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“Just Send me a Proposal” The Five Words you Never Want to Hear in Sponsorship

by | May 15, 2024

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Telling people “no” is an uncomfortable experience and people try to avoid it at all costs and so our prospects have come up with an ingenious way to say no without having to say no, and it sounds like this:

“Just send me a proposal”

Which is code for “no thanks.”

The reason it works so well is that as sponsorship seekers we are obsessed with the idea that the sponsorship proposal makes the sale. We reason that once the sponsor hears about our great cause and sees how many benefits we’ve stuffed into the “gold level” of our package, they will jump at the chance to give us money.

The sponsor asks for a proposal to get out of an uncomfortable situation and the sponsorship seeker happily sends over the proposal under the false impression that the sponsor has any intention of reading their sponsorship package.

Just Say No to Stock Proposals

The next time someone says “Just send me a proposal” I want you to use the most powerful word in the English language:


Take a moment to let that sink in! It should make you uncomfortable because it goes against everything you think you know about sponsorship. Then I want you to say the following:

“Everything we do is custom and I couldn’t possibly put together a proposal without first learning from you what you are trying to accomplish, who you are trying to connect with and whether or not we can help you achieve your business goals.”

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One of two things will happen. The prospect will either walk away and never talk to you again (in which case, they never had any interest to begin with) or they will agree to a phone call or meeting.

What If a Sponsorship Prospect Wants a Proposal After Several Discussions?

I have to mention one caveat to this attitude of saying no when a sponsorship prospect asks for a proposal.

It only works at the beginning of your business relationship.

If you’ve had a discovery session and a few follow-up meetings with a prospect and they then ask you to send them a proposal, that’s not a trap. It’s not a code word “no thanks.” It’s not a brushoff.

They legitimately want to see your proposal, or at least an outline of it.

I know, that seems confusing, right? However, it’s all about where you are in the sponsorship process. If you haven’t yet had a discovery call with a prospect and they ask for the proposal, they’re trying to let you off the hook non-confrontationally.

If you’ve gotten deeper into the process, the prospect wants to see what you can offer.

And yes, it’s important to know the difference. I’ve heard too many tales of woe from sponsorship seekers who spent time and effort putting together a proposal the sponsor wasn’t even interested in.

Think of how much time you end up losing if you do that too often. It’s time you can’t get back, and if you have an event coming up, it’s time you can’t afford to waste.

What are you Trying to Accomplish?

I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago and having drinks with the other speakers and a few senior folks in the sponsorship industry. One of these folks told me that he sat down with a major sponsor recently and asked “What are you trying to accomplish with your sponsorship dollars?” to which the sponsor replied “no one has ever asked me that in my career as a sponsor.”

Imagine yourself walking onto a car lot to look at a new car and the sales person walks over, hands you a proposal and tells you that you have to pick one of three predetermined vehicles. He then tells you when you’re ready, please fill out the form at the bottom of the page and submit payment.

Just because you are trying to sell sponsorship levels or title sponsorship for an event doesn’t mean your prospect has any interest in these opportunities!

Would you buy a car from them? Not a chance! Yet when we reach out to our sponsors and ask them to choose our charity over the other 86,000 charities in Canada, we do so with a predetermined list of opportunities expecting the sponsor to read our proposal from cover to cover and let us know which level they’ve selected.

Stand out From the Crowd

The next time a prospect tells you to fill out a form or submit a sponsorship package, tell them you are taking a stand against bas sponsorship sales practices and that you only create packages based on the needs of your sponsors. Then ask them for a 5 minute call to talk about their goals, their target audience and the types of things they prefer to invest in.

Try it and two things will happen:

First, you will send out way less sponsorship packages! Despite what you’ve been led to believe, this is a good thing!

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Second, you will sell more sponsorship. If you tell sponsors you will only sell them the benefits that deliver on their business goals and that you want to help them achieve those goals, not only will they want to talk to you but they will want to invest with you.

Why Do Sponsors Not Just Say What They Mean?

Honesty is the best policy, so why can’t a sponsor or prospect just be real with you?

I mean, this phenomenon isn’t unique to sponsorship. You’ll see it in businesses of all kinds.

Have you ever applied for a job, maybe even interviewed, and then heard nothing? You follow up, and it’s just radio silence? You’ve been ghosted.

No matter what you do (or don’t do) people ghost for one consistent reason: discomfort with the truth. People worry about how you’ll react to bad news. You don’t even need a precedent for a temper; it’s what you could do that the sponsor doesn’t want to deal with.

So, they say nothing, or they give you an excuse, such as asking for a proposal when they don’t really want one. You end up wasting your time hoping to hear back or preparing a proposal the sponsor doesn’t even want to see.

While it would be great if a sponsor would just say they aren’t interested, that won’t always happen, so you need to get good at reading between the lines.


When Should I Have My Sponsorship Proposal Ready?

Only when a sponsor asks for it, and I mean legitimately asks for it. And bear in mind that they don’t always want a six-page, neatly-typed proposal. Sometimes, a bulleted list of what you can do is enough. The prospect will let you know, and only then should you take the time to put the proposal together. This ensures you don’t waste your time.

What Else Do Sponsors Say That They Don’t Really Mean?

There’s lots that sponsors can tell you that they don’t mean. For example, they might say they’ll get back to you, causing you to set aside all your plans and wait, and wait, and wait.

You might miss out on some great prospects in the meantime because you swore this one would come through. Besides that, sponsors might tell you they’ll call you, only to ghost you, as they were only trying to avoid confrontation.

What Are Happy Ears, and Why Is It Dangerous in Sponsorship?

Happy ears are discerningly believing anything a sponsor says. Like any business person who doesn’t feel comfortable in a situation, they will load you up on platitudes, then eagerly duck out of the conversation (forever). I’m not suggesting you disbelieve every word out of your sponsor’s mouth, but in the beginning especially, take them with a grain of salt.

When Should You Ask for a Discovery Session?

You should ask for a discovery meeting before you write the proposal but after you create a list of prospects. That should be your primary goal when contacting prospects, not to send them your proposal unsolicited. That’s a great way to get your proposal sent to the trash unread.

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Are Sponsorship Proposals Necessary to Close a Deal? 

No, they are not! I know, I know, you can gently collect your jaw from the floor. I’ve closed many sponsorship deals without proposals when I worked in businesses seeking sponsor arrangements. Now that I offer advisory services, I’ve helped other clients secure sponsorship without always requiring a proposal.

Wrapping Up 

Sponsorship seekers are often overly reliant on the proposal, believing it will unlock doors for them that they never would have been able to open themselves. In reality, that’s not the case. A proposal is just a piece of paper.

Making matters more confusing is when a sponsor seemingly enthusiastically asks for a proposal. However, most of the time, this is their way of bowing out of your arrangement non-confrontationally.

Is it better than being ghosted? Not really, because it causes you to spend time on a proposal the prospect could care less about. So the next time a new prospect asks for a proposal, tell them no, that you only offer custom proposals. You should get more results!