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When a Sponsor Says They Have No Budget 

by | April 26, 2022

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Here’s a scenario I’m sure you’ve faced before. 

You spent a lot of time digging deep into your audience and segmenting them. You came up with thoughtful sponsorship prospects that you figured your audience would be especially receptive to.

You reached out to a few and had some discovery sessions. 

Then, after another meeting or two, you hear it. The prospect tells you they don’t have a sponsorship budget.

What in the world do you do in a situation like this? Are you really forced to start all over with the next prospect? You already put a lot of time and effort into this prospect, after all.

Before you panic, make sure you keep reading. In today’s post, I’ll tell you what you should do when you hear comments like “I have no budget” from your sponsorship prospects.

It might not be what you think, but it does work!

A Cautionary Tale About Sponsorship Budgets 

I want to tell you a story about my friend Charlie who faced the exact same situation you now find yourself in. 

Everything was going swimmingly with a sponsorship prospect until they dropped the B-word (budget!).

Charlie was meeting with a law firm about a potential sponsorship arrangement. During a meeting, the law firm told him that they didn’t have any money to funnel into sponsorship. 

Apparently, they had used up their sponsorship funds for the rest of the year.

It seemed pretty cut and dried, right? It’s game over, you lose, time to start from scratch.

Well, that’s not the attitude Charlie had.

Rather, he decided to change tact. He began asking the law firm about the VIP experiences the firm was offering its clients. He quizzed them on food and beverage expenses the firm incurred as well as the entertainment fees. 

The law firm gladly told Charlie all about its VIP budget, hospitality budget, and entertainment budget. 

The reason the law firm didn’t mind spending money in these areas was that the firm knew that doing so drove up the rate of new clients and kept current clients happy and loyal.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering, what exactly does this have to do with sponsorship?

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The answer is everything.

Charlie essentially asked the law firm about sponsorship initiatives but without using the word “sponsorship” anywhere. 

He talked more about what it took for the law firm to obtain clients and retain its clientele. 

Once Charlie took this different approach, he was able to get to the heart of the matter, which is helping the sponsor (the law firm) meet its current objectives and grow. 

After offering the law firm a few suggestions on how that could happen, the firm was impressed. Charlie was asked to submit a proposal, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

So What Do You Do When a Sponsor Tells You They Have No Budget?

That’s an incredible story, but you can’t help but feel a little confused. The law firm told Charlie they didn’t have a sponsorship budget, yet suddenly they did?

No. The law firm didn’t suddenly have a budget. Rather, the law firm was looking at the definition of sponsorship too narrowly. 

They assumed it only meant X, Y, and Z. Charlie proved that sponsorship could entail A, B, and C, which the firm did have a budget for.

A lot of companies perceive sponsorship as logo placement, exhibit space, and gold, silver, and bronze tiers. No company likes that kind of stuff, so of course, the law firm said it had no sponsorship budget.

Heck, for all we know, that could have been an aversion tactic.

So, keeping all that in mind, how do you handle a situation when a sponsor tells you they don’t have a budget? Here’s what you should try.

Watch Your Vocabulary

When Charlie told that story of his sponsorship success, it wasn’t just to me. It was in a group setting.

Someone else in the group mentioned that it’s not that Charlie got the sponsor to change their mind, per se. He just shifted his language.

I definitely agree that that’s a big part of it. Vocabulary is so important in the realm of sponsorship or in any professional relationship, really.

When you go into a meeting and speak using nothing but sales jargon because you want to seem smart, you create a disconnect. You’re not speaking on a human level with another person. 

If anything, you’re probably hoping that you can confuse the other person into the sale. 

In my sponsorship proposal template and all the templates I’ve published that have been a spinoff of that OG template–such as my conference sponsorship proposal template–I’ve talked about when you should use the word sponsorship versus when you shouldn’t.

And the last section proves why. 

People don’t all perceive sponsorship the same way, and I can’t stress that point enough. 

Even if every company doesn’t think that sponsorship means logos and gold, silver, and bronze packages, they likely assume that it means they give you money and you give them something that’s maybe of decent value.

Don’t go into a meeting with a prospect and talk about sponsorship hoping to get them to see it your way. Rather, show them your way without explaining it. 

That will make a much bigger difference. 

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Be Solution-Minded, Not Salesy

What happens when you pick up the phone to cold-call someone and try to sell them a product or service? Most of the time, you get hung up on and blocked. 

Maybe there are a few expletive-laden tirades thrown in there as well.

People generally don’t like the pushy sales approach, and that goes for sponsorship as well. 

If a prospect sees you coming in with all your materials like your sponsorship proposal–and especially if you’re pushing the arrangement as a sponsorship–well, you already know how a prospect’s preconceived notions about sponsorship can make them lose interest in a hurry.

They’ll listen to your spiel to a point before telling you they can’t afford sponsorship right now.

I know your ultimate goal is the sponsorship sale, but you can get there without being the pushy salesperson. The way you get there is by crafting tailored solutions to a sponsor’s problem.

Don’t go into a sponsorship meeting like the discovery session thinking of it as a sales meeting. Don’t think of the prospect as a person to convert. 

Instead, think of them as a friend. 

If your friend had a problem, you would gladly listen to that problem, right? You wouldn’t push a solution on them hoping to make money because they’re your friend.

You’d think carefully about their problem and recommend something that you think would work. And if you genuinely didn’t know how to help, you’d admit that.

When you start talking a prospect’s language–i.e., listening to their problems and coming up with viable solutions–even if they didn’t necessarily think they had a sponsorship budget before, they could change their mind now that they deem your services worthwhile. 


At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called a sponsorship, a partnership, or a business deal. If you’re helping a prospect meet their goals and you’re receiving benefits in exchange, then that professional relationship is worth having.

As a sponsorship professional, trust me when I say that the definition of sponsorship varies vastly. You perceive it differently because you read this blog, but most people assume it means tired benefits they’re not really interested in.

Thus, to brush you off, a prospect could tell you they don’t have a sponsorship budget. 

Rather than immediately give up, cut back on all the sponsorship talk, focus more on achieving sponsor goals, and don’t be too salesy. 

You may just find that more prospects do have the budget after all. 

If you need more help getting calls or meetings with prospects or navigating your sponsorship program, I highly recommend you check out my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program