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Sponsorship Recruiting, The Cowboy Way

by | May 21, 2024

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I know what you’re thinking: “Why do I need tips to grow my network? I love cold calling!” I’ve heard it thousands of times, sponsorship professionals and fundraisers want to spend all of their time cold calling giant companies and asking them for silent auction items or a CSR grant. Well, I hate bursting bubbles but there are better ways to sell sponsorship than the cold call.

Here are some approaches that I use to grow my network and build a sponsorship package that works when looking to sell sponsorship and find new opportunities:

Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Host a Networking Event

This is one of my favorite ways to grow my network when seeking sponsorship prospects. I love it because it lets me engage my board and committees in something easy and fun. The model is simple and it works: Ask a board member to host a networking breakfast at their office and to pay for the coffee and snacks. Ask this board member and two others to invite three professional contacts to network and hear about a cause they care about.

You will have a full room but not so big that you can’t work it. Have your host introduce you and your charity after 20 minutes of networking and, in three minutes or less, describe what you do and what you want. You only want two things, by the way: for each person to meet you for coffee and for someone to agree to host another event just like the one they are attending. One hour before the work day starts, quality networking, small room- what’s not to love. These events are easy to do, cost you nothing and people love them! Best of all, I have raised tons of sponsorship dollars with this approach.

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Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Use Your Board

Your board is ultimately responsible for your charity’s financial health and that they must have a hand in the fundraising process. I find that simply telling boards that they must fundraise doesn’t work. I suggest you try a different approach.

Something we forget as fundraising professionals (corporate or otherwise) is that we have to treat our board members like donors, sponsors and prospects. Demonstrate to your board members how you will treat their contacts by stewarding them and showing off your skills. Rather than asking your board for “contacts” at the next board meeting, ask each board member for a cup of coffee one on one. Tell them you want their advice on how to connect to certain markets and industries and how to get sponsorship money from those industries. When you meet with them, ask them for their advice! When they give it to you, ask them who they know in that space or sector and watch the introductions come pouring in. To make it even easier for them, do some research before you meet. Visit their LinkedIn page and see who they know that you want to meet. Ask them in person if they could introduce you to company or individual X. Suddenly the most fundraising averse boards become treasure troves of corporate contacts with this approach.

Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Referrals

The best source of new sponsors and corporate contacts often comes from warm referrals from current partners. You have no doubt noticed that every single fundraiser in your city somehow knows every other fundraiser. Well, this is true of virtually every profession. Human Resources, CSR, Marketing, CEOs  and people within the same industry network together, they go to conferences together and work with/for each other multiple times throughout their careers. If you have done a great job with your sponsors, you’ve earned the right to ask them for a referral. Ask them if they can make a warm introduction to someone at a non-competitive company and you will be surprised, I guarantee it.

Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Tap into Your Network

Besides your sponsor’s assistance (including past and present sponsors), you can also broaden your sponsorship prospects by leaning on your network.

Go beyond the CEOs, CSRs, and HR experts and instead ask your colleagues who they may know. You never know who could hold the figurative key that opens the door to your next sponsorship opportunity.

If your search turns up empty, or doesn’t yield enough results, move on to your vendor network. You can also request the assistance of past business partnerships.

However, the key to asking for any help from these people is having maintained some semblance of a relationship in between. You don’t have to talk every week or even every month, but dropping a line maybe quarterly to check in or send valuable resources keeps the door open.

Someone who you share a professional yet cordial relationship with is usually more willing to help you. More so, they might talk you up, a benefit you wouldn’t get if they only feel lukewarm toward you.

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Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Get Active on Social Media

You can also reach out to anyone within your network who’s willing to assist, posting on social media that you’re seeking a sponsor. Help people narrow down their selections by offering a brief description of the type of sponsor you’re looking for. You should also reiterate your brand traits so everyone is clear.

Put the posts out there, make them public, and see what happens. Tell your audience you’re open to private messages if they’d rather keep their recommendations between you and them.

You might get mostly duds, especially from those who have no idea what sponsorship is and only choose brands based on how “cool” and “visible” they are, but there could be a few diamonds in the rough as well.

I want to note that if people help you out, whether it’s friends, colleagues, or past business partners, you should always express your gratitude and be willing and ready to return the favor someday.

Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Use Your Audience Data

One of the most efficient ways to find sponsors for your next event, program, or opportunity is to look at the brands your audience resonates with the most.

If you’ve regularly surveyed your audience, you should already have this data ready to go. And if you haven’t? Well, I recommend you check out my list of surveying best practices, then get to work crafting questions your audience will gladly answer.

The brands your audience mentions using the most are like a wish list of dream sponsors. You still have to do some personal vetting, researching the prospects to see how they would enmesh with your brand and its values. However, using these brands puts you at a much greater starting point than selecting random companies based on their net worths.

Best of all, you can generate a healthy-sized list of prospects by using audience data. Maybe you have 20 or 30 prospects to pull from, or maybe it’s 40 or 50.

And why do you need that many, you ask? You only have one or two sponsorship slots open, after all.

I get that, and you’ll ultimately work with only as many sponsors as you need. However, you should have as many backups as you can get in case a sponsor can’t afford you, is overbooked, has no budget left, or agrees to work together and then ghosts you at some point during the process (which unfortunately happens).

Sponsorship Recruiting Technique: Build a Talent Pool 

You usually hear of talent pools in HR contexts, but you can borrow the concept for your sponsorship recruitment efforts.

So, what is a talent pool? It’s a database or list of potential sponsors. Simple, right? You might already have a talent pool in the form of your prospects.

If not, let me help. The first step of building a successful talent pool is knowing your business or organization and its short- and long-term goals, especially as they relate to sponsorship.

Once you have that information, you can begin building your list of potential partners.

Sponsorship Recruiting Technique:
The Will Rogers Approach (The Cowboy Way)

Will Rogers said it best:

“The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket”

How on earth does this translate to growing your network of corporate prospects and sponsors? Simple. The quickest way to grow your network and sponsorship revenue is to keep every single sponsor you work with. Some attrition of sponsors and corporate partners is unavoidable but if you deliver a stellar sponsorship activation and fulfillment strategy and do everything you said you would (and more) then your sponsors will stick around. If you never lose your network, you don’t have to replace it and you don’t have to grow it as aggressively. When you treat your corporate partners well they will offer referrals without you having to ask and when they switch companies, they take you with them as a trusted partner.

Keep cold calling if you have to. I know it’s hard to give up a good thing! In addition to calling strangers though, try these tips to warm up your next call and see if it makes it easier to sell sponsorship.


Will Sponsors Really Recommend Other Potential Sponsors to Me?

Yes, they will, especially if they can’t work with you anymore for any reason, such as a change in budget. If you maintain a positive working relationship, sponsors are usually willing to help however they can, even if it means someone else replacing them.

How Do I Retain Sponsors to Maintain My Network?

Providing quality service is the best way to keep sponsors. Understand that their needs change from year to year and season to season, and so you will have to check in with them, have an informal discovery session, and create new assets and activations. Oh, and you’ll have to value those new assets too!

How Important Is My Organization’s Cause or Story in Sponsorship Recruitment?

Well, I can’t say it plays the most important role, but you can’t pretend it’s not there, either. Discussing your story or cause, albeit briefly, might get a prospect paying attention, although it’s not enough to secure a sponsorship deal. You need discovery, custom assets and activations, and accurate valuations for that.

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Wrapping Up 

Recruiting sponsors the Cowboy Way means seeking ways to find warm contacts who could become future sponsors, ideally by retaining your network (including your sponsors). This is a much more efficient system than cold calling, where you’re going in blind and don’t have a prior relationship.

So give these methods a try, as I’m sure they’ll have a positive impact on your sponsorship aspirations. And if not, we’re always a phone call away here at the Sponsorship Collective.

Originally published in Hilborn Charity eNEWS at www.charityinfo.ca