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The Sponsorship Proposal and…Shark Attacks?

by | May 15, 2024

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Because it rarely happens that we receive a sponsorship investment without submitting a sponsorship proposal it is too easy to assume that the sponsorship proposal causes the sponsorship dollars. This belief pervades all aspects of sponsorship sales but actually the sponsorship proposal is not where we should be putting our efforts.

The Sponsorship Proposal and Shark Attacks

Confused? Let me explain using an example from my university stats class (I knew one day my humanities degree would prove itself valuable). Shark attacks go up in the summer, ice cream consumption goes up in the summer, therefore eating ice cream causes shark attacks. Right? Well of course not, but we use this logic all the time.

Here is the sponsorship version of this argument: Dave got sponsorship for his event, Dave submitted a sponsorship proposal to company X immediately prior to receiving the money, therefore the sponsorship proposal caused the sponsorship dollars.

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Both of these examples ignore something very important: confounding variables. What do ice cream and shark attacks have in common? Well, the summer of course! People swim more in the summer AND eat more ice cream in the summer. What is the confounding variable in the sponsorship scenario? Dave, of course! Note: Dave is a metaphor for the sponsorship sales person inside all of us…you don’t actually need to find a guy named Dave to sell your sponsorship.

The Sponsorship Proposal is Not the Sales Tool…You Are!

In sponsorship, as in fundraising and sales, the most important thing you can remember is this: the sponsorship proposal is not the sales tool, you are!

Listen, I know how hard it is to work in sponsorship sales. Everyone measures us on how many sponsorship proposal we’ve submitted. In fact, it took me years to stop measuring myself by the number of sponsorship proposal submitted and to shift to a better metric to focus on. The fact is, you have to change the conversation with your boss, with your board and with your staff. It’s hard work but well worth it.

Instead of counting proposals, break down the entire sales process into the main categories that lead to a sale and focus on counting movement between those categories. As long as you have movement, then you know things are working.

The Sponsorship Sales Process Made Simple

Here is a simplified version of what to track instead of just counting number of sponsorship proposal submitted:


Prospecting becomes easier the more you do it, but the first few times can leave you scratching your head, and I recognize that.

These are the people that you think want to hear from you, or who you think need to hear from you. This is where you do your research and find a warm contact within the company.

Let me break it down a little further. Your prospect list comes from your audience data. If you don’t have that, you need to back up the truck and obtain it. And if your audience data isn’t robust enough that you have any inkling on which companies to pursue, you need to go back and ask for better information.

I know, surveying might not have been in your plans, but it’s what sets up a good foundation for sponsorship. Asking your audience about the types of brands they enjoy will point you in the direction of fruitful partnerships.

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Your sponsor wants an engaged audience, your audience wants brands they care about at your event or opportunity; prospecting ensures everyone wins.

Then yes, you need a warm contact within the company. This is where tapping into your existing network is so important, as they can be your “in.”

And if you absolutely can’t find a warm contact? You’ll have to go in cold, which isn’t as ideal, but it doesn’t mean your sponsorship deal is doomed, either.

I have put together many resources on cold calling/emailing. This one delves into prospecting techniques to close deals, which is certainly worth a read at this point in your sponsorship journey.

I also divulge my best cold emailing strategies here and share some email templates that convert here.


You have spoken to someone at the company in question. Phone call or e-mail, both count. The key here is that you have connected to a real person and they have confirmed that they are the right person or will connect you to the right person.

What do you want to talk about when you reach out to your contact, whether you do it cold or warm? You’re not looking to chat about the weather. Instead, you have one goal, and that’s to meet with the prospect.

I call this meeting the discovery session. It’s not a sales call. Rather, it’s an informal meeting where you dig into the sponsor’s pain points and learn about their objectives.

Ask your prospect when you can set up a meeting. Suggest some dates and times. This will save you several emails back and forth where they state their availability, you state yours, and you both urgently try to make something fit.


Pretty obvious I suppose but basically, you have a meeting confirmed! The prospect is now a warm lead and wants to hear more. You still have not submitted a proposal at this point. At this meeting you will learn what they want to see in their custom proposal.

Let’s chat more about the meeting, because this is often where new sponsorship seekers go wrong. I’m not trying to single anyone out, but it’s just what I’ve seen in the many years I’ve worked in this industry.

The discovery session doesn’t require you to bring much of anything. I recommend a pencil and paper for taking notes, or you can politely ask to record the meeting to refer back to later.

You should have prepared 10 or 11 questions for the meeting. I always tell sponsorship seekers to memorize the questions if you can, but if not, you can bring them as a printout.

And that’s about it. It’s a candid conversation that doesn’t require a proposal or a sales pitch. If you let it be what it’s supposed to be, your sponsorship goals have a greater chance of coming to fruition.

Sponsorship Proposal Submitted:

You have submitted a proposal after asking permission from your prospect to do so. You may need multiple meetings to get to this point.

My recommendation is not to ask when the sponsor wants the proposal. They’ll tell you. As I said, it might not be during the first, second, or even the third meeting, but it usually happens.

And if it doesn’t? It’s not a sign the deal won’t go through. Sponsors don’t always need to see a proposal. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of sponsorship, both as the one approving deals and the one seeking them, and sometimes, omitting a proposal is fine.

That said, go with the flow, and always produce a proposal when/if the prospect asks for one.

Follow Up:

You have followed up directly (expect to do this A LOT). Set your prospect up on a weekly or biweekly schedule and check in regularly.

Use the communication method you two have chosen to this point, but don’t be afraid to contact them through other means, such as email, phone, or even DM. Sponsors get busy, they forget, and they often appreciate a gentle nudge.

But what if you don’t hear anything after your weekly check-in? If they’re still in the prospect stage (i.e., you haven’t signed any contracts, so they’re not officially your sponsor yet), then be prepared for this possibility.

Unfortunately, sponsors ghost all the time, mostly because they don’t have the heart (or the guts, whichever you prefer) to tell you they’re no longer interested.

Don’t waste valuable time waiting around forever for a sponsor who has no intention of getting back to you. If two weeks have passed, you’ve called and emailed, and you’ve heard nothing, it’s time to pack it up and start over with your next prospect.


Hopefully, though, you get to the point where you can deliver your proposal.

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This is where you mark the proposal as approved or declined. Measuring the process in this was has a number of benefits. First, it gives you a real picture of what it takes to close a sponsor. Second, it lets you track where your deficiencies are. If you have 100 prospects who should have a strong interest in what you have to sell but you can’t get them to meet then you know you have to apply attention and effort there. If you get permission to submit a proposal but your success rate is only 5% then you may have a problem with pricing, proposal format, your product or your follow up process. The third benefit is that you know exactly how many prospects you need in order to trigger a sponsorship agreement.

The Most Important Step in Sponsorship Sales

The final, and most important benefit is that it shifts emphasis from the proposal to the meeting, where it should be. Remember my shark/ice cream example? If you are the confounding variable and the real sales tool then skipping the meeting and going right to proposal means you miss out on the most powerful part of the sales process: the relationship.

Start to track every step of the sales process, measure your conversion rate at each step and never ever eat ice cream before you swim…after all, maybe ice cream really does cause shark attacks!


How Do I Customize My Sponsorship Proposal?

Not by putting “custom” in the proposal! Instead, the proposal should focus on the audience segments you know will appeal to your prospect based on the discovery session. You should also present your valued assets and activations geared towards solving the sponsor’s problems.

Can I Reuse My Sponsorship Proposal for Another Prospect?

I wouldn’t recommend it. Each sponsor is unique and has their own problems and challenges. Although you might borrow asset and activation ideas based on what’s worked in the past, you should always put together a fresh custom proposal for each new prospect you work with.

Do I Need a New Proposal When Renewing a Sponsorship Deal?

You might be past the proposal stage altogether at that point! However, you must have new assets and activations, and you must value them all over again. Treat this as a new sponsorship deal and don’t skip any steps.

Wrapping Up 

I know, shark attacks seem like a weird thing to compare sponsorship to, but the erroneous cause-and-effect relationships we create in our heads can become bigger than legend if we’re not careful.

At the end of the day, the sponsorship proposal has its place, but ultimately, your research, preparation, and valuation will be what closes the sale, not the proposal.