How to Successfully Secure Event Sponsorships

This blog post is by CharityHowTo Expert AJ Steinberg

Event sponsors – you know you want them but aren’t quite sure how to get them. Sometimes they feel as elusive as a winning lottery ticket! Rest assured that potential event sponsors really are out there, and they actually have funds earmarked to spend on events just like yours.

The problem is that these potential sponsors don’t even know your event exists. It is up to you to develop a plan on how to identify and attract these companies to sponsor your fundraiser.

Happily, it doesn’t matter if you are a small shop or the branch of a large international organization, the same fundamental five steps always apply to successfully soliciting and signing on sponsors.

I know this first hand, because for the past two decades my work as a nonprofit event producer has included crafting sponsorship packages that pack a big WOW and teaching my clients the skills necessary to seal the sponsorship deals.

The Five Must-Do Sponsorship Steps listed here are simple to follow and take minimal extra effort or resources. Even better, you can use these steps for all your future sponsorship solicitations across your organization’s development landscape with amazingly successful results!

STEP 1: Think Like a Corporate Executive

In a perfect world all businesses would be kind-hearted and generous, with altruistic motivation spurring their donations and sponsorship decisions. But the fact is that businesses don’t have hearts and souls, and their main obligation is to pump up profits and boost their corporate value for shareholders.

Here is something you should know about sponsorship dollars – they are marketing dollars! The money allocated for sponsorship does not come from a community relationship fund, it comes from the marketing budget. Therefore, you need to create sponsorship packages and marketing materials that will impress the marketing teams of your potential sponsors.

From the corporate perspective, marketing dollars are meant to be an investment that will ultimately bring a business new clients and customers. A company will look at your sponsorship package and ask themselves “Is this a good Return on Investment for our company?”

Return on Investment, commonly known as ROI, basically means how many people will be reached by money invested.

For example: if Coca Cola spends $5 million on a Superbowl advertisement, and 100 million viewers see that ad, the ad’s ROI is 5 cents per viewing. That is an excellent return on Coca Cola’s investment.

Most organizations undersell the value and reach of their sponsorship packages right off the bat. Typically, sponsorship letters say something like “your logo will be included in a sponsor loop and on all event materials.”  This basically tells a company that their logo will be briefly seen at dinner by the 250 guests, and that the logo will be on unspecified, undetermined marketing materials. That ROI certainly won’t excite any executive into investing $10K in marketing dollars to sponsor your event!

However, when you think like a marketing executive and really start use the statistics and verbiage that excite them, you will hit sponsorship gold!

That same 250-person event can present a sponsorship opportunity like this:

This event sponsorship offers the opportunity to have your logo included in our eight pre-event emails blasts which will sent to 10,000 loyal supporters. Your logo will continue to have visibility through our pre-event marketing which includes full-column articles in two local newspapers, each with circulation of 20,000, and a series of tweets and Facebook posts to our 2,500 followers. During the event, your logo will be featured in our Tribute Book, Sponsor Loop during dinner and strategically placed signage throughout the venue. Your logo’s affiliation with our event will continue through our post-event three-touch email sequence and series of social media postings. In total, your sponsorship visibility will reach more than 150,000 members of our loyal support community.

When put in these terms, that $10,000 sponsorship costs them less than 7 cents per person reached. That is attractive ROI! Note that in the paragraph above I have highlighted certain words. These are words common in the marketing world, and the best way to get through to someone is to speak their own language!

STEP 2: Get Creative with Sponsorship Perks

This is the step in the sponsorship process where you can flex your creative muscles and have a little fun.  Here is where you define your financial levels of sponsorship support as well as what perks each level will include.

Typically, organizations choose five monetary levels for sponsorships and give each one a distinct name. The higher the sponsorship monetary level, the fancier the name will be to indicate the heightened importance of that particular sponsorship.

Often organizations choose to go the “Diamond-Platinum-Gold-Ruby-Silver” route to denote sponsorship levels. If your event has a theme you can be more creative and name each level for an element of that particular theme.

For example: if you have a “Starry Night” theme then you can have your levels be named after famous astral stars.

It isn’t unusual for nonprofits to put a lot of thought into coming up with cute names for their sponsorship levels. What is rarer, and far more important, is coming up with appealing packages of perks to be included in each sponsorship level. These bundles of goodies are what potential sponsors care most about when considering whether to purchase a sponsorship.

>> To see samples of Sponsor Packages and their perks, click here.

We call the bundles of perks offered Sponsorship Packages.

If you build your Sponsorship Packages right, putting together the solicitation materials with flair and attention to detail, your sponsorship sales success rate will go through the roof!

The monetary levels you assign to sponsorships should be realistic. You may want to offer a $100,000 sponsorship, but unless your community and past performance warrant that high a price tag you should stick to levels that are achievable. However, it is always good to have one “pie in the sky” top sponsor level that seems like a stretch because you never know when a company will step up and go for the big one!

STEP 3: Create an Irresistible Sponsor Deck

Movie studios spend a fortune creating highly entertaining film previews in hopes that audiences will be intrigued enough to go see their newest movie. They know that these ads, with slick production values and engaging visuals, will ultimately sell tickets.

Similarly, you need a well-produced eye-catching marketing brochure for your event sponsorships. This brochure is known as a Sponsor Deck, and it serves to introduce your sponsorship opportunities to targeted business’ and their executives.

Like a movie trailer, your Sponsor Deck needs to grab attention immediately with bold, appealing graphics. As your Sponsor Deck is read it should tell a compelling story about both your event and your organization. Use quotes from satisfied past sponsors and guests, use lots of photos, and finish it up with the sponsorship levels.

A Sponsorship Deck is an amazing tool to help grab the attention of potential sponsors and impress them with the quality of your sponsorship materials. These businesses know that nonprofits who create remarkable marketing materials will most likely produce remarkable fundraising events. Your Sponsor Deck makes a statement – this organization does things right and is a good investment for a sponsorship.

Your Sponsor Deck should be created in a digital PDF format which you can send to prospects via email, and I like to also print a few dozen glossy hard copies which can be brought to meetings and dropped off at offices.

>> To see samples of some great Sponsorship Decks, click here.

STEP 4: Brainstorm Your Potential Sponsors

Now that you have a top-notch sponsorship deck, you need to figure out which companies and individuals to present it to. This is where you need to do a little sleuth work, and it will pay off big time! This is a similar process that sales people use when they are digging up prospects to solicit.

Start by considering businesses that have supported your organization’s event’s in the past. Some of these might not be a perfect fit for this particular fundraiser, but there are companies that you should put at the top of your prospect list.

Next, hop onto the internet and Google search similar fundraising events in your area. Take a look at the Sponsor pages for these events and take notes on which companies in your area are listed as supporters. All of us professionals who solicit sponsorships use this method of tracking potential sponsors as it gives us a list of prospects who already clearly understand the marketing value of sponsoring events.

Lastly, present the Sponsorship Deck at a board meeting. Be enthusiastic about the event and aim to generate confidence that this event will make the board proud. If you have had past event failures, board members can be hesitant about helping to sell sponsorship and inviting guests as they worry a lackluster event can be an embarrassment. However, your enthusiasm and the impressive marketing materials will help turn them from “oh no, another event” to “this is going to be great!”

After your presentation let them know you will be contacting each board member individually to ask for sponsor prospects. Assure them that they just need to make the initial introduction and then you will follow up and make the sponsorship pitch. This is important as your board members generally don’t want to spend too much time or energy on selling sponsorships!

STEP 5: Get the Right Person to Do the Asking

Asking for money is a tricky business. We are raised to believe it is impolite to ask people for money, and nonprofit professionals spend countless hours learning and perfecting the art of Asking. In truth, soliciting donations and sponsorships is more like salesmanship than it is philanthropy.

Facing that fact, you don’t want to send in an unseasoned layperson to make one of the biggest sales of the year. When it comes to sponsor solicitation meetings, this is the time to get your best sales people to make the pitch, and that person most likely is not a board or committee member.

Now don’t get me wrong, board and committee members are often well connected and, in the brain-storming phase of sponsor prospecting they are invaluable. But there is a big difference between being chummy with a corporate CEO during a weekly golf game and asking that golf buddy for a $25,000 sponsorship for an event.

This is why, when making sponsor solicitation calls, you should always have a member of your staff included in the meeting. This staff member has been trained to promote your organization’s mission, highlight engaging statistics, and generally seal the deal when it comes to contributions. The board or committee member who has the personal or business relationship with the prospect should certainly attend as well, but once the pleasantries have been dispensed with it should be the deft hand of the staff member who steers the conversation towards the sponsorship opportunities being presented.

It should, however, be the board or committee member who makes the first contact with their friend or colleague. A phone call is preferable but in this busy world we live in sometimes and email exchange is the best way to arrange for a visit to discuss your organization and the event.

Prior to the meeting, make sure you spend some time with the board or committee member to review talking points and to determine a strategy of who will speak at what points in the meeting. A well-rehearsed game plan will make the board or committee member feel more comfortable since they won’t personally be asking for money, and your chances of selling the sponsorship are higher when in the hands of your capable, well-trained staff member.

Want to learn more about the steps to securing event sponsorships? Join me for my CharityHowTo webinar, Exceptionally Successful Nonprofit Events: Sponsorship and Monetization, and I’ll guide you, step-by-step!

About the Author

A.J. Steinberg has been creating outstanding special events since 1999. In 2015 A.J. created Queen Bee Fundraising which focuses on the art of nonprofit special event management.  Along with producing nonprofit events, A.J. teaches volunteers and professionals the strategies for producing successful fundraising events, along with guidance on how to successfully lead volunteer committees to achieve their goals.

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