Sponsorship collective logo

The Path to Failure in Sponsorship 

by | May 10, 2022

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

You might have read this title once and did a double-take. Why in the world would I want to talk about the path to failure in sponsorship?

Well, because you can’t change something that you don’t know is there. In sponsorship, it’s easy to think you’re doing something right because sometimes you get rewarded for it. 

Some sponsors still accept totally antiquated gold, silver, and bronze packages or will respond to you if you fill out a sponsorship form on their website. 

This reinforces the belief that you’re on the right path when you really aren’t.

Today’s post will show you where you could be going wrong and how to correct it, so let’s dive right in! 

The Three Problems I See Sponsorship Seekers Have the Most Often

This post was inspired by a recent training I did in my private Facebook Group. 

If you’re not already a member, I highly recommend you join. You can get a lot of valuable information out of that group as well as the resources on the blog.

That said, today’s post is recommended only for the sponsorship seeker who’s interested in six-figure or seven-figure sponsorship. I usually don’t exclude anyone, but today’s content is for serious sponsorship seekers only. 

To start, I want to talk about three problems that I see sponsorship seekers have the most often when they enter the Sponsorship Accelerator. Here they are.

The Three Problems


If you’ve read this blog, then I’m sure you could tell me exactly what I mean when I mention the word audience

These are your customers, attendees, or donators. You need data on who these people are, where they come from, what they do for work, how much money they make, and why they like your company.

You also have to know what other brands they like, buy, consume, etc. Again, you know all this if you’ve read the blog.

Yet I have many sponsorship seekers come to me who don’t know what I mean when I talk about audience. Or they have a basic grasp, but they don’t recognize why audience data is so paramount to a sponsorship program.

Not recognizing your audience or downplaying their importance is a surefire way to get yourself on the path to sponsorship failure. 

New call-to-action


Another significant issue that I see from first-time or second-time sponsorship seekers is having no idea what their value is or how to even go about calculating that value.

I always liken knowing your value to selling a fine piece of jewelry at a pawn shop.

Imagine you had a $20,000 ring but you didn’t even know it. You sell it for $200 because you just want it gone and that sounds like a decent enough value.

You would have no idea about the $15 grand you left on the table unless you maybe saw one of those antiques shows and there’s your ring being appraised for a hefty sum. 

When you don’t bother valuing your assets or determining the value of your company or organization, rest assured that you are leaving money on the table. 

If you’ve tried and failed to reach those six-figure or seven-figure sponsorship deals, I would bet that not knowing your value is a huge part of the reason why.

Sales Skills

In some cases, I do have sponsorship seekers who understand their own value as well the value of their audience. They also have a good read on who their audience is. 

Yet they’re still not getting those big-money sponsorship deals. Why?

They lack sales skills.

They don’t know how to negotiate. They can’t talk about money without making the other party uncomfortable. They aren’t sure how to close a deal.

If you don’t have sales skills, even basic ones, then you can get far enough in your sponsorship program, but you’ll never reach the point where the sponsor agrees to work with you, you two shake hands, you pen a deal, and the money or promotions or benefits change hands.

The sponsorship seekers who align their audience data, value, and sales skills–provided they have high-value offers, that is–are the ones who make six or seven-figure sponsorship deals! 

Nine Ways to Fail in Sponsorship

Okay, so now let’s take things up a notch and talk about specific ways you can fail in sponsorship. 

Even though I’m going to share nine ways you can fail, please know that if you slip up even once, it can be enough to kill a potential sponsorship deal. 

Keeping that in mind, let’s go over the list now.

1. Focusing Too Much on Sales Material and Transactional Thinking

I can sound like a broken record on the blog sometimes, but I’m going to say this again. A sponsor is not a walking, talking ATM. 

When I tell that to some of my clients, it pretty much blows their minds. This kind of transactional thinking could be exactly what’s holding you back from the kind of high-quality, high-paying sponsorship deals you want.

Why is that?

Well, it’s not just that your sponsor gets offended because all you want is money, money, money, although that is a valid point.

Mostly, it’s because when you’re in that transactional mindset, you’re only thinking about what you can receive, not what you can give. 

This results in decidedly lower-quality offers to the sponsor. 

A sponsor wants assets and activations that solve their problems. If that’s not what you’re giving them, then it’s no wonder you’re only getting four, maybe five figures out of a sponsor.

Also tying in nicely is how some sponsorship seekers are so focused on their sales material that it’s almost to the point of obsession.  

You’re the only one who’s obsessed, though. I promise you that seeing dozens upon dozens of pages worth of sales material is not going to change a sponsor’s mind. If anything, it’s going to solidify their decision not to work with you.

Again, it goes back to solving a sponsor’s problems. Prove that you can do that even once and you’ll find that sales materials factor into it very little.

2. Treating Your Sponsors as Investors

A sponsor can be a lot of things, but an investor is not one of them. 

Investors are people who gives you money in the hopes that your company or organization will succeed enough that they make a cut of the profit as well. 

Sponsors aren’t giving you money because they want to see you succeed. Well, they do, but that’s because if your event or opportunity goes off without a hitch, they receive some benefit as well.

For example, let’s say you’re a motorsports organization that’s looking for sponsorship for an upcoming race. The sponsor wants people to come to your race because if they do, those people will see your assets and activations.

Those people–due to your audience research–are potentially interested in your sponsor’s products and services. When they see your sponsor’s booth or table or other super-cool activation, they could convert.

Just because a sponsor wants your event or program to succeed though does not make them an investor.

They’re giving you money, promotions, or benefits because you’re giving them something in exchange, which are the aforementioned assets and activations.

If you treat your sponsors like they’re investors, you’re essentially stealing their money. You’re saying you’ll give them something, and then when you get what you need, you don’t provide what you said.

Once you sign a sponsorship deal and the terms become legally binding, being in breach of contract can be a mighty scary position to find yourself in, just saying. 

If you want investors, that’s fine! Make sure you’re seeking investors though, not sponsors.

New call-to-action

3. You Have Happy Ears

Wait, what are happy ears, I’m sure you’re wondering? Let me explain.

Having happy ears means that you take a sponsorship prospect at face value. 

Now, okay, I know what you’re saying. “Chris, aren’t I supposed to take my sponsors at face value?”

Maybe once they’re a sponsor and not a prospect and you two have a deal, yes. In the very early stages though, prospects will tell you anything except the truth. 

I wrote about that here, so be sure to check that post out.

A prospect’s way of wriggling out of a conversation might be asking you to send them a proposal. If you have happy ears, then you’ll assume they really want to see the proposal and send it on over.

Then you never hear anything because the prospect didn’t want to see the proposal in the first place.

Here’s what I would recommend. Be a little suspicious of your prospects at the beginning. Expect that they might be brushing you off a little bit. Be aware of happy ears and don’t fall for anything and everything you hear.

Having happy ears can be quite disastrous for your sponsorship hopes and goals. You can get yourself so excited thinking you have a future sponsorship deal and thus future money coming in when really, you don’t. 

I don’t want you to have to experience this rude awakening for yourself. I don’t want you missing your budget because you assumed a sponsor would come through and didn’t.

I would call happy ears the top cause of budget failure in the sponsorship industry. Do your best to avoid it!

4. You’re an Amateur or Hobbyist

Listen, we all have to start somewhere with something, and I’m not trying to discount that in the slightest. 

However, if you’re looking for a new hobby or you’re completely new to sponsorship, you can’t expect to land six or seven-figure deals. 

That would be like saying you want to be a brain surgeon for a hobby. It’s not something that anyone can just pick up and do. It’s not even something that most people can pick up and do.

Now, I’m not trying to make sponsorship seem elitist and like you must be in the upper echelon of life to succeed in it. That’s not true at all.

You just have to temper your expectations depending on where you start.

Like sponsorship as a hobby; that’s not something I would recommend. A hobby is supposed to be enjoyable. Sponsorship is enjoyable to me because I’m good at it and because I enjoy helping others become good at it as well.

Between all the audience segmenting, the prospect research, the cold calls and emails, and the meetings, that’s not really a hobby at that point. It’s more like a job.

As for the amateurs out there reading this, it goes back to what I said before. We all have to start somewhere.

You will make plenty of mistakes and missteps during your first sponsorship venture, and probably the one after that and maybe the one after that too. 

This post isn’t catered to you so much as the multitude of other blog content on my site is. Read that, try my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program, and you’ll figure out how sponsorship is supposed to go.

After you have a few experiences under your belt, then you can come back to this post when you’re ready for those six-figure sponsorship deals.

5. Measuring ROI Backward

No, this isn’t some sort of cool magic trick. Some sponsorship seekers really do measure ROI backward.

Imagine this. You want to lose weight, so you tell yourself that once you do it, you’ll give up donuts. That makes no sense, right?

Donuts make you gain weight. You could lose weight while still eating donuts, but probably through something unhealthy like crash dieting. 

Yet some sponsorship seekers disregard that you have to spend money to make money in sponsorship sometimes. They say they’ll spend money once they’ve made it. 

That too doesn’t make any sense. 

If you don’t invest in your sponsorship opportunity, then why would a sponsor? You have to put the investment in to see the return.

6. You Think More Like a Technician Than a Business Owner or Marketer

I’ve talked enough about what sponsorship isn’t, but you know what sponsorship is? It’s a form of marketing. 

You’re providing marketing outcomes for another company or organization in exchange for funding or promotions. That’s what it boils down to. 

If you have more of a technician’s mindset, then you’ll fail in your sponsorship program without a doubt.

What do I mean when I say technician? You’re someone who’s thinking of a sponsorship deal from only one side.

If you’re a festival owner and you decide you want to put on a great sponsored festival, you know what it takes from a festival owner’s perspective to make that happen. 

But what does it mean from the perspective of a business owner or marketer? 

If you don’t know, or if you can’t wrap your head around it, then I’d say you’re well down the path of failure. 

7. You’re Indecisive or Too Slow to Act

There’s a saying in the sales community. You cannot overcome an objection you believe. 

Listen, sponsorship is a big decision, and I get that. I’m not trying to downplay that at all. However, you simply do not have the time to take six or 12 weeks to make up your mind. 

Now, that’s not always your call. If you’re part of a large organization or a nonprofit especially and a request has to go through multiple channels or achieve board approval for it to be finalized, that can be problematic. 

It’s okay if you need to take a few days to answer your sponsor. If it’s upwards of a month before you’ll have a decision for them though, then you’re simply keeping them waiting too long. 

Sponsors want quick decisions. If they don’t have them, they’ll move on to someone who will provide them.

Okay, but what if you’re ensnared by all the red tape within your nonprofit or company? You might have to start making some decisions on your own. 

Perhaps that’s not how your nonprofit or company usually goes about things, but sometimes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. This might be one of those times.

8. Thinking Smaller Is Easy

You want to throw an event or host a program or opportunity. You’d prefer if things were simple, so why not keep it small. After all, smaller is easy, right?

I mean, technically, yes, I suppose. You know what else small is, though? I’ll just go ahead and say it.

It’s boring. 

There is no need to go small when it comes to sponsorship. This is a $60 billion industry, and it’s only going to continue growing. 

Imagine you were looking at the world’s largest pizza, like a Guinness World Records-sized pie. Would you only take a little, itty-bitty piece or would you want a huge slice?

I guess that all depends on how hungry you are! 

If you want to make your sponsorship program exciting to get prospects on board, then you need to spend money. That’s that.

New call-to-action

9. Thinking You’re the Most Unique Thing Ever

Finally, there’s this trap, which is thinking that your business or organization is exceptionally unique

I’m sure you have unique aspects to you, and that’s great! What’s not so great is when you assume that being unique means being so different that you can’t follow the traditional sponsorship path.

Whenever I ask most sponsorship seekers who say they’re different how they’re different, they always tell me something interesting.

Usually, they don’t know their value, or they haven’t done audience research or bothered valuing their assets.

In other words, saying you’re different is code for saying that you don’t know what you’re doing in sponsorship.  

You don’t want to be unique. It’s hard to market unique to prospects, and so they turn you down. Some sponsorship seekers use being unique as an excuse so you can’t hold them accountable for ROI.

This is extremely detrimental, as I’m sure I don’t even have to tell you. 

I’ll take it back to my point from before. You have to think like a marketer if you want to succeed in sponsorship. Focus less on being unique and more like that and you can hop off the path to failure. 


Failure isn’t something that a lot of people like talking about, let alone personally experiencing. 

In sponsorship though, it’s far too easy to set yourself on the path to failure and then keep compounding mistakes. You continue further down the path.

I hope that today’s post gave you some food for thought and helps you rethink how you’re approaching sponsorship!