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Robin L. Cabral, MA, CFRE

About Robin

Event Sponsorships: From Prospecting to Solicitation to Stewardship

All of our organizations have some special event each year, if not more than one. We all know that special events are probably the least cost-effective of all fundraising vehicles. It takes approximately fifty cents to raise one dollar.

With that in mind, we know that to meet an event goal we must cover the necessary expenses and determine how best to do that with event sponsorships. It would be advantageous for an event to have all of its costs covered by sponsorships. All ticket sales then become “gravy,” or profit.

Most of the groups that I work with today often leave a lot of money on the table because they genuinely don’t know how to identify, solicit, and steward their event sponsorships.

This fact was also true of me when I first started in the field. I learned by doing, and then doing it again. Over the years, I honed my experience through using best practices and through personal creativity.

The results of what I share below are based on decades of personal experience in the field. I am here to save you time, energy, and resources, all the while helping you to raise more money through event sponsorships. Go ahead, learn by my mistakes. Why should you face hassles in your work to try to figure out the best way to maximize corporate sponsorships? I did the job for you!

“How Do I Best Maximize and Leverage My Sponsors for Success?”

So, I often get asked, “How do I best maximize and leverage my sponsors for success?” In this article, I share with you the steps that you need to take from prospecting to stewardship to make your event sponsorships all that they can possibly be. Just follow these simple step-by-step instructions to start raising more event sponsorships.

Targeted Sponsors and Sponsorship Levels

First, you need two things that will go hand in hand:

  • Who are your targeted sponsors? Are they a list of those who have supported you in the past? Are there new sponsors on the list? What do you know about these sponsors? What is in it for them (WIIFT)?
  • What are your sponsorship levels? Are these levels attractive to your targeted sponsors? Again, WIIFT?

If you don’t have a list of targeted sponsors available, then you need to develop one. You would create this list in the same way that you would develop any donor prospect list. Determine the likely sources in your community and what causes they are supporting. Compile all those who have supported you in the past. Determine what has motivated them to become sponsors and help your organization. You now have a prospective sponsors list.

Now, onto creating meaningful benefits. This is where the “rubber meets the road ,” as they say.

So, how can you think about sponsorships so that they are to your benefit?

Rule of thumb: Assume that you will raise at least 50 percent of your overall fundraising goal through sponsorships (if not more). Therefore, if you want to raise $25,000 from your event, your sponsorship goal should be in the $12,500+ range.

Here are some thoughts on how to enhance top-level sponsor benefit packages:

  • Exclusive sponsor branding based on their interests and discussions
  • Corporate executive to speak at the event
  • Give them some form of event VIP participation (i.e., VIP seating or “Behind the Scenes” Reception, reserved seating, etc.)
  • Corporate naming right for other possible sponsorship items (i.e., reception, dinner, program, etc.)
  • Radio spots or joint appearances pre-event
  • Inclusion of a sponsor representative as an event chair or co-chair, or at least part of the committee
  • Logo or mention on event invitation
  • CEO photo and welcome message on the website or other event materials
  • Sponsor-related incentives or giveaways
  • Use of your brand logo on their company e-communications and print communications to employees, their PR, etc.
  • Provide them with a gift
  • Place a stewardship ad in their trade publication thanking them post event
  • Link to sponsor’s website from your website, social media, etc.
  • Consider highest sponsor level as possible event co-chair or chair

Also, in addition to the Gold, Silver, and Bronze levels, you may want to think about having sponsors for such things as:

  • VIP Cocktail Reception
  • VIP Auction Preview Beverage Sponsor (Open Bar)
  • Dinner Sponsor
  • Entertainment Sponsor
  • Dessert Sponsor
  • Program Sponsor
  • Décor Sponsor
  • Table Wine Sponsor
  • Host Bar Sponsor
  • Title or Event Sponsor – the entire event, usually only one available
  • Media Partners – who tend to provide in-kind media

Surely, with these types of sponsorships, the details and logistics of the event will drive the possible sponsorship opportunities that can be made available.

Also, consider having co-sponsors and, perhaps, offering “Category Exclusivity” to your sponsorship levels.

What we must remember with sponsorships is that businesses give out of their corporate marketing budgets and the generous incentive will be less of a motivator. Also, all corporate benefit levels need to be custom tailored to ensure that you are providing the sponsors with a WIIFT benefit or motive. You need to be able to explain how they will be able to reach their custom market audience through event demographics and marketing reach for each proposed benefit.

Sponsorship Ratings and Rankings

Once you have your prospect list and your sponsorship opportunities outlined, you should rate and rank your sponsorship list. Determine the prospect with the highest degree of interest in your cause, as well as the prospect with the most significant capacity. Once you have rated and ranked your prospective sponsor list, you now know who to approach and when.

You then take that list and segment it according to who needs to be asked in person (i.e., those from whom you are seeking the most significant gift).

I do not recommend that you solicit everyone using the same standard method. Sending out a sponsorship letter outlining the benefits, and hoping for the best, rarely works according to plan.

Segment out those top prospective sponsors and schedule a meeting with them. Just as you need to ask your major donors in person for a gift, you need to do the same with your major prospective sponsors.

Include those who you have targeted for potential upgrade sponsorships. Perhaps you have some tried and true sponsors who have been giving at a lower level, and now you want to ask them to consider supporting you at a higher level. With custom-tailored WIIFT sponsorship benefits, you also need to do this upgrade using more personal asks.

Once you have segmented your major donors and prospective upgrades, you can then mail your sponsorship letter and benefit levels to the rest.

As everything in fund development is relational, so is sponsorship. Determine who has relationships with your major donors and then leverage those relationships so that you can ask in person for a sponsorship. Very rarely does a “cold call” work with sponsorships.

Follow-up Prospect Communication Strategies

Once you have your visits made and your letters out, you can’t just stop there. Far too often, groups end there, and I find that can be the biggest mistake made. I recommend that you consider having some robust follow-up strategies in place. This is the point where my early starts often ended up turning into stops. But, as I grew into a fundraising professional, I realized that this is a crucial position in the process and began using the steps below to transform my success rate.

For one, if you haven’t heard back from a sponsor, I would not consider it “The End.” One of the most common statements that I have heard in my fundraising career, when doing corporate sponsorship follow-up, is, “I don’t recall getting anything from your organization. Can you resend the information?”

Count on having to resubmit the information and find out exactly who is the “point” person to whom you need to be sending it directly. Once you have that “point” person, you can now direct your attention to someone specifically and have a better chance of a result.

After resending the information or making your initial call, I recommend that you have a set deadline in mind as to when you need to secure sponsorships. Use that deadline urgency during your calls.

If it is a past sponsor, you may want to remind them of that deadline. And, demonstrate how their sponsorship was used and the impact that they may have received from it.

Continue to be diligent about follow-up. It is all in the monitoring. And, be ready with potential objections. Sometimes what you will hear from a potential sponsor is that “we don’t have any money in the budget.”

That objection is a very valid one. The fact is that most businesses plan out their marketing budgets in the fourth quarter of each year. So you want to be sure that you are in contact with businesses either before, or while, those decisions are being made in the fourth quarter. You may want to ask a sponsor directly, “When does your business determine its marketing budget?” And, they will tell you. Make a note of these important deadlines. If the budget is spent there is nothing that you can do at this point.

One possible incentive that businesses look towards is how they can work with you to custom tailor sponsorship levels. Be prepared to have this discussion and don’t discredit a sponsor who wants to entertain this. Rigidity in these cases will not get you far – they will only result in lack of sponsorship. I highly recommend that you urge that this customization happen for your major sponsor prospects.

“How Do I Manage and Cultivate My Sponsors?”

Managing Sponsor Benefits

Once you have secured your sponsorships, you now need to begin to “manage” or “administer” their benefits. The worst thing that can happen is that you promise a sponsor a great deal and then never follow through on it. This is something you should avoid at all costs.

I prefer to create a spreadsheet that lists out all of the promised benefits, and then I use that spreadsheet to track each sponsor and whether or not their interests have been fulfilled. How you choose to monitor the benefits is up to you. However, you do need some type of system in place to ensure that everyone receives what they are promised by the organization.

The worst scenario is that a sponsor is attending your event and cannot find their promised “VIP Table” or, even worse, their banner. Be sure to make a list and check it twice, or even a third time to ensure that everyone has what they have been promised. Otherwise, you may not get that sponsor, as well as others, back for your next event.

Post-Event Stewardship

You have made it this far. The event is over. Everything went off without a resounding hitch. Now what? Well, sponsorships do not stop there. You must now move into stewardship mode for future cultivation.

Collect essential event statistics, such as the number of people who attended; event-attendee demographics; your marketing reach via email, social media, print, radio, and other methods; and, the impact this event is having on your constituents.

Once you have compiled all of this information, it is now time to report back to your sponsors. Let them know what they have made possible and how their contribution has been widely used, both from their marketing perspective and by having an impact on a constituent’s life and a community need.

Provide a report back to each sponsor on their marketing reach, impact, and your gratitude for their support. This report should go out as soon as the event is over or as soon as you can reasonably compile all of this information. For some higher-end sponsors, you may want to consider more individualized touches to express your gratitude and relay their impact. This might include an in-person meeting, telephone call, etc.

Just because a sponsor has chosen to give to you through their marketing budget, and while it is an investment in their marketing efforts, you should also look at it as a philanthropic investment and treat it accordingly by using that perspective for stewardship purposes.

I would also continue to keep these sponsors in your organization’s “fold” by sending updates, newsletters, and other correspondence to further cultivate them for a potential future ask.

Additionally, you may also want to sit down with a select number of sponsors. Ask them for their thoughts and opinions on your recent event to get some precious feedback. This can help you plan to meet your sponsor's needs in the future. This meeting can also serve further cultivation. What sponsors would not want to be asked what they thought of their experiences, especially if they see that you incorporated their ideas in the future? You can also do this for the rest of your sponsors. Email or send a simple survey asking for event sponsorship feedback.

While we all have events, why not do the best that we can with them — especially event sponsorships. They are, indeed, the workhorses of our fundraising events. And, for events to be successful, we need to maximize sponsorship impact by raising as much money as possible to cover all event expenses.

How will you use this information to maximize and set-up your sponsorships for success?

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