10 Step Guide to Cultivating Corporate Sponsors

by Joe Garecht

Corporate Sponsors

Guest Post by Vivanista

Why Cultivate Corporate Sponsors for Your Non-Profit Event?

First, it’s all about relationship-building. Second, in a tough economy the expanding number of nonprofits vying for the same corporate dollars makes the pickings even slimmer. But anyone can enhance their chances of success by following the ten steps outlined here.

1. Determine your target audience:

a.    Research companies with a strong presence within your community and identify those with commitment to your organization’s cause.  This can include:

i.     Corporations headquartered in the region

ii.     Branches of large companies

iii.     Local businesses

iv.     Local sports teams

b.    Make sure you’re going after the right corporate sponsor category.  For example, if it’s a kids’ walk-a-thon you are probably not going to reach out to a luxury brand like Gucci.  Similarly, if it’s a designer fashion show fundraiser soliciting the local bakery is most likely a waste of time.  Moreover, if that local bakery were to sponsor, it will deter a national brand from wanting to affiliate with you.

2. Leverage Personal Relationships:

Ask committee and Board members for contacts they may have at corporations on your list of targeted prospects.

a.    Bring a clipboard with a sign-up sheet to committee and Board meetings so members can list those companies they have a personal connection with.   They very well may also provide suggestions on companies you may not have thought of during your research phase.

b.    Ask committee and Board members whether they’re willing to do the outreach directly, whereby they sign the letter –or- if they prefer letter comes from you with them referenced within the body.

– If one of your members is willing to sign a letter directly, offer to have the letter drafted on their behalf so all they need to do is sign their name.  You then actually put the letters into envelopes and mail. This ensures it gets done. If they want to personalize the letter, we recommend they handwrite a note on the printed letter itself rather than redrafting a new letter, although flexibility is important.

– If a member is merely referenced it would be beneficial if they were willing to make a phone call after the letter was mailed.  On this call they can ensure the recipient received the letter (and read it).  It also acts as an endorsement of the organization and event as well as addresses any questions.

3. Develop your offering:

Prepare a well thought out program that provides a variety of options.

a.    Review previous year’s program

– Obstacles that were overcome

– Pitfalls to avoid

– Successes that are replicable

b.    If possible, provide demographics on your audience:

–  # of guests anticipated (be realistic)

–  # of guests previous year, if applicable

– # of invitees

– Age range

–  Sex (if it’s a luncheon fashion show there are more women, usually, than a black tie Gala)

– Socioeconomic range, if known

If you do not have this information, we suggest doing a short survey through a program such as Survey Monkey (if 10 questions or less there is no cost) as far in advance as possible.  It’s an online survey and the answers can remain anonymous.

c.    Before developing the financial commitment associated with each sponsorship level, there are several considerations to review:

– What sponsorship levels worked in previous years?

– Is there enough benefit differentiation between the various levels?

–  How does your sponsorship offering compare to similar fundraisers?

– How much time is there to promote your sponsors?

d.    Draft the sponsorship levels and what the benefits are to the corporations at each level.  Reference to the sponsors at each level can tie into the event theme or standard ones include:

–  Major Sponsor, Lead Sponsor, Platinum Sponsor.  If a first-time event, could be termed Founding Sponsor.

–  Secondary. Gold Sponsor, ‘Also Sponsored By’

– Silver Sponsor

– Bronze Sponsor

– Other types of sponsorships:  Table sponsor, Activity sponsor i.e. Cocktail Reception, Dinner, Program, etc.

e.    Sponsor benefits usually include acknowledgement in the following ways:

– pre-event promotion

– invitation

–  links to sponsors websites from the event website

– event signage

– verbal thank you at the event

– gift

–  Sponsors usually are offered guest passes to the event, with the number of passes depending on the donor level.  This provides them an opportunity to meet prospective clients as well as a way for them to entertain current clients.

4. Understand Sponsors’ motivations:

a. Brand building: Corporations are willing to sponsor an event if the fundraiser aligns with the key messages a company wishes to communicate.

b. Marketing:  If a sponsor views your guests as viable prospective clients their sponsorship participation can often be derived from marketing dollars reserved for client cultivation.

c. Meets their charitable goals: If your project aligns with their philanthropic efforts you have a better chance of attracting their support.

5. Craft your letter:

a.    Keep your cover letter to one page.

b.    In the first paragraph list anyone associated with your organizations who has a direct relationship.  [For example: Your long-time customer, John Doe, who is on our Board asked me to invite you to be a sponsor of our upcoming fundraising Gala on…]

c.    If there are celebrities or noteworthy community/industry leaders attending mention them in the first paragraph.

d.    Make sure your letter includes the following:

– Name of the event with the date, time and location

–  This year’s theme

– Name of the organization and its mission

– What you want them to do – sponsor

– Your contact information

– When you will call them to follow-up

e.    Have someone proofread your letter before it is sent out to check for grammar, typos, spelling, etc.   If you rely just on your own set of eyes you often miss the smallest of errors.

f.      Make sure your letters are personalized to whomever you are sending them to.  Do not send a letter ‘To Whom It May Concern’.  If you don’t know who the decision maker is at the corporation, do a bit of research to find the CEO who will surely forward your letter to the right person.

6. Outreach:

There are three types of prospects in order of preference.

a.    Previous corporate sponsors.  Note that many corporations choose to sponsor an event only one time so they can spread their reach to a broader audience over the years.  Hence, do not be disappointed if a past Sponsor says No.

b.    Referenced sponsors.  Those personal contacts from your Board or committee are most important for prospective sponsors.

Keep in mind that the personal contacts may not be the final decision maker within the organization.

c.    New sponsors. Commonly referred to as ‘Cold Calls’ since there is no ‘warm lead’.   Usually the most difficult category of prospective sponsors, often solicitation committee members get discouraged.  Turn if from a qualitative process to a quantitative one.  For example: for every twenty letters sent out, your goal could be to get five calls and the one company to request a meeting.  For each meeting, your goal is to convert half to sponsors of your event.

Remember, even if a company turns you down for this coming event, you are building the underpinnings of a future sponsor.

7. Follow-up:

You must assume prospective sponsors will not contact you directly; it is your responsibility to contact them.

a.    Whether you called the prospects before you sent your letter and sponsorship overview or not, always follow-up via phone within five to seven days after the letter was mailed.

b.    If someone does not return your call, that does not mean they have said No to you.  You should continue to call back until you get a positive or negative response.  We recommend spacing the calls three days apart with a minimum of five calls before giving up.  Each time you call have a new piece of information that may be helpful to their decision making process.  For example “Hello, Mr. Doe, I am happy to let you know that XYZ Corporation has signed on to sponsor our event and we hope you will join in the community support of the fundraiser.”

c.    Your goal is not to necessarily get a prospect to say Yes over the phone, although that would be terrific.  Rather, it is to set up an in-person meeting with the appropriate decision maker(s).

Since they, like you, are busy, you should request a meeting of no longer than 30 minutes.  This ensures you get right to the point.  If you get the meeting – be prepared, especially with a sponsor contract ready for signature!

d.    Remember to ‘ask for the order’ –or- ask them to become a sponsor.

8. Be creative:

Customize a sponsorship package that addresses their goals.

a.    Do not take the word ‘No’ as a rejection.  Rather, it is a request for more and/or better information.

b.    Don’t be afraid to tailor a program to meet a sponsor’s needs.  Ask them what their goals are and then try to create something that meets those goals.  For example: merchants want potential customers in their store.

9. Deliver what you promise:

You can never express enough appreciation for the support of corporations with regards to your event. Overdeliver!

a.    Have someone specifically delegated to review each contractual commitment.

b.    Ensure you have done everything you committed to do.

c.    Follow-up after the event with a final thank you.  This will also give you the opportunity to let them know how their participation helped achieve the success of the event.

10. Be passionate:

If you and your committee are enthusiastic about the cause it will shine through and will be infectious to people around you.

a.    Don’t be afraid

b.    A No is not a rejection

c.    Remember to share what you’ve learned with others.  After you’ve been successful at corporate solicitation others can learn from your efforts.

Summary:

Soliciting corporate sponsors is serious business and volunteers who agree to take on the job should break down the responsibilities into manageable tasks.  Being methodical about the job will make it much easier to succeed.

About the Author:  Vivanista is a member-based, lifestyle community for fundraising volunteers. Sharing of unique insights, expert tips and a spirit of giving empowers members to improve their own lives and the lives of others.

Photo Credit: bookgrl

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

E Dowdy March 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm

This information is so helpful! But I have a followup question. I am currently structuring our sponsorships to ensure that they offer comparatively appropriate benefits and real income for our event. Is there a percentage of “profit” that we should aim for at each level? Right now, they each come in at a little more that 50%, with the upper level yielding the most at 65%. Should we be asking for more, giving away less, or is this normal? Last, how do you value “intangibles” like marketing and acknowledgments in creating this calculation? They don’t cost us nothing, but it is difficult to figure their real cost, and nearly impossible to assess their real benefit. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Joe Garecht March 14, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Thanks for your comment! To be honest, there really isn’t any great way to value things like the marketing and PR benefits of sponsoring your event. In my mind, people and companies are giving primarily because they believe in your mission and only secondarily because they are getting sponsorship benefits in return.

I think giving out 65% of the sponsorship price in benefits is high (assuming these are real cost benefits, not marketing benefits… and also that you are pricing free tickets at cost, and not saying that if someone is getting 3 free tickets which normally cost $750 then you are giving away $750 in product… you aren’t. You’re giving away $150 in product, if the cost for catering and space is $50 per ticket). I haven’t ever seen a good recommended average for this number, but it seems to me that is should be more in the 25%-50% range.

Joe

Kerry F May 27, 2014 at 1:35 pm

thank you for all this information it is helpful for sure. I am starting to plan a 5th year corporate anniversary event. My boss has asked that we look for sponsorship from our partners. however I am not 100% clear on what kind of packages we could offer on something like this.
food Station sponsorship, event sponsorship, speciality drink sponsorship, is this something that would interest them to sponsor. How do we put it out there to interest them? I have done many many a sponsorship recruiting for sporting events etc but nothing to this extent for a company.
thank you for any help

Joe Garecht May 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Kerry,

Thanks for your question. It sounds like you are holding an event for a for-profit company, which is different than what we are talking about in this article. For your situation, your best bet is to contact your vendors — the people your company pays money to for goods and services — to ask them to sponsor your anniversary event. What they will get in return is their name “up in lights” and goodwill from your company, which they want, since you pay them every week, month or year.

Joe

Peter A September 12, 2014 at 12:45 am

Great article and thank you for all the advice. :)

Legally speaking, is it okay to refer to sponsors as partners?

Thanks in advance for your response.

Joe Garecht September 15, 2014 at 12:21 am

Peter,

I’m no lawyer, but I don’t see why not… lots of non-profits refer to sponsors and donors as “partners.”

Joe

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