Sponsorship collective logo

Sponsorship Surveys Don’t Work (and other lies we tell ourselves)

by | May 15, 2024

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

Surveys are a very important part of your sponsorship program. Every organization should be surveying their attendees and their database if they want to grow (or maintain) their sponsorship program.

I talk a lot about the power of audience data and cover the importance of surveys in all of my in person and online training and it is easily one of the most controversial topics that I cover. The controversy stems from the belief that surveys don’t work. Let me address this assumption now:

Surveys work and you need to be doing them.

But My Cause is the Most Important Thing

No, it isn’t. I have a case study I’ll share with you later on, but let me spoil it for you a little bit now. One client had spent two years pushing their cause and trying to get a sponsorship deal out of it.

As of this writing? They still hadn’t succeeded.

“Okay, but Chris,” I can hear you saying, “that’s just because they don’t have a good enough cause.”

I know that ending global hunger or performing cancer research or teaching dogs to talk (hey, a person can dream) are all excellent endeavors. They’re very worthy causes if you’re seeking a donor or angel investor.

However, if you want sponsorship? Be ready to detach from your cause.

New call-to-action

Note the verbiage here. I’m not saying you need to erase your cause or shove it completely in the background. However, you must be willing to recognize that sponsorship is about marketing, and the only way transactions occur between you and a sponsor is if you deliver marketing outcomes.

As for your cause? It doesn’t really factor into all that. Don’t be like that client who has wasted two years of valuable time seeking a sponsor by being cause-driven! It will not pay off for you.

My Audience Isn’t Really All That Big 

This is a common lie sponsorship seekers tell themselves, especially newer businesses or those entering the sponsorship market for the first time.

Here’s the thing about your audience size. A sponsor doesn’t care about the size, per se, as long as you have segmented, valuable audience data that proves you have audience groups that match the sponsor’s target market.

Of course, when it comes to audience size, bigger is always better. A company will never convert 100 percent of customers, so the larger the group size, the more conversions they can successfully achieve.

That said, a sponsor would rather have a group of 150 targeted potential customers than 5,000 audience members who like “everything.”

Learning those sponsorship foundations now will set you up for more success once your audience grows to several thousand people.

But My Audience Isn’t Varied Enough

How do you know if you’ve never surveyed them?

Even if you only sell one kind of product or service, I promise you, your audience has more variety than you originally assumed. Your product/service isn’t their entire lives. They have interests, passions, beliefs, and opinions, and it’s your job to learn about them via an audience survey.

I promise, if you only take the time to prepare some thoughtful questions for your audience in the survey, you’ll gain valuable insights. Once you begin segmenting your customers or attendees, you’ll realize they’re more varied than you gave them credit for.

My Sponsors Don’t Really Care About Audience Data

This might be the biggest sponsorship lie out there. Of course, sponsors care about audience data.

To say they don’t flies in the face of sales and marketing.

Imagine, for a moment, that you own a company. One of the first basics is creating a target market.

And that’s where your audience data comes into play. A prospective sponsor can review your audience segments and use the metrics to quickly determine if your audience slots into their target market.

Audience research is only half of the equation when finding sponsors. You also need to choose brands your audience mentions using and engaging with, or similar brands to those.

The reason? Your audience is more likely to fit the sponsor’s target market. After all, if it isn’t a match, the sponsor won’t want to work with you.

Selling to Everyone Is Fine

Going hand in hand with the above lie is that it’s okay to have an audience that consists of “everybody.”

Companies and organizations that proclaim they sell to everybody typically use that excuse to skip over the fact that they didn’t bother with any audience research. Or, if they did do it, it was cursory research at best rather than ultra-segmented groups divided into at least 25 data points.

Sponsors know this, so when they hear you tell them that your brand appeals to “everybody,” they aren’t going to be impressed like you might think.

Instead, this is a massive red flag, so the sponsor might ghost you.

Even world-renowned brands like Coca-Cola and Apple don’t sell to everyone. Coke’s products are junk food, so the health-conscious among us (or those with special dietary needs) don’t need its products.

New call-to-action

Apple only produces high-budget items, so those who can’t afford to drop several hundred dollars on a new phone, tablet, or computer don’t buy this brand.

Sure, these brands have millions of customers and make money hand over fist, but they don’t appeal to everyone.

Your products and services couldn’t possibly appeal to everyone too. As I’ve made one of my mottos here on the blog, the riches are in the niches.

You must segment your audience if you want your sponsorship relationships to be profitable and successful.

But Surveys Don’t Work Anymore

I’m not sure where this claim comes from. It sounds like there was some golden era of surveying where 100% of people asked replied to surveys but now people are so cynical that surveys don’t work anymore.

The only people who can make this claim are those who have actually sent a well-crafted survey, with an appropriate incentive, to their database and heard nothing back. I have yet to meet someone who followed survey best practices and heard nothing back and we always get excellent results from our surveys.

If there was a golden age of surveying…it isn’t over!

I Will Never Get a Response Big Enough

This is a variation of the first objection but it also includes the belief that you need a 90% response rate to have confidence in the results of the survey.

This is incorrect.

How many responses do you need to have a decent response rate for a sample size of 5000 people?


That’s it.

If you have a database of 5000 people and you can’t get 256 people to reply to a survey designed to help you deliver better events, programming, communications etc. then you probably shouldn’t be doing sponsorship until you figure out why your database is so unresponsive.

How did I get this number? Using this free tool.

My Audience Would Never Tell Me…

“I could never ask my audience for their preferred brands or their income or, or, or…”

The list goes on and on but you would be surprised at what people are willing to tell you in a well-crafted, properly incented survey.

A fascinating trend has emerged with this objection and it belongs to charities. Charities hold this view more than any of our clients, the belief that their donors and volunteers will be offended by any questions asked about them personally.

The people in your database have agreed to receive communications from you, have attended your events, have paid you money for your services and in the case of charities, have given you money as a donation, for nothing in return, purely because they believe in what you do.

This is exactly the type of audience who can’t wait to give you their feedback, especially if it means a better experience for them and helping you accomplish your mission.

People Will Unsubscribe

Of course they will! But only a few. This objection is rooted in the belief that people will unsubscribe in droves and your database will be decimated by one survey. If a survey designed to solicit feedback causes someone to unsubscribe, then that person was never really your customer (or donor). They aren’t members of your Tribe (in the Seth Godin sense).

If a survey causes them to unsubscribe then what will happen when you start to activate your sponsorship by sending samples, coupons and commercial messages to your database (all of which are part of typical sponsorship agreements)?

Having subscribers for their own sake doesn’t make sense, you want subscribers who are fans and who will participate, attend events, buy products, donate, volunteer and who are willing to help you make your programming better.

Case Study Alert! The Two Million Dollar Mistake

I was working with two identical clients, or at least very similar in terms of their audience profile and mission. Neither knew their audience very well and both were looking for major title sponsorship for a signature event. I suggested a survey to both clients, Client One offered all of the excuses in this blog post and bowed out of the survey process. Client Two challenged themselves and moved forward with a survey.

As of this writing (and what inspired this post) ,Client One is still trying to sell sponsorship based on their cause and not based on their audience data, which is a big mistake and isn’t working for them. Client Two spent the last year negotiating with a major sponsor and have now closed a seven-figure opportunity.

Client two told over and over again while we worked together to negotiate the deal:

“The valuation gave us the confidence to negotiate while the audience data gave us what we needed to beat our competition and prove that we could deliver ROI to our prospect.”

Without audience data, Client One is just another cause while Client Two is a genuine business partner.

But What About…

I can already hear the objections pouring in!

But what if I am a big, small or medium org? A charity? A conference? The arts? If you hold the belief that sponsorship changes based on the type of organization you work for, read this.

New call-to-action


How Many Questions Should I Ask in an Audience Survey?

Aim for 10 to 20. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience with too many questions, so keep the open-ended ones to a minimum.

What Is the Best Way to Deliver Audience Surveys, by Email or Physical Mail?

That depends on what your audience prefers. It’s usually email, but physical mail can be suitable at times.

How Long Should I Give People to Respond to the Sponsorship Survey?

At least a month; if you ask for responses earlier, you’ll look too pushy. It’s okay to remind people to participate a week before your deadline.

How Do I Motivate More People to Reply to the Survey? 

The best way to drive more responses is to incentivize your audience with freebies, such as resources or discounts.

Don’t Decide for Your Audience

If I have learned anything as a consultant, having surveyed millions of people across Canada and the US, it’s that you should never make decisions on behalf of your audience. Deciding that your database will never answer a survey or that they don’t want to help you succeed is a bad idea. I can also say that every single time we deliver a survey, without exception, we are surprised by the results.