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The Ultimate Sponsorship Prospecting Formula

by | June 11, 2024

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One of the main reasons people reach out to sponsorship consultants like myself is for help with prospecting. I can completely understand that, as figuring out who to contact and where to start can be quite difficult to determine, especially for first-time sponsorship seekers. 

I am often asked for my advice on how to get sponsors as though there is a magic formula that, if employed properly, will lead to more successful sponsorship packages. 

There wasn’t. Until now, that is.

That’s right! I’ve cracked the code, so to speak, on sponsorship prospecting. I created a simple formula for finding corporate partners that can get you on your merry way to prospecting with the right parties. 

In this post, I’ll share that formula with you and provide best practices for sponsorship prospecting as well, so make sure you check it out! 

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My Corporate Sponsorship Prospecting Formula

First, let me start by saying I’m no professional mathematician. I have no idea if this formula follows standard algebra protocol, so please don’t judge me if it doesn’t.

Here is my ultimate sponsorship prospecting formula:

A1 + I (A32 x V) = P 

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what all the variables are and what they mean, right? Allow me to explain so you can plug in your own numbers and begin using this formula for your sponsorship program.

Beginning with A1, this first value is your audience.

You should know who your audience is incredibly well by the time you’re prospecting for sponsors. 

Your audience is who will attend your events, who cares about your brand, your alumni, your volunteers, etc. In other words, your audience includes everyone who will engage with your sponsorship activation strategies.

Next is I, which is short for your inventory of things you can sell in your sponsorship packages.

A2 x V is your sponsorship assets plus their market value. These assets are what comprises your inventory. 

Note, everything you sell has a market value, and, in the case of intangible assets without an established market value, you have to find precedence. Get an experienced colleague or sponsorship consultant like me to help you with this.

Finally, there’s P, which equals your prospect.

Pretty easy, right? I think so! 

The Case of the Appearing Sponsorship Prospect – My Prospecting Formula in Action

Do you feel like you just came out of math class after reading that last section? If so, then like most formulas you learned during your school days, you may wonder if the formula I just taught you even works. 

To that, I say absolutely!

When you take your audience and add your inventory (made up of your assets and value), your sponsorship prospect will present itself. I am getting more philosophical than I normally do, I know, but it’s true!

When clients come to me telling me they can’t find prospects, I send them back to the asset-building stage. Once you know what you have to sell to your target audience, the prospect becomes obvious. 

Don’t believe me? Let’s test the theory!

Example 1:

I have an audience full of heart surgeons and my assets include branding, speaking opportunities, education events, and product giveaways. 

Physicians + Inventory = Pharma companies, professional insurance companies, BMW/Lexus dealers. 

Example 2:

You have an event catering to high school students at a school that specializes in apprenticeship training. Your students have little buying power today but will be choosing a trade. 

These students will attend a trade school and will need to learn highly specialized skills on the job (which are often in dangerous environments). 

Future tradespeople + Inventory = Trade unions looking for talent, post-secondary schools, tool manufacturers, safety gear and training, small business loans/financial institutions.

The Simple Way to Find Sponsors – My Best Practices and Tips 

My prospecting formula will help you decide where to start in your prospecting, but you still have to be willing to do the legwork. 

Here are my top tips for finding prospective sponsors.  

Bigger Is Better

Some of my clients make a prospecting list five companies deep and believe they’re done. And while five is a good start, it’s by no means a comprehensive enough list. 

Listen, even if you vet your prospects (and you should, and I’ll talk about that more shortly) and they all pass the sniff test, do you really think 100 percent of them are going to get back to you? Heck no!

It’s not necessarily anything you did unless you happened to send your sponsorship proposal in an email attachment or pestered the prospect relentlessly. Then it’s something you did. Otherwise, these things just happen.

That’s why I recommend deepening your list of prospects to 50 or 60. This may sound impossible at first, but once you begin using my prospecting formula (and the best practices in this section), you’ll realize it’s quite doable. 

Having a list that long is a form of protection. If you get ghosted (which will happen), you still have options. If you get rejected for any reason, you still have options. And if someone is whiffling and waffling on whether to work together, you know the drill. You have options. 

And before you say a list of 50 or 60 prospects is too long, let me tell you, it isn’t. You might not even go through half of them, and if you don’t, then you have a list to help you get started for next time provided your sponsorship goals are similar. 

Keep an Eye on What Your Competitors Are Doing

I always recommend staying abreast of your competitors, as they can give you great new ideas. You might decide to revise the direction you take your future sponsorships based on what your competitors are doing.

If there isn’t a fit between their direction and yours, that’s perfectly fine. You’re your own business or organization, and they theirs, but there’s nothing wrong with letting their directions inspire you if you feel stuck on where to start when prospecting. 

It’s Okay to Discard Sponsors That Don’t Meet Your Brand Ideals

Do you want to know one of the best benefits of having a long prospects list? You can cut some prospects without guilt. And yes, you will have to cut some. I talked about the importance of vetting your prospects, which you have to do with every single one on the list.

Set aside a good chunk of time toward this task, especially if your list of prospects is upwards of 50 or 60 brands. You have to dedicate time to researching each one, then comparing it against your brand values.

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Don’t try to make a square peg fit into a round hole. If you have 40 more potential partners, it’s fine to let a few go for any reason. 

Try Different Prospecting Channels

An omnichannel approach to sponsorship prospecting will keep the leads flowing fast. Use the platforms your target audience does, and you should see a lot of names pop up which correspond with exciting sponsorship opportunities. 

What kind of channels do I recommend? Start with SEO, tracking what kinds of brands come up when you search keywords important to your target audience. Do searches on social media for similar terms or peruse groups and pages your audience uses to see what kinds of brands post on them. 

Content marketing and email can also yield interesting results if you’re willing to expand your search radius further. That said, you might not use all these channels each time you build a prospects list, and the channels you use might vary from one sponsorship to another. 

Document Your Processes

Are you proud of your prospecting because it’s paid back dividends and led to fruitful outcomes for your sponsors? That’s great, so let me make a suggestion. Write down everything you did to find prospects.

You can use a Google Doc, Microsoft Word, voice-to-text, whatever you prefer. That part doesn’t matter; what’s most important is that you jot down how you achieved the objectives you did. 

You might not need another sponsorship partner for at least a year, especially if you seek funding for your annual event, like a charity gala. Between now and then, you can totally blank on how you prospected for sponsors, which means rediscovering processes again next year.

And if you don’t follow the same steps? You won’t get the same outcomes, which means fewer prospects, and usually lower-quality options, too. You will also waste a lot of time, and I’m sure you’d prefer not to. 

Do future you a favor and make internal notes now. 

Review Metrics and Make Changes

Okay, so you found some sponsors in time for your event, program, or opportunity. Congrats on that. After your partnership plays out, it’s time to go to the numbers to see how the professional relationship performed. 

Most sponsorship seekers only focus on their deliverables as part of the wrap-up report. While that’s an important part of the post-sponsorship process, you have to consider how working with the sponsor augmented your business or organization.

No, I don’t only mean monetarily. Did your audience have a good time? Were they more engaged than usual? You can issue a post-event survey to get firsthand accounts of your audience’s experience. 

If this is your first sponsorship, it’s natural to want to make tweaks and changes to improve even more for next time. And those changes shouldn’t only be for your performance but what you’re looking for in a sponsor as well. 

Don’t Blindly Pick the Biggest Fish in the Pond 

What I see most often is sponsorship seekers selecting companies solely due to the size of that company and how much money the sponsorship seeker anticipates they could receive. 

First, sponsorship rights holders create a budget goal and hand it down to their various departments and sponsorship properties. Then they pick a list of companies who “have a lot of money” and “sponsor everything” and away they go!

No wonder my colleagues on the brand side tell me that they are throwing out thousands of unsolicited sponsorship packages every single week!

Well, first of all, you should never send a sponsorship proposal until your prospects ask to see it. But we’re talking about prospecting today, so I won’t focus on the proposal. I just had to get that out of the way. 

The above method of finding sponsorship prospects is all wrong for a couple of reasons. 

For one, the companies with the deepest pockets who will quote-unquote “sponsor everything” are often the biggest brands on the planet. If you think you’re the only one who’s had the idea to contact them for a sponsorship opportunity, you’re in for a rude awakening. 

Tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of sponsorship seekers just like you had the same idea. These big companies are up to their eyeballs in sponsorship letters and proposals. 

The competition is very, very steep. You’d have a much smaller chance of getting noticed in such a huge sea of sponsorship seekers. 

Plus, as I always like to remind my blog readers, sponsorship is a two-way street. You need to offer the sponsor something of value to incentivize them to give you funding and/or promotions for your event, property, or opportunity. 

Can you solve the problems of a Fortune-500 company if you’re a nonprofit or a startup? Maybe, but in many cases, probably not. Therefore, the sponsorship arrangement is not a fit. 

Another reason not to go after only the big money companies is that you’re completely disregarding your audience when you do this.

You have dollar signs in your eyes, so you’re not paying attention to whether your audience would even be receptive to the companies you’re partnering with.

Again, just to reiterate, sponsorship is a two-way street. If the sponsor lives up to their end of the deal and gives you boatloads of cash but your event is a flop because your audience wasn’t engaged, then you’ll fail to meet the sponsor’s objectives.

This will create friction in the working relationship, and the sponsor will likely decline to partner with you again. More so, you could be in breach of contract, which creates even more trouble, this time legal trouble. 

Look to Your Audience 

Where do you begin finding sponsors then if not for the big money companies? That’s easy. Your audience.

You should issue your audience a survey at least twice a year gauging their preferences, attitudes, opinions, and buyer behavior. 

If this is your first time producing and sending out such a survey, I have a best practices PDF guide that will be your best friend as you proceed. You’ll be sure to ask the right kinds of questions, incentivize your audience to respond, and follow the right timing.

Once you begin tabulating the responses to your audience survey, keep track of the brands that your audience mentions using. 

These can be any kinds of brands, from toothpaste to handbags, cars and trucks to smartphones, clothing brands, chocolate brands, anything. 

Pay special attention to the brands that crop up again and again. Clearly, these are brands that matter quite a lot to a large subset of your audience. 

Now, I’m not saying you need to target these brands specifically. You don’t want to make any blind, charge-ahead decisions, remember. 

Instead, think about your sponsorship opportunity. Where does a chocolate and confectionary brand fit in? Where does an SUV manufacturer fit?

If the answer is nowhere, then keep the company name in a separate list. You might have another sponsorship opportunity in a few months where that SUV brand or chocolate producer is a better fit. 

The worst thing you can do is shoehorn a brand into your sponsorship opportunity because you think it will make your audience happy. It won’t. Wait for the correct opportunity to slot a prospect in.

For example, at a marathon, a chocolate brand hosting their own booth is not going to get a lot of reception. This is a fitness event and most people who are participating have been exercising nearly daily and eating clean for weeks. They’re not going to eat chocolate.

Now compare that to an outdoor family festival. Kids love candy, and so the same sponsor will have a much higher rate of receptivity now than they would at the marathon. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Dig Deep

Those brands that your audience mentions using and consuming are without a doubt your warmest prospects. They’re worth targeting (as appropriate, mind you), and might be easier to connect with.

When you can tell them, “hey, 54 percent of my audience uses your products,” that’s going to be like music to a sponsor’s ears. They know they have an attentive target audience in your customers. 

That said, even the warmest prospects can turn you down for reasons outside of fit, such as timing or lack of funds. 

It never hurts to make a huge list of potential prospects in case one goes quiet, ghosts you, or has to drop out for whatever reason. 

I recommend you watch my video and read the post called Sponsorship Prospecting Made Easy to figure out the various parties you’ll add to your prospects list.

You want to dig deep past that first list of warm sponsors into the brands that your audience has said have advertised to them recently (recently being within the last six to 12 months). This information is available in your survey. 

From there, it’s a lot easier to determine which brands aren’t advertising to your audience but might be interested in doing so. Going back to the example of chocolate (sorry to make you hungry), if your customers said Hershey’s has advertised to them, then maybe Cadbury would.

Don’t stop there! You might as well find all of Hershey’s competitors and add them to your prospects list as well. That would include brands like Russell Stover, Lindt, Godiva, Whitman’s, and Ghirardelli. 

For every brand you identified in your survey that your audience was interested in, find their direct competitors. 

This is how you generate a list of 100 potential prospects. 

Have a Vetting Process

Some of the prospects on your list will be red-hot while others will be ice-cold. Thus, you can’t assume that just because they’re on your prospects list that they’re worth engaging with to try and set up a discovery session. 

You need a vetting process in place that you can use consistently across your sponsorship prospects. 

Mismatches between the product/service the sponsor sells and your event theme are only one set of criteria to follow.

You also want to research the sponsor to determine their values and whether those are a fit. 

Where is the sponsor located? That’s important too. 

If they’re overseas, you can still orchestrate a deal, but you’re going to have to accommodate for matters such as time zone differences and travel expenses (someone has to come see the other one, and it’s usually you).

By vetting the prospect as much as you can before you two meet for a discovery session, you’re ensuring that no one’s time is wasted. Of course, you have the discovery session, you might find that you can’t offer any viable solutions for the prospect’s problems.

That’s not something you can really determine before you two chat. However, you can very easily determine if their values match up with yours by research alone. 

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How important is prospecting in sponsorship?

Incredibly important. It’s the only way to ensure you find high-quality sponsors that will engage your audience and make your event, program, or opportunity worth participating in/attending. 

Without understanding the basics of prospecting, you’ll waste too much time sending unsolicited sponsorship proposals to big names like Coca-Cola or Nike because you think they’ll respond to you (spoiler, they won’t because they’re inundated with requests). 

Can I go back to the same prospecting list for my next sponsorship opportunity?

You can, but it all depends on what type of event, program, or opportunity you have planned next and what kind of sponsor you need. For example, if you have a list of 40 good cash sponsors but you need a media or promotional sponsor, you can’t use that original list, at least not right now. 


A1 + I (A2 x V) = P

That’s my simple sponsorship prospecting formula. I think that between that formula and the best practices I presented today, your sponsorship program can benefit immensely!