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How to get sponsorship for a first year event or new opportunity

by | December 28, 2023

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The hardest place to start a sponsorship program is from the bottom. You might think you have no contacts, and you certainly have no experience. The task before you seems gargantuan, enough that you might feel dissuaded from wanting to try.

Here’s the thing, though. If you never begin, you can never gain the requisite experience where sponsorship becomes easier.

Every single thing you’ve done, from riding a bike to learning to cook, and even the job you’re working today, you started with zero experience. And look where you are now! You can get your sponsorship opportunity off the ground. 

This guide is tailored to beginners with zero sponsorship experience, so don’t miss it!

Why First-Time Sponsorship Is an Advantage, Not a Hindrance

Mindset is huge in sponsorship. It doesn’t supersede experience or a strong sponsorship property, but it does help you fake the confidence you need when selling to sponsors.

So my first tidbit of advice to you is this: stop thinking of your sponsorship predicament as a problem. 

As I mentioned in the intro, everyone has to start from somewhere. The most successful sponsorship sales people were once in the exact shoes you were in. Even I was. 

If anything, you’re in an advantageous position. Yes, I mean that!

You haven’t made strategic decisions about your event, program, or opportunity yet. You’re not under the time crunch that so many sponsorship seekers are, so there will be less desperation behind your decisions.

You’ll make the choices that are right for your business or organization without feeling pressured or rushed by the clock. 

You can take the time to get to know your sponsorship prospects and ask great questions about what kinds of assets and activations they’re looking for, then build them with the time it takes to get it right.

You’re only in this position once. 

After your event, program, or opportunity gets underway, you’ll likely repeat it every year, and you’ll never have the leisure of as much wiggle room as you do now. Even if you start planning next year’s event on the same day the current one ends, 365 days (or 364, depending on the calendar year) go fast!

Prospecting for Sponsors – Where Do You Even Start?

You might be in a great position as a first-time sponsorship seeker, but prospecting for the wrong sponsors will waste this valuable opportunity. 

Over the years that I’ve worked with sponsorship seekers, I’ve heard a lot of unconventional advice bandied about for finding sponsors. People hear of big partnerships with brands like Coca-Cola and assume Coke has plenty of money to hand out, so they also contact Coke with a sponsorship opportunity. 

Ah, if only prospecting was so easy, right? There’s more to it than that, a lot more to it. Here’s how I recommend you find potential sponsors.

The Importance of Audience Recommendations 

That audience data you built is about to come in clutch. If you asked the right kinds of questions, your customers, donors, or attendees should have told you what kinds of brands they like. This is serving up prospecting opportunities to you on a silver platter. 

Those brands have the strongest audience connections, so you want them at the top of your list. Well, within reason. 

The brands you work with should align with your vision and values, which will require you to research them to learn more. 

Expanding Upon Your List 

Your hottest sponsorship prospects have presented themselves, but you should still continue seeking others. 

I don’t want to say they’re backup options, because that suggests they’re less than your original list of prospects, but they’re good to fall back on when you inevitably get rejected (it happens to the best of us, including me!).

Here are some sources you can rely on to expand your list of sponsorship prospects:

  • Your competitors: Sneak a peek at who your competitors are pairing up with. Don’t directly seek out the same brands. Rather, use the brands they’re working with as examples, looking for others within that niche or field. 
  • Competitors of your audience brands: Find several competitors for every brand your audience listed. Your prospects list will get bigger in a hurry.
  • Companies that advertise to your audience brands: Act like your audience and be a consumer for an afternoon. Briefly read their magazines, watch their shows, and try their products. Who advertises to you? These prospects are quite warm!

Please don’t discard the value of research as you add to your prospect list. These methods are reliable for finding sponsors, but it’s irresponsible to your brand to seek any business partnership without doing your due diligence first. 

After you have a few sponsorships under your belt, prospecting will become easier, as more opportunities will come to you. For instance, you can ask past sponsors and partners if they have any referrals, and you can also extend working opportunities with your sponsors. 

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Who Do You Reach Out To When You’re Ready to Connect with Sponsors?

Okay, great. You found a few sponsors you think could potentially work for your opportunity. How do you go from finding them to working with them?

You have to reach out, which is the most nerve-wracking part of the experience.

Before you do, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have audience data? Is it broken down into small niches?
  • Have I determined what my opportunity is worth at this stage?
  • Do I know why I’m contacting sponsors?

The answer to that last one is for the discovery session, which should always be the next step after you prospect. 

So, who do you set up the discovery session with? In a perfect world, you could find the leader of the sponsorship division at the company and go straight to them. 

You would secure their contact information on LinkedIn, or someone you work with or for would have it.

In an imperfect world, you don’t have that information and have to cold email or call. It’s not ideal but not the end of the world, either.

Sponsorship For a First-Time Opportunity: Tips

Doesn’t it feel good to think about your unique situation as beneficial rather than disadvantageous? Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to begin planning your sponsorship property. 

These tips will gear you up.

Build Your Presence on Social Media

Even if you’re seeking a cash sponsor over a promotional one, you should still focus on elevating your social media followers. 

Why is that? Your sponsors want to see what kind of audience you have, and more so, how plugged in they are. 

If only five people engage with your average post and you have 5,000 followers, that number doesn’t matter. It’s almost bogus in a way because it’s not reflective of your audience behavior.

There is no overnight way to increase your social media presence except to buy followers. I wouldn’t recommend you do that because that’s how you cause the issue above. Bots won’t like, share, or comment on your content, just pad your follower numbers. 

Sharing high-value content, engaging with your audience when they comment, and posting frequently will help you earn more followers. When you post website content, cross-post it to your social media. Consider paid social ads if possible. 

Most of all, don’t give up when you only get a trickle of followers at first. 

Produce Case Studies Based on Prior Partnerships

Even if this is your first sponsorship opportunity, you’ve surely had other business partnerships before. Think about how you’ve assisted them by working together. Maybe you helped them solve a problem, grow their business, gain more leads, or sell more products or sales.

Whatever it is, put that information into a case study. Having a few case studies legitimizes your business and makes it more evident to the sponsor that you’re a valuable party to work with.  

Showcase Any Type of Successful Event 

Have you thrown a few show-stopping professional events or been involved with a business that did? Hopefully, you have pictures from the event, even if you didn’t take them yourself. 

Just as seeing your social media following is a preview for sponsors, so too is bearing photographic witness to the types of events you’re involved in. They want to see how many people showed up, what kind of event you threw, what type of venue it occurred in, and how much space you needed.

Working with you is a bigger risk for the sponsor than a more established property because you’re a wildcard. Their investment could go smashingly well, or they could end up wasting money (of course, you know it will be the former, not the latter).

These glimpses into what you’re all about are like an insurance policy for the sponsor, assuring them of their investment. 

Treat Sponsorship Like a Business

If you were going to open a new business tomorrow, you wouldn’t do so without a plan, right?

Of course not. That would be lunacy. You’d have no blueprint for your operations, which would almost assuredly guarantee your failure. 

Instead, you’d create a business plan, calculate your budget, obtain business licenses, get the necessary funding, secure business licenses, and hire staff. Then you’d be ready to open your doors.

You have to treat sponsorship the same way. It’s a business, and it requires a plan before your opportunity gets underway. 

You can’t just throw an event and see who shows up. You can’t reliably bank on that, and you can’t sell sponsors on that because you have no definable audience. 

So what does your sponsorship opportunity need? Let’s go over the components.

  • Goals: What do you hope to achieve with your sponsorship opportunity, i.e., your event? Do you want to spread brand awareness? Generate more leads? Increase sales for products and services? Generate more customer loyalty? All the above? You must know before proceeding.
  • Audience: Who is your audience? It’s hard to gauge who will attend your event before it happens, but by diving deep into your audience, you can get a better idea of who may show up and then shape your event accordingly.
  • Budget: How much money does your event need to go on as you planned it? How much of that can you pony up for, and how much do you expect to come from sponsors? Once you have a better idea of that, you can break down the budget to determine the number of sponsors your event requires. 
  • Assets and activations: These are the tangible and intangible valuables you’ll sell your sponsor. You shouldn’t even bother brainstorming these until after the discovery session, where you learn about the sponsor’s challenges. The best assets and activations are tailored to each sponsor, solving their needs.

Define Your Audience

It’s easy for sponsorship seekers with an event or opportunity under their belt (or several) to rattle off audience data because they know who attends their events. They’ve surveyed these people and segmented their audience down into ultra-fine niches.

However, you’ve never hosted an event for your company or organization. You don’t know who comprises your audience.

You must find out for the sake of your sponsorship opportunity. 

Don’t guess your audience. That’s about the worst thing you can do. So much of successful sponsorship is tied to your audience. In their brand preferences, your audience reveals the brands they like, which should go at the top of your prospect list. 

Your audience sells sponsors, as they’re seeking new audience segments that slot into their target market. 

Your audience is also the backbone of your business or organization, without which you wouldn’t be around. You have to know them, and the best way to do that is with an audience survey.

Even if you don’t have attendees, per se, you have customers or donors. These are the ones you should survey to learn more about.

What kinds of questions should you include in your survey? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Check out this link to see questions I recommend slotting into the survey.

You won’t be able to ask about your event, but I do recommend including questions about your brand, such as why your audience prefers your company or organization, their favorite parts of participating with your company or organization, and their recommendations for improvement.

You should also ask them about events they have attended recently, including what they were, what they enjoyed about the event, and what they didn’t like so much. 

Besides these psychographic questions, you should also ask standard demographic and geographic questions, such as their age, gender, occupation or industry, education history, marital status, number of children, and annual pretax income.

Once you have this information, you can use it to create audience segments. At first, you should have broad segments, such as male versus female customers or those in their early 20s versus their 50s.

I implore you to take it much further. Using the other information you have, you can split your audience on very specific criteria. Don’t just stop at their industry but break it down by occupations within that industry.

This level of specificity may seem unnecessary, but it’s like hitting the jackpot for sponsors. They have highly researched target markets they’re trying to reach. If your audience fits into those target markets, sponsors will have much more interest in working with you.

Be Conservative

I always recommend that sponsorship seekers don’t promise their sponsors the moon and stars if they’re not sure if they can deliver either.

As you gain more sponsorship experience, you’ll find it increasingly easier to gauge what you can successfully deliver to the sponsor in the allotted time. However, in your position as a first-time sponsorship seeker, you don’t have that kind of foresight.

I recommend going conservative with all your estimates. If you think 1,500 people will show up to your event, tell the sponsor 800 or 1,000. After all, the number of tickets sold is not always indicative of attendance. People change their minds, or something can come up.

You might worry about how lower numbers will look to a sponsor. They’re not nearly as impressive as saying 3,000 or 5,000 people will attend your event.

Maybe not, but do you know it does impress a sponsor? Delivering what you promised.

A conservative estimate gives you leeway. If some of your audience doesn’t show up, which will almost definitely happen, you don’t end up looking bad in the eyes of the sponsor by promising one thing and delivering another.

I also recommend a conservative budget. If your event is in the six or seven figures, whittle it down to at least five for your first one. 

Get into a Marketing Mindset

Sponsors aren’t investors. They’re not donors, as they’re not involved in philanthropy. They’re giving you money in exchange for a marketing service, which is your assets and activations specifically chosen to fulfill a sponsor’s needs. 

If you can’t think like a marketer, your sponsorship program won’t go far. In fact, I’d say it’s even more critical for sponsorship seekers to think about sponsorship from a marketing perspective than a sales perspective.

That’s a radical thought to many sponsorship seekers who swear by the sell, sell, sell mentality. The sooner you know that’s the right mentality to have, the better off you’ll be and the sooner you could experience sponsorship success.

Sponsors want a return on investment and ad spend. They want to achieve their objectives, overcome challenges, generate more leads, boost brand awareness, and get more customers. 

That’s where you come in!

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Involve Your Sponsors in Your Planning

So many sponsorship seekers assume they have to shoulder the burden of event planning alone. Really, most sponsors are happy to help if you only ask!

Your sponsor is supposed to be your event partner. As a partner, they want to make decisions and drive your event forward. 

I’m not saying you have to involve them in every last thing, especially internal elements among your staff. However, when it comes to activations, ask them! If you have any part of the planning process where you’re looking for a second opinion, ask!

If you feel nervous about bombarding the sponsor with too many questions, at least ask how they’d be interested in involving themselves in your event. I’m sure they’ll tell you all sorts of ways.

Start Early

In the last section, I mentioned that you have the luxury of time as a first-time sponsorship seeker and that you’ll only ever be fortunate enough to find yourself in this spot once. 

However, that doesn’t mean loafing around until the last minute is a good idea. Use your time wisely. Begin planning your sponsorship opportunity as early as you can. This will help you establish good habits you can use for next year’s event or program. 

Do I recommend talking to sponsors before you even have a venue? Yes! Plan your sponsorship needs first, gauge your audience interest and projected attendance, and book from there.

This prevents you from spending thousands on a huge banquet hall when your event only attracts hundreds. 

You won’t be able to take great photos of the event because there will be empty space everywhere you look. That doesn’t do much to entice future sponsors.

Have a Media Strategy

You’re the new kid on the block regarding events, so a media strategy is most integral to you. 

When planning your event, allocate part of your budget toward media. By leveraging media buy, you can generate more impressions and boost your reach. This can help put you on the map ahead of your event, garnering more interest and potentially elevating attendance.

Include social media as part of your media strategy. You’ll use social media to promote your opportunity, so in the weeks before, focus on followership and begin engaging with your audience more.

It’s never too late to start with a blank slate on social media, responding to comments, reposting relevant content, and being a more valuable part of people’s feeds.

You’ll generate more followers who will pay attention to your promotional efforts for your upcoming event or opportunity. 

You don’t want merely padded numbers, though. You should build followers who engage with the content you post and get involved with your company or organization. 

Although a media strategy doesn’t directly play into your sponsorship opportunity, it helps your business case by providing a strong audience and an expansive reach. 

Know Your Value

It’s most difficult to gauge your value for a first-time sponsorship opportunity. You don’t have a benchmark to compare it to, so you can kind of flounder around in the dark, guessing and hoping you’re right.

This is a pit that sponsorship seekers fall into all too often. 

Sponsors will take you for your word when you tell them your value. They’ll want to know how you got to those numbers, but if you say your opportunity is worth only $20,000 when really, it’s $50,000 (but you didn’t know that), the sponsor will believe you.

It’s not their job to know your value. It’s your job. 

I suggest you get into the habit of valuing your sponsorship deals early. You can do this even if you’ve never had a sponsor, as you’re merely determining the value of the assets and activations you can provide. 

You can do that by researching the costs of these services offered by a professional, then determining if you should price your own services the same, lower, or higher. 

You’ll have to value your assets and activations for each new sponsorship opportunity, so the sooner you learn to do it, the better. 

Consider Offering a Discount

My last tip is this: offer sponsors a discount on your services. 

Select a discount rate you can afford between 20 and 50 percent while still meeting the financial goals for your upcoming event, then pitch that to the sponsor. 

Every company loves saving money, so unsurprisingly, many sponsors will say yes when you suggest a discount. 

If you decide to work with the same sponsor again next year, you can pitch your services at full price. 

Avoid These Classic Sponsorship Mistakes as a First-Time Opportunity 

You’re on the right track to succeed with your first-time sponsorship opportunity, but because you’re new to this, it helps to be ultra-aware of the risks you could face if you’re not careful. Any could derail your sponsorship opportunity fast. 

Writing Your Sponsorship Proposal First Thing

You don’t have to say a word to your sponsor to let them know you didn’t bother personalizing the services and assets you’re offering. They’ll know if you send them a proposal before you have the discovery meeting.

Discovery is your opportunity to uncover truths about a sponsorship prospect you can’t find when researching on LinkedIn or browsing press releases. I’m talking about sales figures, projection data, marketing metrics, and more. 

You shouldn’t even think about a sponsorship proposal until you’ve had the discovery session. Reusing the same static assets from opportunity to opportunity is a fast-track to failure. Sponsors want tailored services that meet their specific needs. 

Having Happy Ears

There’s a term called happy ears that’s unfortunately a frequent phenomenon in sponsorship. 

If you have happy ears, you gladly accept everything the sponsor has told you, taking them for their word. 

I know, it sounds like a positive trait when I put it that way, but it isn’t exactly. 

Sponsors, like many businesspeople, will talk around an issue to avoid getting to the heart of the matter. The reason? They don’t want to create conflict by telling you no to your face (or via phone or email).

So, they might tell you instead to send them a proposal, but they don’t actually want to see it and have no intention of reading it. 

Having happy ears means falling for this trap. You can wind up bitterly disappointed, but more importantly, you waste time you don’t have if you’re planning an event.

You’ll fine-tune your happy ears as you work with more sponsors, but in the meantime, try to take everything the sponsor says with a grain of salt until you sign a contract. 

Talking About Money Too Soon

The time for talking about money always inevitably happens. It’s when sponsorship seekers don’t want to wait that problems arise. 

You can’t reach a point where you shake hands, sign a contract, and officially work together without discussing money. That means it’s a guaranteed point of conversation at some point. 

When you walk into a discovery session with a sponsorship package full of payment slips and all you’re talking about is closing the deal, you will not get a second meeting. 

Sponsorship involves sales, yes, but it also entails nuance. Knowing when to close the deal is an art, and it’s one you’ll improve upon the more you do it. 

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Waiting for the Sponsor to Set Up the Next Meeting

If you don’t bother to schedule another meeting while still sitting in front of the sponsor, you’ll soon realize why putting the ball in their court is a tremendous mistake. 

The sponsor might say they’ll get back to you, but first days pass, then weeks, and then it’s too close to your event to do anything. 

Sponsors are busy people, and they can forget about a meeting since working together isn’t as high up on their priority list as it is yours, at least not right away. 

I always recommend you book a meeting from a meeting. Try it, and not just in sponsorship! It will make your professional life worlds easier. 

Letting a Sponsor Go After Your First Opportunity 

When you and a sponsor conclude your obligations to one another, do you just let them ride off into the sunset? You don’t have to, you know. 

By producing a fulfillment report detailing all the benefits (and downsides, you have to be balanced) of your event, you can have another meeting with the sponsor to review. This opens the door wide open to discussing extending the business partnership if both parties are interested.  


Sponsorship for a first-timer is a golden opportunity, not a hindrance, as you have time on your side. I hope these tips help you plan your sponsorship opportunity to the fullest.

Book a call with me today if you need more help getting your opportunity off the ground!