How to Renew and Upgrade 95%+ of Your Event Sponsors Year After Year

by Joe Garecht

Recycling Donors

If you are holding an annual event (one that your organization holds each year), the first step in signing up sponsors for the event is sponsor renewal – the best sponsor prospects for your event are those companies and individuals who have previously sponsored the event.  I highly recommend that you try to upgrade your sponsors each year until you reach the point where they cannot go any higher based on their financial ability.

For example, if someone sponsored your event at the $2,500 level last year, ask them to consider the $5,000 level this year.  They can always say no and stay at the $2,500 level, but it is rare that a sponsor will talk you up to the $5,000 level if you ask her to donate at the $2,500 level.

Here is the successful multi-step process I use for sponsor renewals:

#1 – Assigning Levels

First, I build a list of all of the companies, organizations and individuals who have sponsored the event in the past three years, and assign target sponsorship levels to each of them.  This is how much we are going to ask them for this year.

#2 – The Sponsor Renewal Letter

Then, I send out a sponsor renewal letter to each of the past sponsors asking them to consider renewing or upgrading their sponsorship for this year’s event.  I like to send this letter out 6-8 months prior to this year’s event to give the donors time to get the necessary company approvals, etc., as well as to build a base of financial support for the event well in advance of the time when vendor payments will be due.

As part of this letter, I thank the sponsors for their past support of the event, let them know our ambitious goals for this coming event, and make a direct ask for sponsorship renewal.  I ask the donors make a sponsorship pledge, with the option of paying now or receiving an invoice from the organization one month prior to the event.  Depending on the organization, we sometimes also offer additional benefits for early renewal, such as extra signage at the event, extra VIP tickets, etc.

(Our fundraising events class includes sample sponsor renewal letters and scripts)

#3  – Follow Up Calls

Approximately 3 weeks after the letters are sent out, I gather together a team of staff, board members and/or volunteers (depending on the resources of the organization) to make follow up calls to every past sponsor who has not yet sent in their renewal form for the coming year.  Most non-profits who use sponsor letters skip this step, yet making personal phone calls is one of the most effective tactics you can use to secure sponsors for your event.

The call script generally goes something like this:

“Hi, Regina, this is Jim calling from Rockledge Hospital, how are you?  I’m calling to see if your received our letter about the 10th Annual Purple Tie Ball.  Did you receive it?  Good.  We’re so grateful for your continued support of the hospital and the poorest families in our community.  This year is our 10th anniversary ball, and we’d like to make it our biggest and best ever.  Would you be willing to serve as a sponsor again this year at the $5,000 level?”

Be sure that your calls include definite, concrete asks.  Once you make your ask, wait for the person to respond.  Give them the time they need to think through their answer, and resist the urge to keep talking to fill the silence.

#4 – The Event Invitation

I always include sponsorship options on the event invitations for the events I am coordinating, and I always include all previous sponsors on the mailing list for our invitations.  This means that if someone did not renew their sponsorship through our renewal mailing or the follow-up calls, they have one last opportunity to do so through the event mailing.  For sponsors that have renewed, we generally still send them an official invitation but include a note inside confirming that they have already reserved a sponsorship and that either (a) their payment has been received or (b) their payment is now due.

Don’t be shy about reaching out to sponsors who have made pledges but have not sent in a check as the event approaches.  In many cases, businesspeople will have gotten caught up in their work and simply forgotten about sending in the check.  Reach out to them by phone to remind them to do so.

Photo Credit: Chris Potter

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