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The Anatomy of a Great Sponsorship Program

by | February 4, 2021

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Your nonprofit or business has pursued sponsorship in the past, but never successfully. If you’ve lacked a strategy that’s part of a greater sponsorship program, that could be why you haven’t landed the sponsors you need for event funding and promotion. You want to work on your sponsorship program, but you’re admittedly not sure to begin. What kinds of features must a sponsorship program have?

Here’s what I call the anatomy of a great sponsorship program:

  • Audience research
  • Defined goals
  • Asset valuation
  • Activation opportunities
  • Sponsorship package
  • Sponsorship proposal

It’s easy to boil down a sponsorship program into a couple of bullet points, but you’ll need more information if you’re chasing sponsorship. I’m here to provide that information. Ahead, I’ll go point by point through this fascinating anatomy lesson into what makes a sponsorship work. Keep reading!

6 Must-Have Parts of Any Working Sponsorship Program

Audience Research

Since we’re talking about anatomy here, do you know what the heart and soul of your sponsorship program is? 

Could it be your assets or how you put them together into a sponsorship package? Those are important parts for sure, but no. The heart and soul of any sponsorship program is your audience. 

I can’t stress that enough. By shifting the focus from other parts of your sponsorship program to your audience, that alone might be enough to open more doors for your nonprofit or business. 

Okay, you’re thinking, but why is my audience a sponsorship program’s heart and soul? Allow me to explain. 

When most people think of sponsorship, especially as a nonprofit, they’re the receiver and the sponsor is the giver, correct? You feel like you have nothing to give back, but that’s not true at all.

You have one thing the sponsor wants, and it’s your audience. If you recall from my post about the reasons companies offer sponsorship, several of the objectives are tied to audience growth. That includes lead generation, increased brand awareness, improving their reach, and boosting sales. 

Yes, the sponsor company has its own audience, of course they do. Yet any company that’s consistently growing–and this goes for nonprofits too–has an influx of leads that can become long-term customers or donors. 

Yet lead generation is hard. You have to maintain a website and social media presence, pay for advertising, run marketing campaigns, and comb through pages and pages of analytics. If a sponsor can cherry-pick from your audience, why wouldn’t they?

After all, your audience isn’t just any group of leads, but what they refer to in marketing as qualified leads. In other words, unlike a basic lead who may or may not be interested, you know a qualified lead has some interest based on your audience research. That makes them easier to convert, which the sponsor company wants.

In another post on the blog, I referred to your audience as “the most powerful asset in sponsorship” because they are. Yet you have to know how to tap into the potential of your audience, and that begins with audience research.

One of the easiest means of research that will yield you the most data is to send an audience survey. I would recommend checking in with your target sponsor to gauge what kind of information they deem most pertinent. Their response will inform the types of questions you ask in your survey.

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At the very least, you need basic demographic and geographic data, such as the customer’s gender, age, location, industry, job title, educational background, number of children, and pre-tax income. 

Then, using the target sponsor’s reply as a guide, you can pose some psychographic questions, which are those about lifestyle, interests, attitudes, opinions, values, and personality. Here are some questions I suggest per this blog post:

  • What events have you attended over the last year, virtual or non-virtual?
  • What did you most enjoy about the event?
  • How do you think the event could be improved upon?
  • Why did you decide to go to the event?
  • Why are you associated with this nonprofit or company?
  • Do you wish you could participate further with the nonprofit/company? Why aren’t you?
  • What do you wish could be better about participating with the nonprofit/company?
  • What do you enjoy about participating with the nonprofit/company?

As you can see, some of these are questions that are answered quickly and easily while others require more thought. Send your survey through email or even to a physical mailbox. To determine which sectors of your audience to ask for feedback, look at the attendance list for your most recent event, then the attendance lists for events held over the past year. That should give you a nice, robust list.

It’s always nice to overreach a bit with your audience surveys, as you know not every last person you mail one to will send it back. 

Defined Goals

Okay, so we got the most important part of your sponsorship program out of the way early, but you still need to be ready to put your all into these next five parts of the program. 

After your audience research concludes, it’s all about defining your goals. Inadequate planning or no planning at all can derail your sponsorship program in a jiffy. That’s doubly true if this will be your first sponsorship and you have no idea what you’re walking into. Sponsorship misconceptions abound, and if you set your expectations too high, they’re going to come crashing down. It won’t be pretty when that happens.

You need to meet with key stakeholders within your company or nonprofit and have a long sit-down meeting to discuss what it is you seek from a sponsor. Please don’t just say money, because that’s a very small part of what is otherwise quite a large equation.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is your nonprofit or business doing at the moment that warrants sponsorship? Are you hosting an event? Are you striving to increase your donors or customers? Whatever your answer, you’ll have questions that branch off that first one.

For example, let’s say you want to host an event. Now we can ask such questions as what kind of event? When is your event? Where? How many attendees do you project will go? What kind of entertainment and educational content will take place at your event? What is your budget? 

In answering those questions, you’re doing two things. One, you’re sharpening your event to the point where it’s laser-focused. Sponsorship companies always appreciate you having as much information about your event at the ready as you can. After all, it’s your event, not theirs, so if the sponsor asks you a question about the event and you answer “um, I don’t know,” it’s a bad look.

Second, you’re making it easy to determine what level of sponsorship you need. For example, maybe your event will cost $10,000 but you only have $5,500 to put towards it. That means you need another $4,500 to host your event as you intend it. That’s not too much to ask of one sponsor, but you can also work with one or two smaller sponsors to get that amount of money easily. 

Sponsors don’t exclusively have to offer you cash. They may also make an in-kind donation, sharing their expertise, time, services, or goods in lieu of money. If I’ve said this once recently, I’ve said it a dozen times. When a sponsor suggests giving you something besides money, ignore your kneejerk reaction to turn them down. 

Instead, tell the sponsor you’ll think about it. Once you do have a spare minute to do a bit of thinking, you’ll realize the value of their in-kind offer. The sponsor can point you in the direction of another suitable sponsor so you don’t have to research potential sponsors from scratch again. They can connect you with vendors you might use for every event going forward. They can even beef up your event’s hype with their promotional power so you draw more attendees. 

These offers are super valuable, sometimes even more so than cash! 

Asset Valuation

Next comes what I would call the second most important part of any great sponsorship program, and that is valuating your assets.

I’ll remind you of what I say often on this blog: sponsorship is about giving and receiving. It’s a partnership between two companies or organizations. Sponsorship is not a one-sided relationship where you mooch off the sponsor and give them nothing in return. 

Your audience is the best asset you have, but they’re not the only cool trick up your sleeve. A sponsor will appreciate a bevy of well-thought and creative activation ideas (more on this later) as well as a laundry list of other useful assets. Some examples? You got it.

  • Naming rights to physical spaces or programs
  • Signage
  • Product giveaways and samples
  • Exhibiting and speaking opportunities 
  • Webpages
  • Social media
  • Newsletters
  • Pass-through benefits
  • Venue use
  • Paid media
  • Traditional media 
  • Employee benefits

One thing that sponsors don’t go gaga over? Logos. Now, if logos are one of the first assets you come up with, that’s okay. Don’t discount them, but do know that they’re quite low-value, especially compared to the above assets. 

Why is that? Logos are visually appealing, that’s true, but they don’t advance a sponsor company’s goals. A logo can’t do much in the lead gen department, nor does it help with media exposure. Granted, logos can strengthen a sponsor’s brand to an extent, but not by a large degree.  

Since this will be your first time creating a batch of assets, I recommend starting with my above list and seeing what you can offer the target sponsor in those areas. The ideas on that list might generate a spark and give you further ideas, which is great! 

At the beginning, try not to think too hard about whether an asset is valuable or even if it’s any good. Trust me, the time will come for that shortly. You just want to let those creative juices flow. Make this a brainstorming meeting with your key stakeholders so you’re not the only one coming up with ideas. This way, you can spit-ball off each other and create a big assets list.

The next part is one of the more time-consuming processes of sponsorship, and that’s valuating your assets. If you want to sabotage your sponsorship program quick, you can just assume you know the right prices for your assets, but I want to be clear that this is one of the worst ways of going about it.

You might think your signage is worth $2,000 when really, it’s maybe about half that. When the sponsor sees what you’re trying to sell them, they’ll balk. You can’t really blame them. You know how you feel when you find a nice shirt or a pair of pants only to check the price tag and see the clothes cost about $100 more than you thought they would? You think the retailer is out of their mind. Your target sponsor will have the same perception of you. 

You want your assets priced fairly according to market value. Your target sponsor may be willing to work with you at this stage of the game to adjust asset pricing as well. And before you ask, yes, you do indeed need to go through and valuate every asset. If you have 100, 200, or 600 assets, each one needs a price assigned to it.

After that, look at each asset on the list with its price next to it. That will make it easy to cut down your list. All the least valuable assets should go. If you can’t do this with impartiality, then request someone else at your company take care of it. 

Remember, the final list of assets shouldn’t be the ones you like the most, but rather, the ones that the sponsor will get the most value out of. 

Activation Opportunities

Activation opportunities are another huge money-making asset in the eyes of your sponsor. These ideas are how you will inform and entertain your audience during your event. 

Think back to the last event you went to, whether it was a sports game, a work conference, or a concert. Although those events are all disparate, one thing they share in common is that they had booths or tables meant to lure you over, right? Maybe a local car dealership was hosting a contest, a vitamin water brand had free samples, or a radio station let you play a game to win a pen or a t-shirt.

Those are basic-level activation ideas, but you can do so much better. Here’s a post with nearly a dozen cool marketing-inspired activation opportunities that can help you get started. What do I recommend?

  • Branded smartphone charging stations (who doesn’t need to charge their phone during an all-day event?)
  • Phone or social media contests that attendees can participate in via hashtag
  • Free headshots

There’s nothing wrong with taking an established idea and turning it on its head. For example, I also suggested in that article that you can host a giveaway, but with a twist. Rather than the winner receiving a gift card or a nice prize, give them something ugly like a hideous awards statue. 

You may wonder, who would want that? Well, I attended a golf tournament that did a giveaway like this, and let me tell you, a lot of people wanted the statue. Its sheer ugliness had everyone talking, which inspired more people to enter the raffle. 

Although it doesn’t work for every type of event, these kinds of ingenious activation ideas will certainly get a target sponsor interested. 

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Sponsorship Package

As you reach this point in your sponsorship program, you’ve completed your audience research, defined your goals, priced your assets, and came up with some killer activation ideas. Do you want to know one of the fastest ways to blow it now? 

That’s right, pigeonhole your assets into the gold, silver, and bronze tiered sponsorship package. You know, the exact same sponsorship package that any target sponsor has seen at least a hundred times, if not a thousand times by now. That type of sponsorship package.

I don’t blame you if you make this rookie mistake as a sponsorship beginner. You may have read an article on a different site that recommends this very type of tiered pricing, but I don’t. Part of it is for the exact reason above, that it’s tired and old and does nothing to spark excitement in your sponsor. The last thing you want is for them to read through your sponsorship proposal with a glazed-over expression. That means you failed to hit the mark.

Besides being overused, tiered sponsorship packages are also not a show of good faith. You don’t have to be personal friends with your sponsor, but you do want to forge a positive working relationship with them. That means treating them with kindness and respect.

Now imagine a sponsor browsed your sponsorship package, selected a few assets they really liked, but those assets were a mix of gold and silver. They will only buy one package, so they have a decision to make. Since the best assets are in the gold tier, they’re forced into spending the most money. 

That’s not very kind nor respectful, is it? It’s like when you find a discount code online, but then you read all the terms and conditions. For instance, you can only get free shipping if you spend at least $75, oh, and those sales items you want to buy are ineligible for the free shipping.

How do you feel? Hoodwinked? Misled? Foolish? Making your sponsor feel any of those things is an almost surefire way to guarantee this will be a one-time partnership.

If a sponsor likes any of your assets, that’s a good thing. Actually, it’s a great thing. Now that you know you have their interest, talk further with the target sponsor about how you can put together the assets they want into a package in which you’re fairly compensated. 

Sponsorship Proposal

You’re pretty proud of your sponsorship package! It will go into your sponsorship proposal, but that’s not all this document is about. Think of the sponsorship proposal as your cover letter to go with your resume, which would be the sponsorship package. The proposal fills in the target sponsor on your organization well as your event. 

That’s only a very small part of the proposal though. I have a template here that guides you through all six or so pages of your sponsorship proposal. I recommend following that template as you write your first proposal so it sings.

Here’s what the sponsorship proposal must include:

  • A title page with your logo, website address, physical location, tagline, and date of submission.
  • One paragraph about your organization’s cause, including a bit about your company or nonprofit. 
  • Another paragraph about your event, including your proposed goals, projected attendance, and all other pertinent info.
  • A paragraph that’s dedicated to your audience, including their demographics and psychographics. If you have a graph or chart here, use it!  
  • Your sponsorship proposal menu complete with your assets list and a note that indicates the target sponsor can further customize the menu should they want to.
  • A contact page with your phone number, email address, and any other ways of getting in touch with you. Make sure you include a call to action as well!

I have a handy infographic that puts it all together if you’re more of a visual learner. 

Even once your sponsorship proposal is about as perfect as can be, the last mistake and one of the most paramount that you can make is sending it too soon. I never recommend cold-emailing your sponsorship proposal to your list of target sponsors and waiting for someone to answer you. No one probably will.

Instead, you want to find a contact at the sponsorship company, either through someone you know or a connection within your nonprofit or company. Even if that connection is a colleague of a colleague of a colleague and is thus rather flimsy, it’s better to have a very slim opening for your foot to get in the door than no opening at all.

You use this contact to hopefully skip some of the gate-keeping red tape that can make reaching a target sponsor difficult. At this point, you still don’t send your sponsorship proposal. Instead, the goal of speaking with the target sponsor is getting them interested in a meeting with you.

Should they agree to the meeting, leave the sponsorship proposal at home. I know, that feels weird since it has so much good information in it, but this first meeting isn’t a sales meeting. It’s a discovery meeting. You want to ask the target sponsor thoughtful questions, such as from this list, to determine how well you two might work together.

Please don’t pepper in all 37 discovery questions from that article! Ask five to seven questions max and do it as naturally as possible so the questions feel like they’re just another part of the conversation. 

If both you and the target sponsor gel, the second meeting will occur. Once again, leave your materials behind except a pen and paper to take notes. You’re focused more on discussing the bare bones of what a partnership will look like.

Between the second and third meeting, or perhaps even later (all sponsors go at their own pace), you’ll get the green light to produce your sponsorship proposal. Since it’s put together so thoroughly, the sponsor should be impressed. Most importantly, they actually want to see it at this point, so it will go over better. 

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There you have it, six crucial parts of sponsorship anatomy. These parts aren’t those you can remove either, like your kidney or tonsils. Each is crucial to the survival of your sponsorship program just like we people can’t live without lungs or a heart. I hope you find this information helpful in pursuing your first sponsorship!