How to Get (and keep) Sponsors for an Event: 14 Tactics to Increase Your Event Sponsorship Dollars
Event Sponsorship Best Practice
In my experience, we focus all of our time asking how to get sponsors for an event and not enough time asking our prospects what they are looking for. If you are in the charitable sector, you no doubt have a calendar full of walk/runs, golf, volleyball, dodge ball, lawn bowling and any other fundraising event you can think of. In addition to running an insane number of events, you are also in prep mode for your signature event just around the corner. Events are everywhere and whether or not you are in the charitable sector, private sector, associations or a sports club…you run events! If you are going to run them, why not make as much as you possibly can from them?
If you are actively running fundraising events then you are also in fulfillment, activation and follow-up mode. With fall right around the corner, our private sector prospects are looking at next year’s budget, which means that you will be running this year’s gala while selling sponsorship for next year’s event! Exhausted? Terrified? Overwhelmed? Don’t be! In this post I am going to focus on some core strategies that you can implement immediately to make seeking sponsorship more successful and more enjoyable. I have broken this post into three phases: Before the event, During the Event and After the Event. Let’s dive in and let me show you how to get sponsors for an event!
How to Get (and keep) Sponsors for an Event:
6 – 8 Months Before the Event
Build a Relationship Before you Submit a Proposal
Want to know how to create a sponsorship proposal? Ask your sponsors! Event sponsorship is a marketing investment and impact is measured by bottom line ROI but the old adage still applies: people do business with people they like. Your prospects will measure their investment against their company’s marketing strategy which means they are relying on you to deliver, and trusting you to do what you say you will. Get to know your prospects and invest the time to build a relationship of trust because when a prospect likes and trusts you then they want to do business with you.
Use the Advice Visit to Write Your Event Sponsorship Letter
When I am trying to determine my event sponsorship levels I call my prospect and I ask them for a few minutes to ask their advice. Advice on what? Well, that depends. If they are experts in networking events, then I want their advice on how to make sure we have a stellar networking component to our event. If they sponsor tons of golf tournaments, then I want their advice on approach and how to make a good sponsorship experience. Sometimes, most of the time, I want their advice on what their company values. If they hate branding but love speaking opportunities, then I want to know this early on and the only way to get this information is to ask for it.
Never Lead With the Event Sponsorship Package
This is arguably the most important strategy of all. Why? Because if you implement this rule, everything else falls into place. How can you convince a prospect that you want to get to know them if you start with a document designed to tell them about what you want? What’s the sense in asking for advice when you’ve already designed the proposal and sponsorship package before ever meeting the prospect? Most important of all “send me a sponsorship proposal” is top secret fundraising speak for “no thanks!” When you start with the sponsorship proposal or sponsorship letter you go right to “no thanks.”
Event Sponsorship Levels are Old School
Slotting everyone into predetermined event sponsorship levels like “Gold, Silver, Bronze” violates all of the tips mentioned here. No prospect wakes up in the morning hoping someone will sell them a “bronze package” but rather they know they want branding, speaking and product giveaway opportunities. As you get to know your prospects they will tell you what they value and I guarantee you will rarely hear “do you have any silver packages left?” Determine a menu of what you have to offer your sponsors and let them choose what works for them and then you can package that together under your various levels. Having sponsorship levels is a convenient way to group your sponsors but is not in and of itself a sales tool- you are!
Know your Value
Want to know how to get sponsors? Know your value first! I think people opt for the “Gold, Silver, Bronze” approach because they don’t know what their sponsorship assets are worth. Most valuation exercises start and end by looking at the events of similar charities and simply copying them. Avoid this at all costs. Instead, determine the value of everything from a tweet, to a branded e-mail, to product giveaways. This way when a prospect asks you how you decided title sponsorship is worth X, you have an answer ready and you can back it up with your numbers. You also avoid selling some really valuable opportunities for too little.
Find the Warm Prospect!
I am asked all the time by clients and colleagues, which company is the best fit for title sponsorship and my answer is always the same: “the one where you have a warm contact.” Is brand alignment, target market and your audience’s buying power important? Absolutely! But these things don’t matter if you can’t even get a meeting. Start with your board to ask them for contacts and if you use strategies #1 and #2 in your approach, you will be surprised how many contacts you can pull together. When you build your event sponsorship committee, make sure you include a group of connected people to take on the sponsorship portfolio. Your time is better spent creating a situation where people will make introductions for you than on the phone all day cold calling prospects (though there is a place for this too).
Companies that Sponsor Events are Demanding! Be Ready!
Once you sell a sponsorship package to a prospect, the real work begins. Use your sponsorship proposal to immediately create a fulfillment and activation strategy, even before you ask your prospect for their logo! Make a simple chart outlining everything you’ve agreed to do along with a due date and who will take the lead on fulfilling each piece so that you don’t miss any of the details. The activation strategy will reappear in the second and third part of this series. Implement these seven steps and I promise that you will find working with your event sponsorship prospects a far more enjoyable experience and your sponsors will enjoy the process more too.
How to Get (and keep) Sponsors for an Event:
During the Event
In keeping with the theme of a relationship based approach to building a sponsorship proposal, let’s look at the day of the event as the next key access point to your sponsors. I am often asked for unique fundraising ideas from colleagues and always give the same advice: creative fundraising ideas are great but let’s master the basics of event sponsorship first! Event sponsorship is like a roller coaster ride- full of ups and downs, terror and excitement. Once you’ve created a sponsorship proposal, defined your sponsorship levels and closed your sponsor, and done so by your deadline to go to print, sell tickets and order the branded products for the event, you feel the excitement of making it over the first big climb of the roller coaster. What happens after you’ve crested the first hill and survived the free fall? More dips and loops of course! It happens every time, “great!” you say “I’ve made budget! Now all I have to do is fill the room, arrange speaking points, set up booths and hope for traffic, brand the wine…” the list goes on and on. This doesn’t have to be a stressful process, and if you use these five strategies for your next fundraising event, it won’t be. Try these tips and enjoy the roller coaster ride:
Activate, Activate, Activate!
What good is the right for your sponsor to use your logo, sit at the head table, give attendees a free sample and address the crowd if they never do it? Further, there is a cost to activating a sponsorship package and if your sponsor isn’t ready for it, you’re in trouble. It’s your job as the sponsorship expert to make sure that your sponsors take full advantage of the custom package you’ve made for them. On the day of the event, come prepared with a checklist of the benefits you promised your sponsors and personally make sure you have delivered on each one.
Keep Your Event Sponsors Happy
You want to make your sponsors feel like gold at the event but more than that, you want them to see your event as a valuable event for them to achieve their business goals. When I work with sponsors, I always ask them who they want to meet at the event and I also ask them to describe the type of prospect they look for at events like this. I then make another checklist of who I can introduce to my sponsors. I also give my CEO and board members a list of sponsors, their tables and individual names and do a pre fundraising event huddle to determine who will talk to which sponsor. My goal is to have my sponsors walk away feeling like they got good value in terms of their branding, speaking and product goals but also that our event is a must attend because they made powerful business contacts, facilitated entirely by the host charity.
How to Get (and keep) Sponsors for an Event:
After the Event
What you do after the event is an incredibly important part of the sponsorship proposal In fact, I would argue that it’s the most important part of the process. Why do I say this? I have yet to hear a fundraiser or event planner tell me that they ran a great fundraising event, brought in tonnes of sponsorship and their boss told them not to increase revenue next year. As the saying goes “fundraising is a pie eating contest where the reward is more pie!” What does next year’s growth have to do with this year’s event? Well, if you have a 50% attrition rate and you are expected to raise even more money next year, you’re in trouble! What if there was a way to keep all of your event sponsorship partners year after year, meaning that to increase revenue by 10% you only had to find one more sponsor? A dream come true right? This is why the post event follow up is so important. Good follow up can prevent sponsor attrition, lead to better, more tailored sponsorship packages and happier sponsors. We all know that happy sponsors take less work, tell their friends and move up the sponsorship ladder. Here are the most important post event activities to keep your sponsors happy and raise more sponsorship dollars!
The Magic of Saying “Thank You”
When someone does something nice for you, you say thank you. I know you already thanked your sponsors 1000 times before and during the event. You made sure you thanked them before they left and so did your board chair and CEO. Good! Now send them a quick e-mail, phone call or thank you card within 24 hours of the event. Tell them you loved the event and that you heard great feedback and, most importantly, that you couldn’t have done it without them. Short, sweet and direct. In that note, call or ask them for 15 minutes in preparation for Tip #2 below.
Wow Your Event Sponsors with the Fulfillment Report
We’ve discussed building an activation strategy so that you don’t miss any of the promised sponsorship benefits. You spent all that time and energy taking pictures of logos, signage, speaking opportunities and product placement…now show it to your sponsors! Using your activation strategy, custom sponsorship package and all of the collateral from the event, create your fulfillment report. Use any format that speaks to you but keep it simple. Prove to your sponsors that you did what you said you would and before you meet with them, send them a copy of the fulfillment report.
The Event is Over but you Still Have Work to Do!
The minute your event wraps up you have two weeks before you are completely forgotten by your sponsors. You need to get on their radar within 24 hours to thank them and secure the advice visit. You then have a few days to get them a fulfillment report so they have it in time for the meeting. You want to capitalise on their excitement and the fact that the event is fresh in their minds.
Pre-Sell Next Year’s Event Sponsorship
I know what you’re thinking…way too soon to do this. I disagree. If you did everything you said you would a the event and during the lead up, introduced them to leaders in the community and delivered a fulfillment report then you have earned the right to ask them for the sale. You’ve proven you are a trustworthy partner and on their side- in fact, they want to be asked! This is no ordinary ask though. In this situation, ask you sponsors what they would change for next year. When they tell you, ask them if you can make this happen for next year, will they come back? Unless something went horribly wrong (which of course it didn’t because you read these articles!) their response will be a resounding YES! Ask them when they typically decide on their budget and ask for their permission to submit an updated proposal with the new pieces you’ve discussed. You now have a new deal, if you can deliver on an updated, highly tailored package then they will make sure that you are in the budget for next year. This process is more work than the typical transactional relationship where we talk to them only during proposal time, if at all! Is it really more work though? I would argue that bringing in new sponsors every year to replace the sponsors you keep losing is far more work and far riskier than taking a strong relationship based approach with your partners. What’s true in individual giving is often true in cause marketing: it is far cheaper to keep a donor (or sponsor!) than to find a new one.
Ask for a Referral!
Before you end the meeting, ask your sponsors who else they think you should be talking to. Ask them if there is someone in their network or who they do business with that would enjoy your approach to sponsorship and want to reach your audience. Not only will you keep your sponsors with this approach but you may find you’ve met your new business goals before the new fiscal opens. Give it a try and see how it works! Questions? Leave them in the comments below!
About the Author
Chris Baylis is an expert in sponsorship valuation and sponsorship strategy. Chris works with brands and sponsorship properties to define their sponsorship goals, determine market value of their sponsorship assets and create strategies that work. Chris is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and an international speaker and consultant on all things sponsorship marketing.