VCU Corporate Sponsorship Toolkit


VCU’s office of Corporate and Foundation Relations works with corporate partners to develop relationships, create talent pipelines across the university, build comprehensive sponsorship opportunities and support faculty research. The CFR team is part of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations. We are a central resource for questions related to corporations, foundations and sponsorship needs.

Sponsorships can help corporations create brand awareness across a university through events, programs, conferences and various marketing channels. Many corporations are eager to put their brand message in front of a captive VCU audience, whether that audience is faculty members, alumni or students.

This sponsorship toolkit outlines options for corporation sponsorships and best practices for corporate engagement as well as guidelines for fundraisers, including individual units, on how to coordinate sponsorship requests directly with the office of Corporate and Foundation Relations.


Sponsorship versus advertising

It’s important to determine whether or not a company’s support of a program or event is considered sponsorship or advertising. A sponsorship is support of a university event or activity by a company or individual in which there is no arrangement or expectation that the company or individual will receive any substantial return benefit. Support might include monetary payment, transfer of property, a gift in kind or provision of services. In return, the sponsor's name and/or logo can appear on event brochures, banners or other promotional materials.

The IRS defines a sponsorship as:

Any payment made by a person engaged in a trade or business for which the person will receive no substantial benefit other than the use or acknowledgement of the business name, logo or product lines in connection with the organization’s activities. ‘Use or acknowledgement’ does not include advertising the sponsor’s products or services. The organization’s activities include all its activities, whether or not related to its exempt purposes.

When the promotional benefit received by the sponsor exceeds simple acknowledgement of the payment, then the sponsorship becomes advertising income to the university. This advertising income can result in unrelated business income tax (UBIT) for the university, since advertising does not fall within the education and research mission of most organizational units at the university.

The IRS defines advertising as:

The organization advertises the sponsor’s products or services including: 1) Messages containing qualitative or comparative language, price information or other indications of saving or value; 2) endorsements; and 3) inducements to purchase, sell or use the products or services. The use of promotional logos or slogans that are established as part of the sponsor’s identity is not, by itself, advertising. In addition, mere distribution or display of a sponsor’s product by the organization to the public at a sponsored event, whether free or for remuneration, is considered use or acknowledgement of the product rather than advertising.

The following types of sponsorships (not an all-inclusive list) will not result in UBIT:

  • Visual display of sponsor name/sponsor logo on items such as the event webpage, invitations, flyers, brochures, event program, banners, banquet table signage or display monitor screens.
  • Oral recognition of the sponsor at the event.
  • Value-neutral descriptions of the sponsor's product whether in a print, broadcast or internet medium (that is, the descriptions do not contain qualitative or comparable language/description, price or call to action to use or purchase the sponsor's products or services).
  • A hyperlink on a university webpage to a sponsor’s website and nothing more.

The following types of sponsorships (not an all-inclusive list) might result in UBIT:

  • There is a call to action relative to the sponsor’s products, services, facilities or company (i.e., language or logo itself that promotes use or inducements to purchase sponsor’s products, services, facilities or company).
  • There is a comparative or qualitative description, price information or other indications of savings or value of the sponsor’s products, services, facilities or company (e.g., “No. 1 burgers in town,” “Lowest prices in Colorado”).
  • Sponsorship payments whereby the individual or company is entitled to the use or acknowledgment of the business name, logo or product lines in a university periodical versus an event-specific program or brochure.
  • Payment by the sponsor for advertising in a periodical, which is defined as any regularly scheduled and printed material (such as a monthly journal) that is published by or on behalf of the organization or one of its organizational units.

Other important definitions

  1. Gifts are the voluntary provision of external support without any requirement of economic or other tangible benefit in return. Gifts may be made by individuals as well as by private organizations, and they may be designated for a specific purpose or left unrestricted by the donor. This includes underwriting gift support regarding events, radio and television.
  2. Gifts-in-kind are a product or service provided by a sponsor in lieu of cash to a campus, school, college, department or unit as part of a sponsorship agreement.
  3. Research grants and contracts fund “sponsored projects,” which are any projects receiving external support (including research, scholarly work, training, workshops and services) that have defined performance requirements. The following conditions can apply: delivery of specific goods, services or other deliverables by the university; performance milestones; transfer of intellectual property, ownership or related rights; insurance, indemnification or warranty; restrictions on publication of research results; or audit requirements.

Creating Sponsorship Packages

One of the ways corporations engage with VCU is through sponsorship of university programs and events. With any solicitation for corporate funding, it’s important to determine what a corporation gains from sponsoring your event.

Below is a helpful outline on how to create a sponsorship package from start to finish:

1. Develop a sponsorship package

  • Look at your program/event budget and determine appropriate levels of support and number of sponsors needed at each level (e.g., will the top supporter be exclusive or can there be cosponsors?).
    • We recommend that all sponsorship packages start at $1,000. In many cases, anything below $1,000 will negate any charitable gift to the university because of the benefits received by the sponsor.
  • Determine what you can offer as benefits to your sponsors.
    • Examples: logo recognition on signage, website, social media, item giveaways; oral recognition at event, event access for employees, etc.
  • Design your sponsorship document, including a detailed description of your event, all sponsorship levels and the benefits for each level and information on the ROI your event provides to companies.
    • Any sponsorship packages with levels exceeding $10,000 must be vetted by the CFR team before being distributed to potential corporate partners.
  • Include sponsorship information on your event website, if possible.

2. Submit your sponsorship package

  • Before sending your sponsorship packages to potential corporate partners, you must submit your package to Gifts and Records Management, which will review each package and determine the amount of goods and services being offered at each sponsorship tier.
  •  Each package should be submitted through the DAR ticketing link under “Event Summary.”

3. Develop a sponsorship prospect list

  • Look at programs/events/organizations similar to yours and identify the types of companies that sponsor them.
  • Think locally first, and look at companies that are already sponsoring events in your area.
  • Relationships are key; use your existing connections to corporations to identify potential points of contact at target companies.
  • If you need help identifying potential partners for your project, ask the CFR teamp. We may also be able to connect you directly with a corporate partner in the community, if a relationship already exists. (See “CFR Support” below.)

4. Soliciting corporate partners

  • Once your proposed sponsorship package has been approved by GRM and your prospect list is created, you can now solicit corporate partners for your event.
  • All solicitations greater than $1,000 must be entered in RADAR for universitywide tracking and should also include a plan of outreach documenting your interactions along the way.

5. Booking and recording your sponsorship agreement

  • Once a company makes a commitment to sponsor your program/event, use the Sponsorship Agreement Form to secure your agreement.
  • Agreements can be signed by designated individuals within each school and unit.
  • Be sure to deliver on all the benefits you guaranteed your sponsors. If you’re unable to deliver on all the agreed benefits, it will be necessary to work out a solution with your sponsor on a case-by-case basis.

6. Booking a gift-in-kind agreement vs. sponsorship

  • When a sponsorship arrangement includes a gift-in-kind of products (not services), the school or unit should prepare and submit a Gift-in-Kind Contribution Form to Gifts and Records Management before or at the time the gift-in-kind is accepted.
  • The policies regarding acceptance of gifts-in-kind are on the DAR intranet;  see link in the “Related Documents” section below.

CFR Support

Working with corporate partners differs significantly from working with foundations or federal funding agencies. VCU’s corporate relations team can help you build relationships with companies, locally and nationally. Our team can answer questions, introduce you to key corporate contacts, help you structure your partnerships with corporations and help create sponsorship packages.

A few ways the CFR office can help you during your sponsor search:

Create sponsorship packages and tiers

The CFR team can help create your sponsorship packages and determine tiers for your event. We can also recommend the number of sponsors needed for each level (e.g., will the top supporter be exclusive or can there be co-sponsors?).

To help the CFR team with this process:

  • Provide a detailed description of your event; the more information you can provide, the better.
  • Determine what you can offer as benefits to your sponsors.
    • Examples: logo recognition on signage, website, social media, giveaway items; oral recognition at event, event access for employees, etc.
  • Provide the total cost of your event and the goal for sponsorship dollars raised.

Clear your sponsorship prospect list before soliciting

  • Once you have developed your sponsorship prospect list, send it to the CFR team for review.
  • CFR will cross-check your prospect list to see whether we have an existing relationship with the organization or if it conflicts with outstanding university asks.
  • If there is an existing relationship, the CFR team can contact the corporation on your behalf or connect you with the corporate contact.
  • The list must include the organization’s name and your point of contact in the organization you are soliciting.

Make an introduction to a business or corporation on your behalf

  • Corporations often prefer to have holistic partnerships with universities, and VCU has many such relationships with companies across the country.
  • Often a relationship with a corporation or business already exists.
  • Use the CFR team as a resource to make an introduction on your behalf and target companies you have identified as potential sponsors.

Who can we help?

  • Fundraisers
  • Schools and units
  • Staff and faculty

Additional Resources