Fundraising Events and Sponsorship: 5 Steps to Making the Ask

Guest Post by Chris Baylis, The Sponsorship Collective

For nonprofits, the fundraising grind can be difficult. Asking for money and simply offering “feeling good about your donation” in return, can be a tough sell. That’s where sponsorship comes in. Sponsorship is about offering your potential sponsors a value, an asset for supporting your amazing cause. It’s about using your fundraising event as a chance for a sponsor to get their brand out and to show a beautiful collaboration between the business world and philanthropy.

But are there really five steps to sponsorship? Isn’t sponsorship about setting a budget goal, creating a package with three levels (Gold, Silver, Bronze) and then dividing that budget goal across those three levels and e-blasting your stock proposal to every company you can think of?

The answer is yes! At least that’s the common practice, anyway. 

The Five Steps of Sponsorship Sales

I have spent a lot of time selling sponsorships, reviewing sponsorship proposals on behalf of brands and talking to prospects about their sponsorship goals. Based on this experience I can say with 100% confidence that the above mentioned approach is the least efficient way to sell sponsorship.

What is the best way? Well, truth be told (no matter what anybody tells you) there is no “best” way. That said, I have observed certain stages of the sponsorship sales process that, when followed, bring in more sponsorship dollars, build better relationships with prospects and simplify the sponsorship sales process.

Let’s break them down stage by stage and look at ways to implement them into your sponsorship sales program.

1. Inventory Building and Valuation

Why start here? Because your inventory of assets (what you will sell) tells you who you should be talking to. It guides your budget! No assets, no sales. It gets your leadership, board, admin staff…everyone on the same page.

I believe that before you can identify your ideal prospect, you need to know what you are selling. Most people start with a list of companies they want to talk to and initiate a conversation without any sense as to whether or not they even have something of interest to those companies.

As for valuation, most people use the “shoulder shrug” valuation method. That is, they have no idea what the market value is of the assets they want to sell. In stage one of sponsorship sales, identify your sponsorship properties, build the inventory of each of those properties and then determine what they are worth. Use this information to set your budget and identify your ideal prospects.

2. Prospecting

Step one in prospecting is to look at your inventory! If you are having trouble identifying a large enough pool of prospects, what should you do? You should go back to stage one and identify more assets. As you create your inventory, your prospect presents itself. It also makes the conversation much much easier. Going to a prospect and telling them you contacted them because they “have a lot of money” is not going to lead to a sale, but telling them that you have their target market in your database or at your event sure will!

Sponsor recruiting tips:

  • Treat and steward board and committee members like they are title sponsors! E-blasting them asking for “contacts” won’t work. Meet them for coffee and ask for help one on one.
  • Research your board members and current sponsors and go to them with a list of people you know they are connected to and ask for an intro.
  • Use LinkedIn to determine who is in your network and work in concentric circles, starting with those closest to you.
  • The power of the advice visit! Ask your contacts to meet and ask them for advice as to who else you should meet and what assets you’re missing. Ask them who they can introduce you to. Be specific.
  • Ask for referrals: current sponsors, volunteers, committees, investors, board, business contacts and service providers, plus your own referral network.

3. Getting the Meeting (and what to do once you have it!)

First of all, when you meet a prospect for the first time, bring nothing with you at all. Don’t bring a proposal, or a one-pager or any other information about your organization. The ONLY goal of the first meeting is to gather information and to get the second meeting, not to make the sale.

When you go to the meeting, only ask them questions. Don’t try to tell them anything at all about what you do unless they ask. Remember, you aren’t trying to make a sale here but to gather information. Try asking these questions to get the ball rolling:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • How do you normally engage in sponsorship?
  • What does your target market value?
  • What can you tell me about your sales goals for the coming year?
  • What would you consider to be the most important elements of a sponsorship package?

4. The Sponsorship Proposal

I’m not all that convinced that you even need a sponsorship proposal at all! In fact, all of the major sponsorship agreements I’ve negotiated didn’t use one and most of the other sponsorship agreements that I’ve worked on deviated so much from the original proposal by the end that I’m not sure a public-facing sponsor package has much value. The best approach is to build your inventory and then determine the value of all of your assets and negotiate each sponsorship based on your sponsor’s needs.

5. Activation, Fulfillment and Renewal

Once you’ve sold your sponsorship package, the real work begins! This work is also called “activation” which, at its heart, is making sure that you deliver everything you said you would and making sure that you sponsor takes full advantage of the assets you’ve sold them. Activation often costs money so be sure to educate your sponsor about costs (like ad design or product placement) and be sure to budget for the costs of activation within the price of your sponsorship opportunities.

After your event, program, or campaign don’t miss out on a golden opportunity to make your sponsors happy and to increase the odds of them coming back to the table with more money. That golden opportunity? The sponsorship fulfillment report!

How do you build a fulfillment report? Make a chart out of every single asset you promised your sponsor and tell them whether or not you delivered. Take a picture of everything that you delivered, things like logo placement, speaking engagements, product placement, samples, web traffic reports…you name it! Put it all together in a single report and call a meeting with your sponsor to show off your hard work.

This is where renewal comes in! What better time to ask your sponsors for their money for next year than while they are still excited about the event or campaign! You’ve just shown them how well their investment paid off and so you’ve earned the right to ask them for the sale.

See? I told you there was more to sponsorship than just a sponsorship package! When you set up your fiscal year to match the five stages of sponsorship sales, it makes it much easier to do things in a systematic way. Most important of all, your sponsors will love this approach!


About the Author: Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek. After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars. Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn

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