Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Organizing a nonprofit event – Finding and working with sponsors

Finding a sponsor is as good as selling your event. And it’s not just a Rs.500 ticket that you are selling but a Rs.500 ticket at a premium of Rs.50,000! You are selling a place at the venue (logo displays, standees, banners), time with a captive audience (to talk about their products, to distribute discount coupons, giveaway goodies/samples to experience), brand association (to be known as a cause supporter), online footprints, organizers’ time and efforts, your personal time and efforts, your commitment and support to their brand…. You get the drift? Admittedly, the most important of these to the sponsor is the time with the captive audience. To get a sponsor signed up, all you need to do is tell them how you can help them sell their products/services to your event participants! It’s as simple as that – you sell telling them how you can help them sell! Of course, it’s easier said than done. I should know – I sent out some hundred of mails three weeks before my event to potential sponsors when I discovered that we don’t have a committed sponsor for our events yet. And out of that hundred odd, just one converted to a sponsor and that was by pure luck!

Thinking back about my efforts, I don’t think I struggled enough. Perhaps if I had started a bit more early, or perhaps if I had used my network of friends and colleagues a bit more better, I might have got more sponsors. But that’s water under the bridge.

What I would like to do is share some tips from my limited experience of seeking out sponsors and from the knowledge gained through the many advices kind folks gave me over LinkedIn. In retrospect, I wish I had known these tips before starting out – because each one of them is/was applicable to me – I followed some and didn’t take up others. But hopefully, if you are new to seeking sponsorship, this will help you to work better with sponsors!

Also, I’m sure the following tips will be equally applicable to events, nonprofit organized or otherwise. But it is especially important for nonprofits because they are so much under pressure to keep their event operating cost as low as possible.

Please do add to this list or feel free to disagree with any of it. This is for the collective good for all of us who are working to put together events for causes.

Finding and Working with Sponsors
  • First things first. The minute you know you are going to hold an event and that you need sponsors to cover your operating costs, start putting the sponsorship proposal together. People are always going to ask you to send them ‘something’. 
  • Your sponsorship proposal can be a presentation, a word/pdf document, or even an email. What is more important is its content, look and feel. Brand it with your event guidelines, and verify that it provides only the correct facts about your event. If event details are not yet confirmed, make a bold note drawing attention to the same. Lastly, get it proof checked before sending it out.
  • Your sponsorship proposal must contain these details: the event details (venue, date, time – confirmed or tentative), a little history or reason about why you are holding the event, the demographics of people who are going to attend it (i.e. the captive audience at the event who the sponsor can target to sell their products/services to), the estimated cost of your event and a small budget note if available, clear benefits to the sponsor (which they can in turn use to sell within their organization), tax benefits (applicable or otherwise), and your contact details.
  • Always have multiple options to sponsor. Both cash and in kind. And for cash, though you can fix an amount for different levels of sponsorship, don’t be too stuck to it. (For example, if you have only one sponsor who paid you 30k but your platinum level is 1 lakh, it’s okay to make them your platinum sponsor – that is if you are not expecting any more sponsors to come onboard). Another strategy is to seek a number of sponsors each pledging a small amount finally adding up to what you require.
  • At the same time, be careful about accepting too many sponsors – kind or cash. You won’t be able to service all their requests at the event and you don’t want to dilute your event image. 
  • Start approaching potential sponsors as early as possible. Don’t wait for the finer details of the event to be finalized. If you know the event is going to happen, and know roughly what it’s going to be, go ahead and start sending those mailers and proposals out.
  • Explore all channels and mediums to find sponsors – online (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, Mailers, etc.), and offline (friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, somebody you met at another event, etc.)
  • Stop trying to find just the ‘right’ contact in the company. Don’t hesitate to approach anyone and everyone – from your friend’s friend who worked there a year back to your 3nd level connection on LinkedIn. You never know who they know in their company.
  • It’s okay to initiate the process with multiple companies that are in the same market space (aka competitors). But make sure you handle your communications with them very well. And be clear that it will be first come first taken. When talking to competitors simultaneously, give them a cutoff date for confirming their sponsorship – that way you can follow up with the ones that showed interest and let the ones go that didn’t even reply.
  • Always approach the previous edition’s sponsors first. Give them an opportunity to say no before approaching their competitors.
  • Give enough time for potential sponsors to respond once you send them your proposal. Do send them a reminder or two after a week but do not ‘stalk’ them.
  • Once a sponsor commits, be very attentive to their needs. Find out their expectation from the event and lay down what you can offer early – get these written and acknowledged by both of you. If you can’t service something they want, be very clear in vocalizing it. This won’t necessarily mean losing them - there will always be ways to find a middle ground.
  • Keep in regular touch with your sponsors from their time of commitment until the event. In fact, it’s a must to send them a thank you note after your event along with a small feedback form. Will work wonders for your next edition.
  • Beware of sponsors who would want to bring in their own ‘cause’ and ‘conditions’. Being attentive to sponsor’s needs does not mean bending over backwards. Never compromise your event image.
  • If things did not go to the expectation of the sponsor at the event, please apologize after the event and work together to find how you can compensate.
  • Never ever forget to ‘time-bind’ the sponsorship proposal. After all, your event will be just a day or even a week, not more. Same way, promotional benefits can be provided only during the time leading to the event and just a few days after it. Do not commit to promoting their services after the event – even if you do want to do it, do it personally, not through your event brand.
  • If a sponsor who seemed very interested suddenly drops out at the last minute, don’t lose heart. Give them a call or send them a mail to find out why. Be frank and let them know that you have depended on the money they agreed to bring in and that you have made your own commitments to pay event costs from that money. They may have a change of heart!
  • Ask other event organizers for their advice and recommendations for potential sponsors. Though it’s unlikely that you will get the very same sponsor, it doesn’t hurt to approach their sponsors.
  • If a company hesitates to part with money, talk to them about sponsoring gifts or give aways at the event. At the least, you can ask their permission to put up event posters in their cafeterias or to send a promotional email to their employee distribution list to sell tickets.  And don’t forget to include them in your event invitation list!
  • Clearly differentiate the benefits you offer to different level of sponsorship – don’t treat them all the same. After all, your platinum sponsor will want to be treated special.
  • Avoid very last minute signups. It will become a logistic bottle neck and take away precious event organizing time.
  • Don’t approach the wrong brands for sponsorship. For instance, approaching a hard liquor brand for an event where children are expected to be part of the audience is not a very good idea. Ateef, a friend who also helped with a few tips, recounts from his experience – he was successful in getting a very big amount from a company but at the end had to turn it away because his event board didn’t want such a brand’s poster on their event campus. And guess what that brand was? Underwear!
  • Once sponsors are signed up, find out their branding guidelines and make sure you follow them when you use their logos and other artifacts on your event sites, banners and in other places.
  • Lastly but most importantly, remember that though sponsorship deals are made between your event and the brand, the relationship between the people at both ends determines which direction the sponsorship proposal will swing. 
Your thoughts?


Archana Ramakrishnan said...

Good one! And right on time :)

Vaijayanthi KM said...

@Archana - What do you think inspired me to pen this down? Your call of course :)