Corporate sponsors are the best way to add lots of money to the bottom line of your fundraising event.
It’s simple really: The more sponsors you have, the more money you’ll net.
You’ll also gain credibility as you promote your event because the names of the businesses supporting you brings validity.
Having sponsors means the difference in an event that generates mediocre results and one that blows past your goals.
Unfortunately, most small nonprofits aren’t good at getting sponsors. They either
- Don’t have a well-thought-out sponsor invitation
- Don’t start early enough to seek out sponsors
- Don’t approach the right businesses
The good news is that it’s all fixable. ANY small nonprofit can build up sponsors for their event. It might take a little time and a lot of effort, but it’s doable.
Let’s explore what makes a good sponsor and where to find them.
What is a Corporate Sponsor?
Before we go much further, let’s be clear about a corporate sponsor is.
A sponsor for a fundraising event:
- Is usually a business or corporation giving money in exchange for publicity and good will.
- Gets their name and/or logo on event materials and signage.
- Pays for their sponsorship out of their marketing budget, philanthropy budget, or general profit of the business.
The best sponsors have a mission or values that align with the nonprofit’s mission and values. For example, a food bank might have a grocery store chain as the main sponsor of their event.
Sometimes, top sponsors are businesses owned by a nonprofit’s major donor, Board member, or someone else who is passionate about the organization’s mission.
From the business’ point of view, the fundraising event they’re considering sponsoring needs to be one that gets them in front of their target audience or at least gets them publicity or awareness that will support their sales.
Who makes a good corporate sponsor? Usually it’s a company with
- A good brand and recognition in the community
- Interest in supporting the community
- A desire to support your nonprofit
The best sponsors will not only give you money but are bought into the success of the event. They’ll help you promote the event, show up to fill their seats, and genuinely enjoy the event.
Materials You Need to Recruit Corporate Sponsors
Finding sponsors requires a little art and a little science.
There are some definite “how to” steps you can follow, but success in getting corporate sponsors is about uncovering the specific company’s needs, interests, and expectations from their sponsor experience. What do they want? What will help them reach their goals?
Keep your donor radar on as you talk with sponsor prospects to find out what’s most important to them. You can tweak your sponsor invitation on the fly if needed to make it best fit the company. Just be sure you can deliver on anything you promise!
Before you approach anyone about a sponsorship, put a few things in place. It will make you appear organized which builds trust with your prospects.
Before you go after sponsors, have these ready:
- Sponsor packet or invitation detailing levels and benefits. This document, whether shared in print or electronic form, needs to look polished and be easy to glance through. It’s worth spending a little extra time and money to get the copy and design right. How it looks will have a big impact on the potential sponsor’s impression of you and your event.
- Event Committee members willing to go after sponsors. You won’t be able to get all the sponsors you need on your own. Many nonprofits expect their Board members to help get sponsors and while some can, most won’t which can leave you frustrated and doing most of the heavy lifting yourself. Instead of depending on your Board, create an event committee with the sole purpose of planning and executing the fundraising event. Recruit people for the committee who have business connections in the community and most importantly, are WILLING to ask their contacts for a sponsorship for the event. This relationship is critical in getting a “Yes.”
- Acknowledgement plan for sponsors. Be ready with an immediate thank-you letter when businesses commit to sponsoring. Then, have a process to gather their logo and other info you need from them, and circle back to them after the event to thank them again and let them know how much was raised.
Once you have your materials ready, it’s time to make a list of sponsor prospects.
Where to Find Corporate Sponsors
Don’t get a list from the local chamber or business association and send everyone a letter asking for a sponsorship.
It doesn’t work because there’s no relationship and the business has no idea who you are or if you’re legit.
Instead, try these:
1. Gather a list of prospects with contact info from last year’s event. This seems like a DUH, but I’m stunned at the number of nonprofits who don’t do this, so I’m including it in my recommendations. If you gave last year’s sponsors a good experience, it should be easy to renew them and maybe even upgrade them.
2. Next, have your event committee members make a list of businesses they have connections with. Personal contacts are CRITICAL in securing sponsorships.
3. Ask your staff, volunteers, and Board who they know at local businesses. You may have to jog their memory to help them remember that they know the manager at their dry cleaners or their cousin is the HR manager at the local plant or that their kids play soccer with the children of the owner of the big advertising company in town. A “sphere of influence” exercise can be really helpful here.
4. Look through your donor database. What companies are already supporting you and might be interested in sponsoring? Maybe they made a small donation last holiday season or sent a team of employees to volunteer with you last summer.
5. Look through your payables for sponsor prospects. Who are you spending money with? Consider all vendors as sponsor prospects. Reach out to them and remind them how much money you spend with them during the year and ask them to support your event in return.
6. Finally, look around the community for companies that have a mission that’s in alignment with yours. Then ask around to see if anyone knows anyone on the inside. Remember that a connection is key to getting the sponsor.
Tips for Getting New Corporate Sponsors
Always get a champion inside the company. You need an employee of the company you want to approach to be an advocate for your request. They will know who the decision makers are, what the process is, when decisions are made, and how to get your sponsor request shepherded through the process. This person will make ALL the difference in whether or not you get the sponsorship.
Understand your prospect. Each business has their own objectives for sponsorship. They may be interested in particular causes or in using sponsorships to get in front of their ideal audience. They may want exclusivity. The more you understand what they want, the easier it is to give it to them.
Be clear what you’re asking for. There’s a difference in asking for a grant and a sponsorship. These two methods of funding typically have different goals and come from different places. Foundations don’t usually give sponsorship money for an event. Instead, they like to fund projects or programs through grants. Sponsorships usually come from marketing budgets and aren’t really philanthropy because they’re meant to draw attention to the business and their brand, ultimately increasing customer revenue.
Tell them what they’ll get. Business decision makers listen to radio station WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). They want to know what they’ll get for their money. Itemize the ways you’ll promote their business through their sponsorship. Also be ready to share
- Demographics of your audience
- Past years’ attendee numbers and projections for this year
- Promotion reach (impressions through your social media channels, website, and newsletter; also any media promotion you’ll get)
Start early. Some companies need a lot of lead time to get approval or work it into their budget. That means you may need to ask as much as a year in advance depending on the process for a particular company.
Get creative in benefits. The more you know what your prospect wants, the more creative you can get in offering them something that meets their needs.
Know your numbers. Be ready to share a few key numbers about how many impressions your sponsor will get through your event, event promotion, your website, etc. If you can share the monetary value of those, even better.
Get media sponsors. Approach local TV, radio, and newspaper outlets to be media sponsors for your event. Basically, you’re asking them to promote the event to their audience at no cost to you. Ask your media sponsors for their promotion plan as early as possible. They should be able to tell you how often they’ll share and when and what an advertiser would pay for those same spots. Share this info with your corporate sponsor prospects to let them know they’ll be part of a “$X,000 media campaign.”
Have a signup form. As part of your sponsor invitation, have a form for your contact to fill out so you have their commitment in writing. And remember, they’re not a sponsor until you receive payment.
Be ready to accept in-kind sponsors. You’ll run across a few companies that want to give you products or services instead of money. For example, your local print shop might offer to donate all printing for the event (tickets, programs, posters, banners, etc.). Ask them to estimate the cost of all materials then include them in your sponsor lineup. After all, they just saved you from spending a bunch of money which helps just as well as a sponsor that gives you cash.
The Bottom Line
Sponsors can quickly increase the total revenue generated by your fundraising event. Not every company is a good sponsor prospect and strategically choosing sponsor prospects based on connections you have makes your chances of success increase dramatically.
Get your materials ready and go after prospects that have a connection with your nonprofit or an interest in your mission. Give them a great experience this year and they’ll come back again and again to sponsor. All those sponsorship dollars increase your net results from your fundraising event, which helps you change more lives. And that’s what we’re here for.