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Generating Revenue from Campus-Wide Sponsorships

Six Considerations for Universities Seeking New Revenue from Corporate Sponsorships Extended Throughout Campus. 

Despite the steadily improving economy, colleges and universities find themselves caught in an economic bind: increased administrative costs and diminished government funding have produced seemingly perpetual budget shortfalls.

As institutions of higher learning seek new revenue streams to stauch this flow of red ink, an increasingly common consideration is campus-wide sponsorships. In the past, sponsorship has typically been the domain of campus athletic departments. Campus-wide sponsorship expands on this traditional model by integrating multiple departments (e.g. athletics, student services, recreation. housing, etc.) into a single platform that sponsors can use to reach students, alumni, faculty, staff and other key constituent groups. Several school including UC Berkeley, Washington, Kentucky, and others are currently creating campus-wide sponsorships.

The new revenue provided by campus-wide sponsorships is enticing, but deciding on how best to pursue these opportunities should be carefully considered. So, with this in mind, here are Six Guidelines to Campus-Wide Sponsorships that can help promote success, avoid missteps, and prevent headaches.

1. Underscore the Ultimate Benefit: Schools elect to pursue campus-wide partnerships to drive more revenue. But how will this money ultimately be used? What benefit will the campus and its stakeholders derive? Clearly defining how this new revenue will be used will help with securing participation from the different campus constituent groups required to develop a campus-wide sponsorship program.

2. Clarify Governance: Like almost every other large institution, colleges and universities can be administratively siloed.  (We’ll wait while you collect yourself after that bombshell… ok, ready? Let’s continue...) Because campus-wide partnerships require participation from multiple campus stakeholder groups, effective program governance is imperative. To that end, responsibility for the program should be elevated as high up the administrative chain-of-command as possible to ensure a minimum of cross-departmental squabbling and turf warfare.

3. Understand Schedules: Universities decision making is deliberate. Corporate decision making is frequently made on minute-by-minute basis, depending on how the stock price is doing at a given time. In other words, a yawning gulf of expectations exists between the two. Universities should take care to streamline decision making (ideally via clarified governance…), while also managing expectations of their campus sponsors who may be unfamiliar with university pace.

4. Integrate Purchasing: To develop sponsorships that have sufficient scale that warrant the effort, integrating campus spending and direct business opportunities is key. Any sponsor worth their salt will seek access to the campus purse through a sponsorship. As a result, integrating campus purchasing into the process is a must. They are the keeper of the keys insofar as doing business on campus is concerned, and their established RFP process creates open competition between potential sponsors for campus business.

5. Activation Requires Resources: The excitement of developing a new, high value sponsorship quickly fades if a school isn’t set up to support the demands of implementation and evaluation. Sponsors will require feedback and reporting so they, in turn, can share the success of their new investment internally. Allocating resources (headcount, budget, etc.) to work day-to-day with sponsors should be considered essential. 

6. Be True to Your Mission: No one (hopefully) is suggesting that sponsorship should transform institutions of higher learning into something resembling a NASCAR race (if it holds still long enough, put a sponsor logo on it...) That said, campus-wide sponsorships require a university to engage in an inherently commercial relationship that extends beyond the athletic department. Generating more revenue is directly tied to extending a partnership into more facets of campus life: student services, housing, dining, purchasing… the list goes on. So before a university pursues sponsorships of this magnitude, thoughtful consideration of how this aligns with core missions is vital.

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