Calgary’s cultural events depend substantially on corporate sponsorships and donations to fund many of their activities.
Corporate sponsorships benefit organizations such as Theatre Calgary, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) by providing much needed revenue, money that is often used to develop programming.
“Our focus is on helping organizations succeed. It’s very important to support arts and culture,” says Jerilynn Daniels, senior manager of community investment and marketing at RBC. Daniels says RBC supports a number of cultural and artistic organizations through a combination of philanthropic donations and sponsorships.
According to Terry Roberts, development director at Theatre Calgary, about one-third of a typical venue’s budget comes from corporate sources, while the remaining two-thirds comes from public grants and ticket sales. But Roberts is quick to point out Theatre Calgary’s strong ticket sales reduces its dependency on sponsors to 12% — much lower than the average.
Cultural events such as theatre, ballet, film festivals and orchestras are very well attended in Calgary. Last year, the CPO sold out 26 of 85 events. To get tickets to popular programs one must move quickly, especially around the holidays.
Financial support from corporate sponsors is beneficial for the events, especially at a time when public sources of funding for cultural events has flat-lined.
But what’s in it for the sponsors?
Although corporations are relied on for financial contributions, Steve Schroeder, executive director of CIFF, says that occasionally a company may wish to influence programming, but this is not allowed.
“The public can smell it if corporations are influencing things,” Schroeder says. “It may be an oversimplification, but our philosophy is this: Great programming leads to great audiences, which results in great sponsors wanting to be involved.”
Theatre Calgary’s Roberts says “sponsors benefit in a number of ways. We showcase their logos on our programs, on our website as well as on signage inside the facility.”
Roberts also points out that sponsorship can have other rewards, such as use of lobby space for corporate events and free tickets to popular performances.
“It’s a great opportunity for employers to reward employees or build relationships with important customers.”
Schroeder agrees that there are many benefits for sponsors and that it’s not a one-way street.
“One major benefit for the sponsors is positive brand association,” Schroeder says.
“Not every sponsor is after the same thing. Some companies are looking to build their brands while others just want to help contribute to the community.”
With many of the benefits for sponsors hinging on the development of positive brand awareness with audiences, it can be difficult to quantify the return on investment.
Paula Davies, development director at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, says more sponsors are looking for better metrics to measure the impact of their sponsorships. To that end, CPO is working to develop new surveys that will better measure audience attitudes and opinions, which can then be used to better fit a sponsor’s goals and objectives with CPO activities.
“The companies we work for are increasingly asking for experiential connections with audiences that go well beyond simply having their logo up on a poster,” Davies says.
Cultural groups do not always conduct audience surveys and provide sponsors with fulfillment reports, however. According to Schroeder, CIFF did not conduct surveys this year because they are re-evaluating their approach. The last time they conducted an audience survey was in 2011.
Davies also said that CPO “hasn’t conducted a new survey for a while now.”
Companies like RBC look at attendance, social media and website traffic to help gauge the exposure it is receiving.
“Regular attendees have certainly taken notice when a new sponsor is present. Of course the bigger sponsors are often noticed first, and the smaller ones might not be as visible, but people definitively notice which companies are supporting CIFF,” Schroeder says.
Finding a good fit between the respective cultural event and a sponsor is a constant challenge. It’s not unusual for people like Schroeder and Davies to contact more than 200 companies in order to end up with half-a-dozen sponsors.
Nicole Boisvert, community engagement coordinator at Community Natural Foods, says her company decided to sponsor CIFF because one of the movies featured, called The Last Ocean, fit well with its corporate values.
“CIFF had a very comprehensive package detailing out the different levels of sponsorship,” Boisvert says. “We try to meet people in the community through our various sponsorship activities and we trust we are reaching the right audiences.”
Roberts at Theatre Calgary says companies such as Canada Safeway, Nexen, EllisDon and Enbridge are well-known for their philanthropy and support of cultural venues in Calgary.
Boisvert, from Community Natural Foods, wishes more small to medium-sized companies would get involved.
“Most of the time we see the big energy companies, and then us.”