Cruz puts professional spin on fundraising


susan cruzSTOCKTON — Susan Cruz is making a name for herself in nonprofit fundraising. She is the CEO and mastermind behind Cruz Integrated connecting businesses to causes.

“I would say one of the main differences between advertising sales, marketing sales and sponsorship development is that sponsorship development does take a long time,” Cruz said. “I always make sure that I help nonprofit organizations understand that.”

Cruz is the only registered commercial fundraiser for nonprofits in San Joaquin County. Registered commercial fundraisers are required to follow a stringent set of requirements set by the state, including filing annual financial reports. California’s attorney general oversees their work.

Cruz started in newspaper advertising sales before branching into websites, social media and graphic design. She has used her 20 years of experience to create her Stockton-based business. Now she is working to expand into the foothills, Sacramento and the East Bay.

“A lot of times (nonprofits are) so excited about their mission, but they need to learn the skills of marketing themselves and of speaking the right language to sponsors,” she explained.

Nonprofits are created to make a difference in the community, but they still have to be run, marketed and sold like a business.

In order to meet client needs, Cruz offers different levels of service. Involvement can be as simple as attending one of her free, one-hour workshops. Nonprofits can also hire her team to handle marketing, social media, websites and partnerships.

She also offers longer workshops and a four-month program in which she consults and teaches nonprofits how to handle their own sponsorships.

Robin Boriack of Challenge Failure,  a nonprofit that raises awareness for heart failure, hired Cruz to help the organization ramp up efforts for its sixth annual fun run. Its goal is to raise $100,000.

Cruz has been helping with ongoing sponsorship efforts. After working with the team to develop a proposal, she started contacting potential sponsors on its behalf. As of mid-July, Challenge Failure had secured six donors with Cruz’s help.

“We had decided that the hardest part of our venture in Challenge Failure was getting sponsors,” Boriack said.  “The hardest part that we had in previous years was finding, like, hospital contacts… That’s really difficult because (they are) so big that they wouldn’t really talk to us.”

It’s a hurdle Challenge Failure has been able to overcome with Cruz’s help.

“She’s very professional. She’s very clearly organized,” Boriack said. “But in any grassroots event, it’s just hard. It’s just constant.”

Some of the most successful partnerships include a little give and take, according to Cruz. The person handling sponsorships within the nonprofit needs to consider how the sponsor can benefit from the partnership, too.

“I always talk to my nonprofit organizations about the possibility of bringing in their sponsors to speak,” Cruz said.

Other times it’s simply giving their brand a platform. For example, a wine company sponsor could purchase wine glasses needed for an event with the stipulation that its name appear on the glass, she explained.

“It’s difficult to get a lot of good, high quality sponsors three months before your event,” Cruz said. “I think that any client that I deal with, I’m trying to listen to what exactly they are looking for and are their expectations real?”

Her best solution? Get creative.

Sometimes the answer is getting a celebrity involved, and then companies sponsor the celebrity’s involvement in the campaign. Other times it’s simply going back to the original proposal and re-evaluating how to create excitement around the cause. Bringing in media is another possible solution.

“We try new things,” Cruz said. “We’re not trying to grasp at straws. We go back to the drawing board a little bit and brainstorm.”

Perhaps her biggest hurdle comes when she hits a wall with sponsorships, and she is struggling to get anyone on board.

“I’ve learned that you can’t just approach a national brand without having a local or regional contact. It’s not impossible but it is difficult,” Cruz said.

One of the biggest lessons Cruz has learned over the years is the importance of communication. Effective communication between herself, potential sponsors and the nonprofit she is working with is key to success, she said.

Past struggles have led Cruz to always require a designated contact at the nonprofit. On her end, she does the same.

“I’m the point person,” she said. “Most organizations don’t want to have multiple point people because it can cause confusion.”

While Cruz Integrated does not have any employees, Cruz does opt for experts to handle specific needs.

It all comes back to the customizable business model she has created. If a person needs a new website, she brings in an expert for that. If social media is failing, there’s an expert for that, too. However, she always remains at the helm, directing the overall project.

After the services have been decided up front, additional needs may arise. A small amount of additional consultancy will not affect price, Cruz assured, but additional services rendered will raise cost.

“I am willing to sit down with any nonprofit for 30-60 minutes and … offer some strategy,” Cruz said.



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