How to Find Corporate Sponsorship for an Event

It’s that time of year again, the month where you always host your annual company event. Last year, you had a small, little-known sponsor, and that went well enough, but this year, you’ve set your sights a little higher. You want to pursue corporate sponsorship for your event, as this will mean more publicity and likely more funding as well. How do you win corporate sponsorship?

Follow these tips to find corporate sponsorship for an event:

  • Have clearly-defined event fundamentals, include targeted goals
  • Choose viable target sponsors based on your own contacts
  • Research the target sponsor to better understand their goals
  • Send out an audience survey to define your target audience
  • Create an assets list in a customized sponsorship package
  • Put together your sponsorship proposal and save it for later
  • Contact the sponsor for meetings
  • Request sponsorship and hope for a yes

Corporate sponsors are their own animal. It’s harder to break into this area of sponsorship due to the size and reputation of some corporate brands, but with the tips above, you’ll be one step closer to finding a corporate sponsor in time for your event!

Follow These 8 Steps to Secure Corporate Sponsorship for Your Next Event

Have Clearly-Defined Event Fundamentals, Include Targeted Goals

If your event is still a few months out, no target sponsor is going to expect you to have every last detail nailed down. It’s okay if you’re still debating between a few photographers or lighting techs. However, you know at least that your event will need a photographer and a lighting tech, and that’s a step in the right direction.

The clearer and more well-defined your event vision, the better you can sell the event to the target sponsor. Would you want to put your name and money into an event that’s clearly very much still in flux and can change on a dime before the date of the event? Of course not, right? It’s just too unpredictable.

Plus, the target sponsor can see the writing on the wall here. They know that between now and event time, you might call them dozens of times to update them on this change and that change. It gets exhausting to keep track of all that, so the sponsor will pull out before it ever comes to that.

Outside of the scope of your event, you need a list of purported goals that you’re striving to meet through your event. These goals should be realistic. For example, if your events typically attract 200 people, you shouldn’t anticipate 5,000 website visitors this month. Where are those 4,500+ people coming from?

It’s okay to take some time with this step, as these are the fundamentals of your event. However, considering that some of the other steps necessary to securing corporate sponsorship can be time-consuming as well, you want to ensure you plan with more than enough time to spare.

Choose Viable Target Sponsors Based on Your Own Contacts

One question that I’m sure is top of mind as you plan your corporate-sponsored event is where the heck will you find quality sponsors? Well, corporate sponsors are all around you. From Kroger to Bank of America, Allstate, the Coca-Cola Company, and Capital One, the list goes on and on.

Cold-calling the average sponsor often yields poor results. Now imagine you’re one of the most known brands in the country. You can only picture how many email and phone call requests for sponsorship these companies receive in a week. If you cold-call or email them, you’ll get zilch in return.

You should choose a corporate sponsor not exclusively on their brand size or how much money they can give you, but how accessible they are. You need a contact within their sponsorship division, which will mean digging through your contact lists and making a lot of phone calls.

Here are some avenues I suggest for finding contacts at the corporate sponsor company:

  • If you have a donor database, start there. A big-name donor might be available as a corporate sponsor or they can, at the very least, put you in touch with someone who could be.
  • Reach out to your past volunteers, asking if they know anyone who could be a good fit for your corporate sponsorship.
  • Ask internally as well, including among your staff and board members. You never know who someone else knows!
  • Comb through the attendees of your past events (especially last year’s event of the same nature) and see who, if anyone, bites.

At the end of the day, a corporate sponsor will choose to work with you primarily because you’re helping them achieve their goals. However, they’re a lot more willing to give you their time if they know you or they know someone who knows you.

Research the Target Sponsor to Better Understand Their Goals

The above methods for finding corporate sponsors worked. You now have a decent-sized list of target sponsors to pursue. That’s great! Resist the urge to email all your target sponsors at once. Instead, you want to research each one to better determine who will be a good fit.

Look into the sponsor’s history to get a feel for their values. If it’s available, review their list of past sponsorships. All along, you’re trying to look for clues into why the target sponsor agrees to sponsor companies in the first place.

Most of the time, their goals are as simple as increasing their number of leads and making more sales. Like you enjoy media exposure, so too do sponsor companies, as it’s free publicity, and positive publicity to boot.

Yet sometimes, sponsors have goals that are less easily identifiable. For example, they might want to try on a new role or differentiate themselves from the competition. If you can’t quite pinpoint these goals at this early stage, that’s okay. You just need to have at least some idea of what your target sponsor’s current objectives are, as that will come in handy two steps from now.

Send out an Audience Survey to Define Your Target Audience

Of all the steps you’ll follow to find corporate sponsorship for an event, having up-to-date audience data might be the most important. I know, I know, you would assume that sending your sponsorship proposal is the most important, but not at all.

Your audience data is what makes you stand out from the other 600 sponsorship requests the corporate sponsor receives. Your audience data is what tells them that yes, you know what you bring to the table and that you’re not here to waste the target sponsor’s time. In short, your audience data is what helps get you the sponsorship sale.

Plus–and I always say this, but that’s only because it’s very much worth saying–your company must know your audience if you want to succeed in other areas outside of sponsorship sales. How will you grow your brand and make more sales if your company’s products or messaging don’t align with your audience?

No company appeals to a general audience. The companies that say they do just haven’t put the time into researching their audience. You’re better than that, so prove it with an audience survey.

Per that link above, I recommend you format your survey with questions on product/brand interests, opinions, motivations, demographics, and geographics. You won’t get responses from every survey that you issue out, but if enough replies come back, you can create a comprehensive picture of your various audience segments.

Then it’s just a matter of defining which segment is the target audience for this event and your sponsorship program will come together pretty quickly from there!

I do want to caution you and mention that the audience survey process of the sponsorship program can take weeks if not longer. You have to prepare your survey questions, find your audience contact information, send the survey out, wait for responses, and then tabulate all the data. Again, give yourself plenty of time to get this done properly.

Create an Assets List in a Customized Sponsorship Package

You can now take a well-deserved break from research, because it’s time to move on to compiling your assets list. One mistake I see repeated over and over among sponsorship seekers is putting any and every asset on the sponsorship package in the hopes that the target sponsor will be interested.

This is an obvious sign that you didn’t bother doing your research. If you know which segments of your audience are the most appealing to your target sponsor as well as what the target sponsor’s goals are, then it’s a lot easier to decide which assets you can offer that would be of use to achieving those goals.

Yes, your audience will be among those assets, probably your top asset. What else you offer the sponsor will vary based on their goals, but the assets can include speaking and exhibiting opportunities, branded booths, paid media, and naming rights.

Before you ask, signage such as logos is allowable as an asset, but please don’t shop logos around as a top asset. That’s another mistake that rookie sponsorship seekers make. Logos at the end of the day do not convert customers or make sales. They just show your event attendees the name of a company.

Valuating your assets is among the most difficult parts of the sponsorship process. You may worry about under-charging for your assets, so you bump up the pricing for each. Now your assets are so overinflated that no sponsor wants to touch them with a nine-foot pole.

While I always recommend using geographics and market data to determine the price of your assets, if you’re having a hard time determining which assets are the most important, then ask your sponsor! Yes, I mean that.

The target sponsor can tell you which assets drove their interest, so then you know you definitely have to include those. That doesn’t mean you should jack up the prices of those assets though. Corporate sponsors have been around the block so many times that they can easily sniff out overly high asset prices.

Put Together Your Sponsorship Proposal and Save It for Later

The sponsorship proposal is usually the piece de la resistance among sponsorship seekers who don’t know any better. To a target sponsor, the proposal just fills them in on what they need to know, such as who you are, what your event is, what you’re selling them, and how you can help the target sponsor achieve their goals.

That’s really the crux of the sponsorship proposal, as it’s certainly a lot more about the target sponsor and a lot less about you. I’ll refer you to my sponsorship proposal template, which is editable so you can customize it as need be. Customizing, in this instance, should not mean dedicating more than one paragraph to your company. Well, I mean, you can do that if you want to. It just won’t result in the sponsorship sale.

I really do recommend going page by page in my template and writing your sponsorship proposal according to those guidelines. Then you want to do what is probably the hardest part of all. Sit on it. Don’t email the sponsorship proposal, don’t send it in a physical package to the target sponsor’s office. Don’t bring it up during the discovery meeting. Leave it be.

When the target sponsor is ready to see your proposal, trust me, they’ll ask for it. Until then, try to forget about it. Lock it in a safe or something and give the key to someone else so you don’t feel inclined to send the proposal too prematurely.

A sponsorship proposal is to your sponsorship program what a resume is to a job applicant. It has useful information, sure, but the resume alone doesn’t get you the job. You have to go in and interview. That’s just like how you have to have meetings with the target sponsor to drive the deal along.

Contact the Sponsor for Meetings

You’ve done so much work, from researching your audience to gathering contact information to valuating assets. Now it’s time for your hard work to pay off as you request a sponsorship meeting.

In my post about how to ask for sponsorship, I included a lot of useful information about making that initial contact with the sponsor. I even have email templates in there that you’ll want to read and emulate (or copy directly, that’s fine!).

The first meeting with a sponsor is all about discovery. You researched them earlier and got to know the target sponsor a little bit, but now you’ll sit down with someone at the sponsorship company and ask specific questions that you can’t get the answers to by looking at LinkedIn. What kinds of questions are these? I like to call them discovery questions.

Discovery questions aren’t things like “when was your company founded?” or “how many products do you sell?” You can find out that information yourself and you should have already. Instead, discovery questions clue you in on which values the target sponsor possesses and whether those align with your own.

Yes, you might get all the way to having a meeting with the target sponsor only to find out that you two aren’t a good fit. This is why I always advise you to give the sponsorship program plenty of time before your event. You might have to scrap everything to this point and start over.

I have a handy list of more than 30 discovery questions that should be on your radar. Of that list, you can only ask five to seven questions. If you’re stumped on which ones to ask, I would recommend looking at your target sponsor research and determining what you know versus what you don’t. Then fill in the gaps with the discovery questions.

Try to memorize your discovery questions for the first meeting. If you’re just too nervous, then have the questions ready on a piece of paper. Bring a separate notepad and a writing instrument as well, as I’m sure you’ll take lots of notes during the first meeting. What’s missing, you might have noticed, is your sponsorship proposal. I told you that you wouldn’t need it yet.

The first meeting is just the beginning. The target sponsor will likely request more information from you, so perhaps you create an outline of your event needs. This is not the sponsorship proposal, so don’t bring that to the next meeting.

How many meetings will you have with the corporate sponsor? As many as it takes, but probably two or three before they’re ready to see your sponsorship proposal and make a decision from there. Corporate sponsors are busy people, and they don’t want to waste time any more than you do.

Request Sponsorship and Hope for a Yes

The time after you send your proposal is incredibly nerve-wracking. You want to give the target sponsor time to read everything over, but not too much time, as you have an event coming up so you need a decision.

Don’t be afraid to follow up a time or two. Yet if all you’re hearing is radio silence from the target sponsor, then it’s probably time to move on. Hopefully though, it won’t come to that. Since you did stellar audience research and put together a killer assets list, the target sponsor should have loved your proposal and agreed to work with you.

Now the real work is getting started, which is putting together your event!

Conclusion

Finding corporate sponsorship can seem incredibly daunting when you’re on the outside looking in. The best way to get your foot in the door is with a common contact, who could be just under your nose. Audience research is key to progressing your sponsorship program, as is a fairly-priced list of assets.

By following these steps, you could be well on your way to your first corporate sponsorship of many!

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.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn