If you've hosted a fundraising event in the past, you know how important it is to find sponsors. Sponsorships can come from individuals, local businesses or large corporations, and many events rely on sponsor support through cash, volunteer or in-kind donations.
No matter how many years your event has been held, many nonprofits have trouble getting started or expanding their reach. Fortunately, sponsorship done right is a win-win for both parties!
Read on for the two best questions to answer before seeking sponsorships, plus practical tips for setting sponsor levels, brainstorming unique incentives and more.
Step 1: How will sponsors benefit? (Hint: publicity!)
Think of your favorite sport: basketball, baseball, football, hockey. Imagine you're in the stands, overlooking the court, field or rink.
Now try to imagine the scene without any corporate logos! Seems bare, doesn't it?
Fact is, corporations shell out millions to sponsor events, plaster their logos on equipment and even buy naming rights to whole stadiums for one reason: It works.People see the name, say the name and, in best cases, get attached to these beloved brands (think of the uproar when icons like the "Sears Tower" in Chicago are renamed).
Corporate sponsorship is a form of advertising that increases brand awareness and pays significant returns.
Likewise, event sponsorships are the perfect chance to offer businesses the same benefit—brand recognition—with the added feel-great bonus of making a difference in the community (plus some valuable tax deductions). The best sponsorships form a relationship that's beneficial for both parties.
Come up with a list of possible sponsorship rewards.
Rewards are typically media impressions and logo placement, but the sky is the limit here in terms of creativity. Consider these examples:
- name announced during the live auction
- dedicated press release announcing sponsorship
- complimentary team tent at the event
- complimentary event registrations (one golf foursome, a gala table of 10, 20 race registrations, etc)
- tickets to a VIP reception
- banner or logo included on promotional materials and signage: t-shirts, flyers, website, postcards, banners, magazine ads, auction catalog, newsletters and more
- arrange and proportionally size sponsor logos and ad space according to giving level
- Reach out to local papers for in-kind donations of ad space that you can offer as rewards as well
- literature placement on each table
- commemorative plaque or framed letter
- featured mentions on social media
- merchant booth at your event
- It never hurts to ask what they want in a sponsorship package, or brainstorm together how to customize the right package for their needs.
While it's important to clearly explain the nonprofit's mission and results, keep the focus on how sponsors will benefit. Make it clear: Your event is a marketing opportunity they can't afford to pass up.
Determine sponsorship levels and allocate rewards.
The next step is to figure out how to arrange these rewards into appropriate sponsorship tiers. The “golden rule” of sponsorship rewards is simple: Those who give more, get more.
- Valuating Sponsorship Tiers
Most fundraising events offer sponsorship levels in at least 3 tiers. The wider range of sponsorship levels you can offer, the more likely businesses of any size can find a tier within their philanthropic budget. (Of course, you won’t want to offer too many options, either, which can overwhelm or paralyze sponsors from making any decision at all.)
Typically top-tier sponsorships (such as the right to present the entire event) are limited as "exclusive" to increase the perceived value of these sponsorships, but quantities of all other levels can be left open-ended.
How much to ask from each sponsor depends on your overall fundraising goals. Bigger organizations and events often ask for corporate sponsorships well into the tens of thousands of dollars, while smaller events may offer sponsorships worth $1,000 and under, in exchange for rewards like ad space in the catalog or flyers.
Nonprofits also usually name the tiers after medals (gold, silver, bronze) but you can get creative according to the theme. (For a golf tournament, one of our clients offers the chance to become a "Putting Green Sponsor", "Golf Cart Sponsor" and more.) You can also make businesses the official sponsors of certain areas of the event, like the driving range, beverage station, Kids' Fun Run and so forth.
Example: Sponsorship levels from a nonprofit with total annual revenue of over $10 million
- Presenting Sponsor: $50,000
- Diamond Sponsor: $25,000
- Platinum: $15,000
- Gold: $10,000
- Silver: $5,000
- Bronze: $2,500
Example: Sponsorship levels from a nonprofit with an annual revenue under $500,000
- Gold: $5,000
- Silver: $2,500
- Ruby: $1,250
No matter how you name or sort your levels, be very clear about what each level receives. Plus, keep each tier's rewards distinct from one another. Why? If a sponsor is on the fence between two levels, significantly better rewards at the next tier gives the sponsor a reason to go higher.
- In-Kind and Customized Sponsorships
In addition to direct cash pledges, you can also offer the chance to give in-kind or volunteer their services.
One great example is media sponsorships. Reach out to local magazines, radio stations, TV stations and newspapers for donated advertising to promote both your event and your other sponsors. For in-kind donations, volunteering of services and any other mix-and-match rewards, let potential sponsors know in your solicitation if they have the option to customize a sponsorship package.
Underwriting Big-ticket Consignment Items
Featured high quality, unique auction items like travel Experiences drives ticket sales and elevate the reputation of your entire event. Unfortunately, these items are also typically the most challenging to get donated. Give bidders the chance to spend their travel budget at your event by reserving no-risk trips on consignment. Then, leverage sponsorships to capture 100% of the winning bid!
Underwriting a trip offers all the media perks of a cash pledge, plus on-stage recognition (in a live auction) and/or brand visibility on the item display (in a silent auction).
Help potential sponsors imagine the extra rewards of underwriting, say, an amazing Napa Wine Country VIP Insiders Tour for $4,000...
This amazing 3-night trip is the high point of your live auction. All ears are on the auctioneer as he recognizes your company's generous gift, to the cheers and applause of a sophisticated local audience. Your gift encourages long-time donors Mr. and Mrs. Smith to enthusiastically bid at $6,000, knowing all of the proceeds go to a great cause—which then encourages their friends to bid at the same price, and then another couple. Before long the package (which can be sold virtually limitless times) has sold to four happy couples, and your $4,000 gift has multiplied into a $12,000 net profit for the organization. When the group returns from their unforgettable experience, they come thank you personally for making these wonderful memories possible.
Anyone can underwrite a package, and busy individuals and local businesses alike will appreciate how easy it is to underwrite a trip. They'll get significant name recognition at your event without having to do any additional work.
Your guests win an incredible trip; sponsors underwrite the cost in one easy step; and 100% of the proceeds go to your organization and programs. A triple win!
Demonstrate how their donation will make an impact.
As mentioned, it's best to focus your letter on how sponsors benefit from their contributions. However, companies want to know they're supporting reputable and worthy causes. An estimated 71 percent of consumers say they would switch brands based on their connection with certain causes, so it's more important than ever for companies to make the most of their philanthropic funds.
If you don't have one already, create a 1-page organization "hot sheet" of facts, figures and moving stories that demonstrate your impact. Include the sheet with your proposal letter or have it ready to hand over for in-person solicitation.
Step 2: Who is most likely to sponsor this event?
Now that you've hammered out exactly why your event is worth sponsoring, it's time to figure out who to contact regarding sponsorships. While a thoughtful, polite ask generally never hurts, make the most of your limited time by targeting past sponsors and those most likely to support your cause.
Prioritize past sponsors.
When done right, sponsorships lead to long-lasting relationships between your organization and business leaders in the community.
Each year, list out people and businesses that have sponsored your event in the past. They have clearly exhibited interest in and familiarity with your cause, so of course you want to prioritize these repeat donors.
Since this isn't a "cold call," reaching out to each prior sponsor personally is the best way to nurture and retain sponsors. If local, consider taking these important contacts out to lunch or inviting them to tour your building.
Let them know it was a pleasure to work with them the year before, then reiterate the value of their sponsorship by quantifying how many people attended the previous event and how many media impressions they received as an event sponsor (via promotional materials like flyers posted, invites mailed, hits on the website and social media, etc).
If they expressed particular enthusiasm with your nonprofit or satisfaction at your event, try brainstorming together how they might be able to increase their involvement. You might suggest a modest increase in their contribution from the year before (along with greater or more exclusive rewards), or ask for their feedback as you plan the event.
Tap your network for references.
In addition to past sponsors, seek out potential sponsors with whom you have connections or references. Go through your own contacts for business owners you know personally, then ask committee and board members to do the same. Be sure to mention your contact by name in the introductory paragraph of the letter, or even adjust your sponsorship request template to come directly from them.
Target like-minded potential sponsors.
Attracting new donors is always a top challenge for nonprofits, so events are a great way to get brand new, one-time support that may lead to repeat giving.
That said, not every business is the right fit to sponsor your event. Some may be looking for more media coverage than your event can reasonably acheive, while others may simply not be interested or have no philanthropic budget. To save time and increase the likelihood of a successful proposition, try focusing on businesses that are a good fit for your organization or audience.
Who would be most interested in reaching the people who attend your event?
Sports tournaments (like 5Ks, golf tournaments and bowl-a-thons) can reach out to related businesses (like running clubs, athletic clothing providers and sports teams). Nonprofits that serve children can reach out to kids' clothing retailers, amusement parks, toy stores and more. Relevant organizations may also be able to donate in-kind products, auction items, services and expertise to support your event.
In addition to related businesses, talk to your board, staff and volunteers for ideas and connections. They may work for companies with corporate giving programs. Also smart: looking at similar events in your area and checking their sponsor lists.
Target your sponsorship asks strategically and even if they choose not to sponsor this year, they are more likely to consider it next yea; they may even change their minds once they start seeing your promotional materials in action.
We hope this post has sparked some ideas or given a helpful refresher on acquiring and retaining event sponsors.
Want a sponsorship request letter template? Good news! We are proud to announce the latest resource in our library: the Winspire Sponsorship Kit! The free Kit comes complete with sample letters, forms and easy-to-customize templates, so get click below to get your copy today.
Plus, check out "10 Easy Steps to Effective Sponsorship Request Letters" for the nuts and bolts of crafting a well-worded, enthusiastic and effective sponsorship proposal letter.
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