Education and Research Sponsorships: Curse or Blessing?

Are new types of financing in demand in the domain of education? Partnerships with business, foundations, and individuals are becoming increasingly common, but also seen as controversial. Are education and research losing their independence? Are our institutions being misused? We can certainly recall discussions about the support services and benefits provided by UBS to the University of Zürich, which involved much background noise and discord. But was it justified? Are partnerships in the areas of education and research really so dangerous?

The fact is, education and research are becoming increasingly important, but also more expensive. If we want to avoid a two-class society in education, the barriers to entry cannot be of a financial nature, so that partnerships with business can be established as intended. I currently hold a leadership position which brings me into contact with very diverse institutions, including higher education and research institutes. It is gratifying to witness an open discussion about partnerships with business. Both sides still have a dearth of experience, but education and research sponsorships are obviously developing rapidly. The sponsor wishes to be associated with content which is both interesting and important to their target group, so they are interested in positive development and certainly will not accept a negative influence. To be sure, a sponsor is not only a donor but also a partner in marketing and communication. These additional benefits are very attractive to educational institutions who may lack the platforms, know-how, and experience required for successful communication. Communication leads to attention, transparency, understanding, and support.

I have faith in educational and research partnerships. Value-oriented engagements with business have ongoing benefits. But they require work to develop, on the part of both the businesses and the partners being supported. Only in this way can existing barriers and obstacles be overcome. For my part, I will closely follow the subject area and try to make my contribution. I am motivated by, and convinced of, the potential here.

Obstacles in realizing value-oriented sponsorship

As previously mentioned, development is unstoppable: value-oriented sponsorship or value-oriented partnerships are in vogue. I currently occupy two different leadership positions in this area, one in the domain of business and the other in an organization in search of partners. Even for me, now with almost 30 years of experience under my belt, it is exciting, challenging work with a constant stream of challenges and obstacles. I'd like to visit a few of these now:

  • Decision paths for these kinds of partnerships in the domain of business are different, more complex, and protracted. Marketing alone is not the sole decisive factor, since for example corporate communications and sustainability management also must be involved.

  • Both for supported organizations and businesses, little experience with these types of partnerships actually exists. This requires finding innovative pathways and overcoming obstacles.

  • The components of success in partnerships are quite diverse and include qualitative behavioral issues, and thus the reasons for failure often can be found there as well.

  • In individual cases, engagements in this area have an alibi of "green buying". This must be eliminated by means of concrete, behavioral goal-setting on the part of the business, requiring a commitment far beyond its financial capacities. The party being sponsored must fastidiously pursue this behavioral change.

  • People can always have different opinions of sponsorship content. But value-oriented engagements involve much more; entire deals can be at stake if a client or supplier feels slighted.

  • Activation policies demand copious tact; it is critical that all activation policies support the spirit and purpose of the partnership and promote success for both sides. And so the administrative effort involved in implementing this kind of partnership is greater than in sports or cultural sponsorship.

These are a few points which we need to keep in mind when implementing a value-oriented partnership. It is worthwhile to follow this road, since these very partnerships contribute a great deal to business positioning. In terms of sustainability, business engagement today goes far beyond the idea of ecology. And last but not least, it is very satisfying and interesting to be active in this domain and to gain new experiences every day.

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