Fundraising events can be time-consuming and stressful to plan, but successful events can be game-changers for nonprofit organizations. That’s because they generate diverse sources of revenue — your nonprofit brings in money from participants in the community, but also engages sponsors. But the latter can be challenging for many nonprofits. How do you find event sponsors? How do you start the conversation?
In this post, we’ll break down the art and science of getting event sponsorships. So, when it’s time to start planning your next event on Mightycause, you’ll know how to effectively pitch to potential sponsors and have an even bigger impact with your event.
Do Your Research
The trick to finalizing a sponsorship is understanding what speaks to them. And that is something you’ll learn when you’re reviewing potential event sponsorships. Before you reach out, make your first call, send that first email… you should be doing copious research.
This is how to get started.
Finding Prospective Event Sponsors
Just as your nonprofit’s work won’t appeal to every donor, it won’t appeal to every sponsor, either. You’ll need to create a list of prospective event sponsors before you start pitching. And to create that list, you’ll want to find business and sponsors that make sense for your event and your organization.
- Look within. So, before you start from scratch with new potential event sponsors, look at those already in your ranks. Do you have an existing relationship with a local business? Is there a company that sends staff members to volunteer for you? Do you have any business owners on your Board of Directors? Got any companies that have programs to allow employees to donate part of their paycheck to your organization? Add those to the list first! They’re low-hanging fruit!
- Find like-minded businesses. When considering new sponsorship prospects, focus on finding businesses that make sense for your nonprofit. Not only will it be easier to make your pitch if you work in a similar area, but it’s more likely your prospect will find value in sponsoring your event. For instance, a pet food supply store would find more value in partnering with an animal rescue than a breast cancer charity. And a food bank would find a more natural partner with a local farm-to-table restaurant than a clothing store.
- Consider size & capacity. You’ll want to search for event sponsors that are evenly matched to your nonprofit. And the reason why is because sponsors tend to be more open to sponsoring nonprofits similar to themselves. A large, national company is more likely to sponsor a large, national nonprofit. Likewise, a small, locally-owned business is more likely to sponsor a smaller nonprofit focused on helping the community they operate in. So, stay realistic when considering potential event sponsors. Look for businesses similar to your nonprofit in size and scope (or, just slightly bigger).
Getting the Right Information
When you’re in research mode, focus on finding a direct contact at the company. If all else fails, you can reach out to a general email address or phone number. But it’s worth going the extra mile to find a real person you can talk to about sponsoring your event.
Who that might be depends on the company. For mid-size or large companies, HR might have a staff member who handles that. At small companies, you might be dealing directly with the owner. If you have a contact at the company (say, someone on your board), you will want to have them get involved in routing your request or connecting you with the correct person.
Something you’ll also want to do some digging into is any other philanthropic efforts at the company. There are three basic things you’ll want to research:
- Propensity. Does your prospect seem to be interested in philanthropy? Is the company involved with any other nonprofits in your community?
- Affinity. When evaluating affinity, you’re trying to determine whether a prospect has a connection to your cause. You can gauge affinity in a couple of ways. Do they support causes similar to yours? Is there any crossover between their business and your nonprofit’s mission? For instance, a locally-owned business that sells children’s books and educational toys would have a strong link to a nonprofit focused on early childhood education. But that same business has no real link to, say, a drug recovery nonprofit. This where you’ll hone in on event sponsors that make sense.
- Capacity. You’re looking at wealth here. But don’t get too caught up in it! Warren Buffet may be the richest and most philanthropic man in the United States, but that doesn’t mean he’s a hot prospect to sponsor your small local event. What you’re trying to determine is whether a potential sponsor is in a position to become an event sponsor. So, brand new businesses just getting established, or companies that recently filed for bankruptcy, likely don’t have the capacity to be event sponsors.
Winding Up to Pitch
Research is the first step, but that doesn’t mean you can go straight from research to outreach. There are few steps in between you’ll want to follow to make sure that when you make your pitch, you are as strong as you can be.
Create a One-Pager
We can guarantee you that when you’re conducting outreach to sponsors, you will be asked once or twice for a document explaining your event and what sponsorship entails. So, save some time and stress by getting this ready upfront! And, as a bonus, developing a one-pager can be extremely helpful in thinking through your event and sponsorship levels.
What Should Be on a One-Pager?
Your one-pager should be a scannable overview of your event and why sponsors should get involved. Keeping things to a single page means you’ll need to be focused, clear, and concise. Here are some basic things you’ll want to include:
- Who are you? You don’t need to include your whole mission statement (you won’t have space!) but you’ll need to briefly introduce your nonprofit and what you do. See if you can get this down to a sentence — and if you are 501c3, that is important to mention! Also, include your logo and branding.
- What and when is your event? Include some basic facts about your event: what is it, when it is, where is it, and so on.
- Who is your target audience? This is going to be important to many potential sponsors. Who are your supporters? You don’t need to get too detailed, but information about who you are expecting to show up for your event is important, because potential sponsors will want to know if there is an overlap between their target customers and your nonprofit’s supporters.
- How many people are you expecting? This can be a ballpark number, but it’s important to include so your potential event sponsors can understand the size and scope of your event — and how many people their business could reach by sponsoring it.
- What are the benefits for event sponsors? Keep it short and focused on the big picture. What are you offering? Logos on t-shirts? Booth space? Advertising inserts in swag bags? You can work out the details with each sponsor, but give potential sponsors an idea of what you can offer them in exchange for a sponsorship.
- Who is the contact? Include a name, title, email address and phone number for your point of contact for sponsors.
You also want your one-pager to be slick and professional-looking, so either work with a volunteer graphic designer, or utilize free programs like Canva to create a snazzy PDF.
Determine What You Can Offer Event Sponsors
Believe it or not, tiers for event sponsors are a little controversial. We know they work with individual donors, but with event sponsors? The jury is out on whether they are helpful or harmful. Some feel that a structure is helpful when approaching sponsors, while some feel that leaving the conversation open-ended and working with each individual sponsor is more constructive.
Whether you set sponsorship tiers or not is entirely up to your nonprofit! You can stick with the standard Gold/Silver/Bronze levels, or make custom asks. However, you do need to come to a basic understanding of what you can reasonably offer to event sponsors before you start reaching out.
Determining pricing, or sponsorship valuation, can be tricky. You don’t want to price anyone out, but you don’t want to devalue your event, either. How do you strike a balance between being approachable and not selling your event short? Here’s what we recommend:
- Research other nonprofits. Find out what other nonprofits have done! Pay close attention to similar events, nonprofits similar in size to yours, and other local events. If you have contacts at other nonprofits, or belong to any forums for nonprofit professionals, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask what they did for their last event!
- Don’t give out pricing details upfront. You want to be transparent, sure, but sponsors aren’t buying goods from you. You don’t need to give them a menu before they’ve even sat down at the table. By breaking the ice and making contact first, you can find out more about their interest level and capacity before coming in with an amount. Remember, sponsorship isn’t just an exchange between a nonprofit and a company, it’s about building a relationship.
- Make it clear that you can customize packages. By leaving things a little more open, and talking to your prospect, you’ll get more sponsors. It can take a little more work, but everything is negotiable! Either come up with a price for each sponsor, with benefits that work for them, or create an a la carte menu. This gives you a door you can open if a potential sponsor is interested but has some financial limitations.
- Determine the value of your assets. Okay, yes, we just said that isn’t not an exchange of goods. BUT… that doesn’t mean the perks you’re offering sponsors doesn’t have a monetary value! When considering pricing, consider the market value of your offerings. If you have an event that you estimate 200 people will attend, and your sponsor has a logo prominently placed on 200 t-shirts, what is the value of that to the company? You can talk to previous sponsors to help figure that out, or do a little market research.
You can also find sponsorship valuation calculators online if you really get stuck! Don’t accept their calculations as gospel truth, but use them as a jumping-off point if you’re really not sure where to begin.
Consider What Appeals to Event Sponsors
To be clear, businesses usually don’t sponsor charitable events out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it because there’s something in it for them. Whether it’s advertising, opportunities to connect with potential customers, goodwill in the community, or brand-building… event sponsors are looking out for number one. So, to get sponsors, you’ll need to appeal to their interests.
Things like adding their logos to swag (such as t-shirts) can be appealing to sponsors, as can booth space, advertising at the event (on signs, on event collateral, and so on), and shoutouts on your website, social media, and your Mightycause page. (Mightycause has dedicated space to recognize your sponsors by adding logos and linking to their websites.)
Out-of-the-box sponsorship perks like speaking at the event, free event registration for their employees, or even selling or promoting a key product of theirs at your event can help you stand out from the crowd.
Be sure to focus on things you can actually deliver, and don’t be afraid to get creative! Just make sure everything you offer takes into account what appeals to business sponsors, and what your nonprofit can reasonably agree to provide… and what makes sense for your event.
Outreach to Potential Event Sponsors
So, you’ve done all the prep work. You’ve researched your prospects, and have a solid list with some direct contacts. You’ve got a sleek one-pager and you’re confident in your offerings. Here how to pitch to sponsors.
Personalize Your Contact
We recommend emailing your contacts first, with the intention of getting them on the phone for a call or scheduling a meeting. But don’t do a blast email! Send personal emails to your contacts, specific to who you’re trying to connect with.
To make life easier, you can create a Google Doc with some text that you can copy, paste, and customize for each prospective sponsor.
Keep It Concise
Look, we’re all on email overload, so your emails are more likely to be read if they’re scannable, direct, and to the point. No one wants to read an essay. Include line breaks for readability, make it clear what you want, and provide next steps. Here’s an example of an email to potential sponsors.
You can attach your one-pager, or try to get them on the phone first — it’s up to you!
Stay Focused on the Benefits to Them
You don’t need to go into detail about your nonprofit and your work when reaching out. Remember, this isn’t about you, it’s about them. You’re trying to get them to see event sponsorship as a mutually beneficial partnership. So, stay focused on the big picture, and center the conversation around their needs and what’s beneficial to them.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about your nonprofit’s work at all! Definitely including some information about who your nonprofit serves, who your supporters are, and any overlap with your potential sponsors’ concerns and target customers is helpful. But you’re not pitching your nonprofit — you’re pitching sponsoring your event. So, stay focused on that, and don’t get too in the weeds trying to explain the details of what you do or why your work is important.
Follow 👏 Up 👏
We can’t stress this enough: Follow up! We recommend taking a strategic approach to following up instead of playing it by ear. Keep a spreadsheet of your contacts with prospective sponsors, and set calendar reminders to follow up with them. You can also figure out how many times you want to follow up with prospective donors before calling it a day (for this event, at least).
The “Magic Email”
If you’ve followed up and haven’t gotten a response, hit them with the “magic email.” What’s that, you ask? Well, it basically looks like this:
Why is it magic? In many cases, it successfully nudges people to respond to you. And even if it doesn’t, you’ve politely closed out the correspondence.
Take No For An Answer… For Now
So, if a prospect says no, or simply doesn’t respond, move on with planning your event and engaging with responsive prospects. But don’t write them off entirely! Take notes, and plan to reach back out to them when you’re planning your next event or campaign. This event may not have been the right one for them, but you may be able to get them involved with another campaign, another event, or in a totally different capacity.