin with a general conversation. Mine your networks for leads.  Do you know someone who knows someone in the company? Ask for an introduction or connect with their staff on LinkedIn. A phone call is ideal, but email can work too. This first interaction should not be a full proposal but a testing of the water to see if they’re interested in collaborating. If they ask for more information, share high level, relevant details such as your mission and values, demographics, communication channels and track record.

Use this initial approach to find out what the company wants from the partnership, consider if you can address their priorities while meeting yours, and whether it’s worth it – if it doesn’t meet your financial or other organisational need, it may not be a good match. In some cases, approaching and securing media partners ahead of sponsors can bolster your pitch as it can build confidence in aligning with you.

Step 3: Propose & Negotiate

If they are interested, super! Now you can create a compelling proposal that addresses the company’s specific goals. Start with your story or the story of someone whose life was changed through your work. Describe the impact of your work, what you do and who you do it for.

It is standard practice to acknowledge partners by way of logo on your brochures, promotional materials, website and on site where possible. But it’s important to also create special ways each partner will be integrated into your project. This can be a great brainstorming exercise with your colleagues across different areas of your project to determine who will be responsible to deliver these commitments e.g. marketing, programming or operations.

Creating a proposal can be time consuming so it’s useful to develop a standard template which can be customised for each proposal to reflect the specific opportunity, partnership outcomes and what you are asking in return.

Be prepared to negotiate. Know your minimum requirements and corresponding offerings.  These details will form the contract terms so it’s critical both parties understand and agree on the final proposal. At this stage it is also important to determine what the partnership will cost you. Is the return on your investment of time and benefits worthwhile?

Step 4: Contract

Congratulations! You’ve received confirmation that the partner is on board. It helps to use your own contract template with standard terms for all third-party partnerships plus a customised section for the specific partnership details and investment. If the partner requires their template to be used, it’s important your lawyer review the contract to ensure your rights, IP and assets are protected.

Step 5: Implement and Impress!

As the contract process is being finalised, develop your implementation plan so it can be enacted as soon as ink is on paper. What needs to be done, when and by who and share this with the partner if appropriate. Set up regular meetings with the partner to make sure you are meeting their expectations. At a minimum, all obligations should be delivered on time and as promised but where possible and within your means, find moments to surprise and delight partners to truly impress and exceed their expectations. Most importantly, manage each partnership with professionalism, transparency and a splash of fun. Enjoy the process!

Need Inspiration?

Check our website for plenty of case studies, partnership profiles and inspiration on successful relationships between arts, business and donors.

Take a look at some of the ways arts organisations and sponsors have worked together in our partnerships profiles.