Make Partnerships Possible

It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. You have just returned from vacation and haven’t touched your day-planner in a week. Your voice mail reports 18 new messages, and the inbox on your desk is stacked so high it looks like a model of the Sears Tower.

Then you receive a call from your boss: “We’re going to need at least $25,000 in sponsorship money for the upcoming festival!”

You panic and break into a sweat.

You were supposed to create sponsorships for the entire year, but … Where do you begin?

Sponsorship is a cornerstone of any successful agency fundraising plan. According to the IEG Sponsorship Report’s annual survey, corporations around the globe will spend more than $24.6 billion sponsoring sports, arts, entertainment, causes and events.

If corporations are creating sponsorship line-items in their budgets, and your agency plans, operates, and hosts sports, arts, entertainment and events, what are you waiting for?

Park and recreation agencies can certainly create and manage their own sponsorship programs. The Batavia Park District in Illinois has raised thousands of sponsorship dollars in connection with its events and programs.

Try following the steps Batavia took, and then run in new directions.

Step 1: Create An Inventory List And Rate Card

When you step into a restaurant, the host hands you a menu. Perhaps you had intended to order a burger, but you had no idea how appealing the prime rib would be. And how about those desserts?

It’s just as appealing with potential sponsors. When they come to the table, they should be able to see all of their options. That’s why an inventory list and a rate card “menu” of sponsorship opportunities available within the park and recreation agency should be created.

In brainstorming for ideas, snag a copy of last year’s budget and note where programs and events overspent, or where opportunities present themselves. Don’t rule out items like candy for the Easter egg hunt, T-shirts for day camp, mileage signs for the 5K/10K races or a banner for the teen center.

Crank The Numbers

After each season, note how much was spent on those items that could be potentially underwritten by sponsors. Apply the necessary math to figure out the unit price of each item. Building the rate card based on reasonably estimated costs (based on historic costs) makes the card an important internal tool in gauging appropriate package-pricing and value.

Since no two proposals will be identical, it will be necessary to calculate each sponsorship item so that every package can be correctly priced.

But it’s not enough to know cost numbers. Sponsors want a real sense of benefits, too. Because sponsorship is more labor-intensive than measured media, and lacks guarantees, such as advertising’s “make goods,” it must overdeliver. For every $1 that sponsors invest, they should receive at least $1.50 worth of benefits.

When a company commits funds to support a program, it expects the folks running the program to have measurable goals and expectations. Some are simple to figure, for example, the number of people reached through a given program or event and comparison data with prior years.

Measuring other benefits, for example, quantifying the effectiveness of a literacy program, can be more difficult. (You might want to know the number of people helped or the average beginning and ending grade-level reading scores of the participants.)

Probably, the people at your agency who run an event or program have some measuring sticks in place. Be sure to tap their expertise before you describe a program or an event’s benefits to a potential sponsor.

Perform A Value Assessment

Another way to speak of benefits--both for program participants and sponsors--is to create a value-assessment graph using horizontal and vertical axes to plot the value of programs, based on information gathered from a variety of sources. The graph shows the value to the prospective company on one axis and the value to the community on another.

Step 2: Sell Your Product

Dynamic, full-color, snazzy-looking sales materials will need to be created. Since many potential sponsors’ first impression of an agency is shaped by these materials, they must be unique and comprehensive.

From a benefits standpoint, the materials will read like a menu of opportunities. The kit will also include relevant information on the local market, the organization (mission statement, goals) and the entity itself. Include a chart indicating the name of the event, last year’s attendance, items that need sponsorship, the quantity and if you prefer … the unit prices.

The Batavia Park District sponsorship kit includes articles rendered from the local papers, flyers, posters and brochures bearing sponsors’ logos and goodwill messages. This allows potential sponsors to salivate over what you are doing with other sponsors. They will do anything in their power to be a part of your entourage.

Don’t forget to give back, too. When it comes to relationships with sponsors, few things rival the power of a gift. A gift speaks of friendship. It communicates remembrance. It shows thoughtfulness. It demonstrates that you value the relationship.

Sponsors grow weary of park districts constantly asking for monetary sponsorships with few returns. When tweaking the sponsorship proposal and preparing to write the letter of agreement, make sure you add benefits that serve as gifts.

When negotiating a sponsorship with a vendor, such as a printer or hospital, exclusivity is an option. This is the greatest benefit you can offer and should be used when there is no conflict of interest. Choose exclusivity wisely.

Step 3: Gather Teammates, But Designate A Point Person

Never keep potential sponsors waiting on the phone or bouncing from office to office at your agency. Designate one contact person who is in charge of the sponsorship program. That person can be a marketing manager, PR person, director or superintendent. He or she must know the local terrain and be able to assist in expediting contacts and prospecting for business.

This doesn’t mean that many staff members should not be involved in the sponsorship effort. Other support staff, like recreation supervisors, can play a key role in assisting the sales effort.

Devise a comprehensive list of primary and secondary targets and then divide the list so that people at the agency can cover maximum ground. Perhaps recreation supervisors or other staff members already have existing relationships with key local corporate decision-makers. These staff members can make the initial approach to a potential sponsor, but should do so either in tandem with or under the coordination of the person in charge of procuring sponsorships.

Ideally, once sponsorship negotiations begin in earnest, the potential sponsor can deal directly (and almost exclusively) with the agency’s sponsorship liaison.

Step 4: Showcase Sponsorship

Know the product and pitch, pitch, PITCH! Spread sponsorship opportunities around. Don’t overlook the obvious vehicles of communication:

• Newspapers

• Seasonal brochures

• Flyers

• Posters

• Display ads

• Cable bulletin boards

• Announcement boards

• Marquees

Try relationship marketing by becoming a member of the chamber of commerce or local group, so the agency is seen as a part of the community, making contributions as well as seeking them. Search for businesses that value advertising.

Why not take a peek at how successful entities showcase their sponsorships? Don’t limit yourself to the park and recreation field; check out the city of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office of Special Events Web page on sponsorships: .

Visit one of these company’s Web sites that offer sponsorship consulting services: or . Using the factual information on these Web sites, you can create a proposal or presentation for a park board that will spark fresh enthusiasm, and show professional commitment to starting a sponsorship program at an agency.

Step 5: Evaluate The Program

Conduct a survey using past and present sponsorship contacts, and track the results. Perform a trend analysis of media coverage you have gathered for sponsored programs or events, using a 12-month moving average and identifying the amount of exposure.

Count newspaper inches or TV minutes, then multiply the numbers by the cost of advertising in those media to get a sense of the dollar value of the publicity the agency generated. These strategies will help track performance level with sponsors, as well as help them gauge the value of their sponsorship dollars with the agency.

A well-designed, well-executed sponsorship program will establish an interactive link with the community while simultaneously developing and enhancing affinities with targeted sponsors. It will provide an agency with a positive and highly visible community profile, and, ultimately, become its own revenue stream.

Allison Niemela, CPRP, is the director of marketing and public relations for the Batavia Park District. She serves on the Illinois Park and Recreation Association’s Board of Directors for the Communications and Marketing Section, and is also the founder and chairman for the C & M Boot Camp. She can be reached at (630) 879-5235 or