In the past, many schools have had a chilly response to corporations inserting themselves into the school districts. But with budgets being cut, what’s a school to do if they want good, interesting programs for the kids, and no money to pay for them? Corporate school sponsorship!

I can understand why there would be some resistance to having corporate sponsorship in schools. After working in sponsorship for almost 20 years, one thing I know is that sponsorship is not charity. Any company that pays money to sponsor a school, athlete, speaker, artist, or anything else, wants a return on their investment. Wouldn’t you if you were putting up good money to get your brand in front of a target audience?

But good sponsorship is a win-win for both parties. The schools get money (or speakers) they need for specific programs, and the businesses get a targeted audience and new marketing avenues that build trust with the community. Businesses big and small are getting more involved in corporate social responsibility. It’s not just a buzz word. It makes good business sense.

And good sponsorship is non-intrusive. Think of it like NASCAR. NASCAR is one of the biggest sponsorship entities on the planet. Every inch of the cars, racetrack, uniforms and pit crew are covered in sponsors. But it doesn’t detract from your enjoyment of watching cars zoom around a racetrack at 200 miles an hour.

Big corporations have been sponsoring arts and education for a few decades now, but school sponsorship is brand new. You’re starting to see it more and more across the country since school budgets have been cut. And schools, who would never have considered corporate sponsorship before, are opening up to the idea of sponsoring everything from football stadiums and libraries to the high school prom. Many communities are taxed out, and sponsorship seems like a logical answer for schools who want better programs for the kids.

There has been a 248% increase in corporate school sponsorship since the early 1990’s, and that trend looks like it may be here to stay. Big corporations and small community businesses are all getting in on the action. Schools provide a captive audience of future customers with disposable income and future employees.

IBM and Microsoft are roping those future employees in early by sponsoring high schools of their own.

The City University of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and IBM are sponsoring a school from grades 9 to 14, where kids will graduate with an associates degree and a guaranteed job at IBM. It focuses on computer science and molds students into the IBM culture. It’s basically a very long corporate training program.

Microsoft is doing the same thing in a sponsor partnership with the Philadelphia School District. They’ve created The School of the Future that combines a high school education with real world life skills.

Before, if schools wanted more money they would have to have fundraising events. But it would take an enormous amount of fundraising to come up with the million dollars three high schools in Texas have each raised just for the naming rights to their football stadiums.  The Brunswick High School football stadium in Ohio is bringing in $750,000 for the naming rights for 10 years. It’s been renamed the Brunswick Auto Mart Stadium.

And it’s not just football stadiums that are getting a boost from corporate sponsorship. Arts and education is also starting to recruit sponsorship for their programs. The San Diego County Office of Education has dipped their toe in the sponsorship water too. Kaiser Permanente is sponsoring a program to teach kids about food.

I know there is a problem with schools being able to get good speakers because I hear from speakers every week saying that they would love to present great programs to the kids, but they simply aren’t able to work for free. Sponsorship for school speakers is an innovative way for them to get great speakers for free, while the speakers get paid from the sponsors. As long as the school agrees that the sponsors’ brand isn’t harmful to the kids, like alcohol or cigarettes, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

There is a great deal of debate on both sides of the issue from parents and educators. Here are some responses:

“As an educator, corporate sponsorships can be great if their missions align with that of the schools. It becomes a problem if a school is funding deprived and may have to kowtow to certain companies who may have a harmful effect if their brand might be affiliated with certain questionable behavior or endorsers.”
Remi Alli

“In Texas, we already have corporate sponsors for many of our events and facilities. Football stadiums are an obvious location where a sponsorship would be highly visible and potentially profitable. Recently, my family and I attended a playoff game at a large stadium and there were multiple corporate (some local and some national) sponsorships that were recognized by constant being played over the video screens as well as through other marketing avenues. Signage and other ads.

Some school districts may be reluctant(due to lack of understanding/familiarity) to work with and secure corporate sponsorships for fear of loosing local control of funding, access, or governance of facilities that have “naming rights” to their facilities. I, however, am fascinated by the idea of school districts and corporate entities working together to develop & foster that win-win.

Tony Hancock

School administrator/former teacher

What do you think about corporations and small businesses sponsoring schools?

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