Year after year, large companies and corporations are spending billons of dollars to sponsor and endorse small businesses, events, products, brands and entrepreneurs. There is so much money out there and a good majority of it remains unclaimed and unused due to the large misconception that you have to be a big name in the game.
Truth is, larger companies in an industry prefer to offer sponsorship to new companies and their reasoning is totally selfish. These companies see the opportunity to reach new markets, new audiences and know that by slapping their name on smaller brands there is a good possibility that they will, in turn, grab some new clients in the process. This is a totally selfish reason for sponsoring small businesses but it’s totally awesome and I suggest you take advantage of it.
Screw it. Use them how they use you.
When I started my online magazine a few years ago, I had very little money for investing. I was going extra hard in the paint trying to generate money through various outlets but it seemed like it was never enough. After speaking with one of my business besties, I was introduced to the world of sponsors and advertisers. Like many others I was reluctant to give it a try because in my mind who in the hell would want to sponsor my tiny little blogazine that was barely 3 months old? With some urging and encouragement I finally gave it a try.
It only took my one week to secure 3 celebrity interviews, and 2 blog sponsors and a handful of paid advertisers for my website. I could not believe it. That’s when it hit me. Big names love smaller names because at the end of the day, it makes them look charitable. And we all know how people love to appear charitable.
Anyway, now that I have several years of wooing sponsors, I figured it was time to pay it forward and share some of the tips I have learned over the years. So kick off your shoes and relax your feet…party on down to the Xscape beat just kick it….and let’s get to the facts.
BTW, I was totally singing that as I typed it. Don’t judge me.
RULES TO REMEMBER AS YOU PROCEED
There’s no just thing as FREE money
Sponsorship is not just about your needs, it's also about the sponsors’. It won’t work if the relationship is too lopsided one way or the other.
They don’t have to love you, man.
Sponsors don’t have to be all the way down with your cause in order to throw some change at you. All they need to know is that somewhere in the midst of the deal, there is a benefit for them.
Look for your glass slipper
Make sure your brand goals and core values match their own. There is nothing like having to come to the meeting room strapped because you know at some point some foolery is going to go down.
Make sure the team acts like a team
Your sponsors are your partners. Treat them as such. Don’t have them or their representatives making coffee runs, filing nails and serving food. Oh, leave the “you ain’t my daddy” attitude at home.
Keep your damned logo
This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. As mentioned before, there needs to be a benefit to sponsoring you or your business. I can slap my logo on my own stuff. Come with it.
Don’t leave before the ink dries
Get it in writing. Period. I have my own contracts drafted for both requesting sponsorship and providing it. My contracts are standard and revisions can be made based on the agreements between parties. But if the line isn’t signed, it’s out of sight and out of mind
Sending "blind" proposals usually does not work well. Knowing your audience helps you figure out who to solicit and how.
TIP # 1: DEFINE AUDIENCE
Events that are successful in securing sponsors often:
1) have a ton of people involved or
2) have a very specific focus.
Sponsors prefer the former because it allows them the opportunity to reach a large audience in one big shot. The latter works well for sponsors who are trying to reach a particular target market, perfect for niche industries and businesses. Unless your nonprofit has the resources to handle an event with thousands of attendees, you should explore the "specific focus" route.
A company is not interested in how you spend your money – their only interest is the benefit they would be receiving from your offer.
When you're planning your event, try to go beyond your organization. For instance, if your agency provides career preparation services to inner city youth, you could consider hosting an event in which you can invite local leaders, boutique owners, local business recruiters, etc. One reason to invite "professionals" is because it is lucrative and enticing from the sponsors' point of view. A particular sponsors may not be interested in your organization, but they may be interested in getting their product into the hands of these professionals. Accepting the offer of sponsorship would be beneficial to them because they are then given the opportunity for additional exposure.
Once you have established your audience, do some brainstorming. Think about which companies and local businesses are likely to be interested in reaching your audience.
Time is a key factor. Detailed research into a company’s marketing ambitions and type of customer (both yours and theirs) is essential. Understanding their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is helpful. Finally, recognize that developing relationships with companies can take up to two years before they are ready to consider a proposal.
TIP # 2: SET SPONSORSHIP LEVELS
Make sure the benefits at each level are distinct and enticing enough to encourage previous sponsors to move up a level.
It's a good idea to have a wide range of levels so that smaller businesses as well as larger companies can find a level that suits their needs and budget. If your event is quite small, your entry-level sponsors might simply receive a small ad in an accompanying program or flyer for $50. For larger events, sponsor levels might begin at $200, $500 or even $1,000. Depending on audience size and publicity opportunities, cost of a "title" sponsorship could range from $750 to $10,000. Title sponsors receive maximum publicity, and their logo should appear in ALL publicity material.
You need to develop a proposal which that describes your aims, objectives, activities and public image in a clear, and way to attract sponsors
You should base your sponsor levels on the benefits to the company. Put a price on each benefit you'll offer and add the prices in each level. This will give you an idea as to the cost of a sponsorship at each level. Know in advance that you may have to be flexible and customize levels for some sponsors to meet their marketing needs.
sponsor banner displayed at event;
dinner table supported by sponsor (i.e., each person at the table receives a promotional item and literature from the sponsor and the sponsor's logo is displayed at the table);
small sponsor banner or logo displayed on podium;
sponsor name or logo in advertisements in newspapers and magazines;
sponsor logo on organization's website (can include a hotlink to their site);
category exclusivity (a guarantee to sponsors that once they sign on, none of their competitors will be allowed to sponsor).
TIP # 3: RESEARCH YOUR SPONSOR
The most time-consuming—but ultimately money-saving—step: Pick up the phone and pitch your event as a great marketing opportunity.
Call local business to find out if they're interested in reaching your market. When you begin your conversation, focus the topic on how the company will benefit: "Hello, This is (Your Name) from (Business Name). I thought you might be interested in marketing your company's products/services at an upcoming event we're hosting...do you have a few seconds?" Come up with a quick pitch that in 20 seconds OR LESS explains the event, audience and a few benefits to the company. If they are interested, you can always go into more detail or send more information.
Depending on the type and size of company you are contacting your calls will vary so you will need to be able to think quickly on your toes. Typically, you’ll probably speak directly to the owner(s) at small local businesses. Medium-size companies may have marketing departments or human resource departments that take care of sponsorships. Large companies receive countless requests for sponsorship, and they may have a sponsorship recording that gives you their guidelines for requests.
A glossy brochure might help a little in this, but most businesses will be more impressed by a professional approach to how you manage the partnership rather than what you sent to a printer
For potential sponsor ideas, talk to your board, staff and volunteers. Investigate their ideas and connections. Reach out to advertising and public relations agencies to see if they think any of their clients might be interested in your event as well. See if any events similar to yours-or events with similar audiences-already exist, and review their sponsor lists and offers.
Once you've made all these calls, review your notes and prepare a list of companies you will solicit. Instead of blindly sending out proposals to hundreds of businesses, ignoring their guidelines and focus areas, you can send dozens of proposals to companies who have already expressed interest in your event.
TIP # 4: SEND YOUR PROPOSAL
It's important that sponsors feel you are asking money specifically from their company, and they're not just part of a massive group.
Keep your letters short. As in your phone calls, concentrate on the exposure the company will receive for their money, not on how the money will help you. With large corporations, it's especially true that their marketing budgets are usually much larger than their charitable donations budget. You may come across a few companies that aren't as interested in the publicity; they want to sponsor your event because they truly believe in your organization's mission. They're a very rare—but much appreciated—bunch.
Make sure sponsor benefits are easily found in your letter and they're easy to understand. Consider using bullet points to make the benefits stand out. Make sure your letters include your name, address and phone number, the date and location of the event and the address(es) to send checks and in-kind donations.
Don't be afraid to call potential sponsors to find out their thoughts on sponsorship.
After receiving your letter, some companies will call you to say they're interested in sponsoring. Most will not. It's up to you to follow up with them about two to three weeks after sending your proposal. Some people hesitate to follow up, thinking it will bother the company. Generally most large companies do not accept follow-up calls, so note that when you're making your initial call. But for those that do not mention "no follow-up," it is perfectly OK to do so. In fact, it's the best way to find out that an interested company did not receive your letter.
TIP # 5: NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Don't drop your sponsors once they've agreed to send you money. Don’t drop them after the event either.
The best way to a successful sponsorship relationship is to make a written agreement setting out expectations, roles and responsibilities with each sponsor. Remember to share as much information as possible with your sponsor, for example, audiences achieved, press coverage and reviews. A long-term relationship often flows from a shared vision and good communications.
One of the worst messages to send to a sponsor is: "Hey, I just cared about getting your money. Now that I've got it, I'm going to pretend you don’t exist." Make sure sponsors see that you value their support. Once a company has agreed to sponsor, send them a thank- you letter that recaps the benefits at the level they've chosen. After you receive that check, send another thank-you. If your organization has a newsletter, begin sending it to them. If you don't have a newsletter, send them periodical updates on your organization and/or the event. If a sponsor calls you, make it a point to return their call as soon as possible, and absolutely within 24 hours. If you'll be out of the office for a few days, make sure your voice message directs sponsors to a live person.
Don’t forget your non-sponsoring potential attendees. Perhaps people who weren't able to sponsor may be interested in attending your event.
As your event draws near, send invitations to some of the companies that did not sponsor. A nice little message like, "Even though you weren't able to sponsor us this year, we hope you'll consider attending or volunteering during the event." They may send an employee from the company, see what a great event it is, and make sure money is budgeted next year for sponsorship.
Always send thank-you letters to sponsors after the event. Show them how successful the event was, how much money was raised, the final attendance count, etc. Put together packets that showcase their publicity. Include copies of all the ads they appeared in, photos of their banners at the event, photos of people using their products at the event, etc. If some sponsors had any concerns at any point, give them a call to see how they think things worked out. Even after the final tasks of the event have been taken care of, and that last thank-you has been sent, keep in touch with your sponsors!
Owner of Love My Black, LLC + Eighty5OH8 -Award Winning Blogger/Author | Viral Troublemaker | Mother of One | Brand and PR strategist