How to Ask for Sponsorship for an Event
You need sponsorship for an upcoming event. You wish you could just shout this from the rooftops and see who responds, but that’s not how it works. In sponsorship, as in many things in life, you must be willing to ask for what you need, but how?
Here is how to ask for sponsorship for an event:
- Be sure about your event needs
- Find the right people
- Decide whether to call or send an email
- Set up a meeting
- Know how and when to follow up
By following the above steps, you can ensure you’re seeking sponsorship the right way. This will increase your chances of hearing a yes (or even several) from sponsors so your event can be successful. Keep reading for actionable information that will establish a strong foundation for your sponsorship program.
Follow These 5 Steps to Ask for Sponsorship for an Event
Be Sure about What You Need
This first step might sound silly, because of course you know what you need from a sponsor: money! Yet is money all that your company would be willing to accept? In this post, I outlined 15 services outside of cash that sponsors can offer. I recommend you read over the post and see what on that list appeals to you. You might then decide that hey, you need some of those things as well such as vendor connections or branding.
If you do just want money, then you must take the time to put some research into your event so you know how much money to request. Hosting a gala might cost between $10,000 and $15,000 as a baseline, but yours might be more expensive. You could even come in with an estimate of slightly less than that. Hosting a convention is far costlier, anywhere from $175,000 to $325,000. Again, those are just averages and not indicative of what your specific event might cost.
If your event is in the beginning stages and you don’t know whether your lighting guy’s services will be $2,000 or $6,000, I’d advise you to err on the side of caution and round up. Do the same for all the services you need. Then compare the cost of your event to events similar. If yours is far more expensive, ask yourself why and see which costs you can bring down.
Next, determine how much money–if any–your company can personally put into your event. Let’s say your event will cost $25,000 and you can chip in $5,000. Well, you’re still $20k short, so that’s how much money you’d hope to receive from a sponsor.
I’ve said this on the blog before, but I think it bears repeating now. Please don’t tell a sponsor you need $10,000 when you know your event will cost $20,000 because you think you’re being polite. Unless you have another sponsor who will give you $10k or you can come up with that money elsewhere, you’re going to end up very short because you were too nice.
You know who suffers from decision-making like that? Your event attendees, because now you can’t put on an event of the caliber you had been hoping for. It’s not worth it to beat around the bush!
Sponsors are like you and me in that they don’t like to have their time wasted. When you finally meet with the sponsor and talk money, they’ll appreciate a clear estimate.
Find the Right People
You did some numbers-crunching and came up with a reasonable total for what your event will cost. Now it’s time to move on to the next phase of obtaining sponsorship, and that’s figuring out who you’ll ask.
Unless you’re a sponsorship advisor like me, then any company that’s involved in sponsorships doesn’t only do that. They have plenty of other departments within their organization as well. You need to find the person or people within the sponsorship department. Otherwise, you’re just cold-calling or cold-emailing the receptionist, and that will result in crickets.
I recommend using LinkedIn to figure out who’s who in the sponsor company. You can also talk amongst your own network. Ask your colleagues if they know anyone at the sponsor company; they could surprise you and say yes, they do. If no one within your company has any leads, then it’s time to pull out your business contacts list and start making phone calls and sending emails.
It’s a smaller world than you’d think. If you have a robust enough contacts list, I’m sure that sooner or later, someone will know someone else at the sponsor company. They could even have a direct line so you don’t have to call the main phone number and wait for a secretary to connect you.
I do want to caution you that having someone in common at the sponsor company doesn’t guarantee sponsorship. That would be too easy. What it does do is increase the likelihood that the target sponsor will want to speak to you. If you can at least get a meeting with the target sponsor, then you’re on the right track.
Decide Whether to Call or Send an Email
I know I talked a lot about calling the sponsor company in the last section, but that’s not your only option. You can also send an email. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, so you have to do some thinking about which will be the best way to reach out.
For example, emailing is great because you don’t have to talk on the phone. However, you do have to take the extra time to come up with a subject line. You can also spend a lot of time on an email writing and rewriting it. Phone calls are useful because they’re more immediate. You don’t have to wait hours or days to hear back; it’s usually pretty instant. Yet making a good impression on a stranger when you’re not face to face can be daunting for some.
I want to provide some guidance in this section for writing initial emails to the target sponsor. My first piece of advice is this: do not include your sponsorship proposal in the first email. This can confuse some clients of mine. After all, didn’t you write the sponsorship proposal for it to be seen by the target sponsor? So why not send it in an email?
The short answer is that the sponsor doesn’t want to see it yet. They don’t know you (even if you have someone in common) and their interest just isn’t there. If you can build that interest, then the target sponsor will ask to see your proposal. They’ll also pore over it with the attention it deserves. Until then, sit on it.
So what goes into your initial sponsorship email? First, there’s the subject line, then the body. Let’s talk about how to write both.
Writing a Sponsorship Email Subject Line
Writing compelling subject lines that inspire a recipient to open an email is something that even marketers struggle with. If you have no marketing experience (or very little), how are you supposed to come up with a subject line that resonates with the target sponsor?
There’s no need to try to be funny or mysterious or use emojis in your subject line. Instead, keep it straightforward. Here are some ideas from another post of mine on this topic that can come in handy. Using your mutual connection to intrigue the target sponsor to open the email, you can write something like: [Mutual connection name] recommended I reach out. Yes, that simple.
If you met the target sponsor in the past, then try something such as: Met at [place/event], let’s connect! These subject lines are short and to the point and don’t have any flourishes, i.e., emojis. They’re effective in their brevity.
Writing the Body of a Sponsorship Email
You’re only halfway done. Now you have to write the body of your introductory email. You know better than to attach your sponsorship proposal to the email body, so what exactly should you say? Not much! In The Tactical Guide to Selling More Sponsorship, I recommend keeping your email body limited to no more than three sentences.
Shorter really is better here. As I said before, the target sponsor doesn’t know you, so they’re not going to do you any favors yet. A three-sentence email takes less than a minute to read, so the target sponsor isn’t wasting their time by giving your email some consideration.
How can you possibly convey your point in so few sentences? In the guide, I have several sample emails that get the point across just fine. Let’s say you wanted to go in with an inquisitive email before asking about sponsorship outright. In that case, your subject line might be something like this: Had an idea for [insert product or service].
Then, in the body, here’s what you could write.
Any chance you could suggest the best contact for those in the product X side at your company?
Even if you don’t have a contact at the sponsorship company, you can still write a short and sweet email in the same vein. Here’s a template:
I saw on LinkedIn that you’re involved in [insert product or service] and I would love to connect and ask your thoughts about a new project I’m working on. Are you free tomorrow at [time]?
Again, this email is flattering. You’re making out the target sponsor to be the expert that you’re seeking advice from. These kinds of emails are harder to resist because they boost the target sponsor’s ego.
The direct approach in this email is also great. After all, the whole point of talking to the sponsor right now is to secure a meeting. If it doesn’t take you five games of telephone or a back-and-forth email string to schedule the meeting, this saves more time for both you and the target sponsor.
Set up a Meeting
You’re at the stage now where you’ll soon gear up for your first sponsorship meeting. The meeting might be in person, but it can just as well take place over a video call or even on the phone. If you sent a direct email like in the template I shared in the last section, then you’d suggest a time and the sponsor will either agree to that time or mention one that works better for them.
With the meeting agreed to, now it’s time to get to work. I would hope that you would have completed your audience research, as your audience data is key to increasing your sponsorship sales. You should have already sent out an audience survey to learn more about the geographics, demographics, and psychographics or behavioral motivations of your audience. Having this information allows you to frame your audience in such a way that’s enticing to the target sponsor.
You should have already gathered an assets list as well. You will have valuated your assets, ensuring you did so fairly and accurately so the sponsor is willing to purchase from your sponsorship package. If you skipped any of those steps, then you might want to push back your meeting with the sponsor, as you’re not ready.
What you want to do as the meeting date nears is prepare a list of discovery questions. As I always say, the first meeting is not about making the sponsorship sale, but getting to know one another. You’ll size up the target sponsor as much as they’ll size you up. Discovery questions help you realize if your partnership with the target sponsor is a good match.
Some questions that you might ask of the target sponsor include:
- Can you tell me about your sales goals for the coming year?
- Who is your target audience?
- What does your target market value?
- How do you normally engage in sponsorship?
- What type of advertising are you involved in now and are you happy with it?
The link in the paragraph above has 37 discovery questions to peruse, of which you only need about five, maybe seven. You can use the exact questions I bulleted or come up with your own. Insert the questions naturally into the conversation or save them for the end, that’s your choice.
I wrote a detailed post about how to talk to sponsors during the first meeting that will come in handy during this stage. Let me recap that information so you’re fully prepared for what’s to come.
- It’s not all about business. When you go in, you might share a joke or an icebreaker to get the conversation moving and put both you and the target sponsor at ease.
- A firm handshake and eye contact never go out of style.
- Leave the sponsorship proposal at home. Bring a blank notebook and a pen or pencil to take notes.
- Try to memorize your discovery questions, but if you can’t, write them down on a piece of paper and take that with you.
- Skip the sales spiel and other unwanted sales tactics during this first meeting. Remember, it’s just about getting to know one another!
Know How and When to Follow up
Before your first meeting with the target sponsor ends, you should ask them about the next steps. They probably won’t say they want to see your sponsorship proposal at this point, but that’s okay. Instead, the target sponsor might request that you put together documentation about your event such as an opportunity outline. Have this documentation ready for the second meeting, which you should have scheduled while still with the target sponsor.
I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have another meeting on the horizon before the current one ends. If you go back to the office without a date set in stone, you can lose contact with the target sponsor, who will get busy with other projects. What could have been a promising deal then stalls out.
Between the second and third meetings, the target sponsor will likely ask for your sponsorship proposal, so now it’s time to produce it. Once the sponsorship proposal is in the hands of the target sponsor, you’ll have to play the waiting game. I hope you’re not waiting long, but it’s hard to say how long it will be.
If a week goes by and you hear nothing, then it’s time to follow up. If you’ve primarily emailed with the target sponsor this whole time, then you should continue using email. The same applies if you’ve talked on the phone.
Sometimes the situation is that the target sponsor is keen, but they haven’t had time to look at your proposal. They’ll appreciate the nudge. In other cases, the sponsor has a lot on their plate and they forgot they had the proposal to even look at. Yet in some instances, the target sponsor doesn’t want to tell you no, so they say nothing at all.
This is just like when you apply for a job, you have a promising interview, and then you never hear anything back. If a week or two has passed without any word and you’ve followed up more than twice, then you have to realize that silence is its own answer, and that answer is no.
Since you have an event on the horizon, you cannot afford to waste too much time waiting around for a sponsor. You must be willing to go through the above process all over again with another target sponsor until you find the right one.
Asking for sponsorship for an event is a relatively straightforward process, but there are many pitfalls on the way that can prevent you from achieving your goal. I hope the guidance in this article strengthens your sponsorship program even further so you can start hosting the events you’ve always dreamed of!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.