Soliciting Sponsors

Photos Courtesy iof the City of College Station

What is your reaction when someone asks for money? It probably depends on the situation. If a local charitable organization is raising funds to help a family in need, you might be more likely to give. If a person is begging on the street, you might have the same reaction, or maybe you walk away as quickly as possible because you don’t trust that your donation will be used appropriately.

What if a charitable organization asks for a donation from your business? Do you want to know more about the organization first, or the cause that is being funded? To put this in business terms, are you more concerned with your Return on Investment (ROI) or that your company supports the community?

These questions are all valid and important, especially when you will be doing the asking. Employees in municipal parks and recreation departments are constantly trying to make budgets go further, and sponsorships are a common solution. But are you approaching these situations armed with as much information as possible? Or are you just throwing a packet of information at a potential sponsor and hoping that is enough?

To combat the inevitable question, “Why should we sponsor this event?”, prepare both qualitative and quantitative support. Our agency used this flexible approach for a recent event and was able to recruit over $20,000 in sponsorships.

Quantitative Vs. Qualitative Data

Quantitative data are relatively simple to understand, while not always as easy to obtain. In its simplest form, this type of data gives a measurable ROI to the potential sponsor. For example, “If your company gives us _______, we give you ________ in return.” The sponsor packet will answer any questions and explain the advertising opportunities and other benefits related to sponsoring the event.

Answering ROI as it pertains to marketing exposure is much trickier because it is not easily measured. A sponsor may be exposed to 10,000 people at a concert being held at your amphitheater, but that does not mean there will be 10,000 new sales tomorrow. A common way to measure potential success is through special coupons only given out at the event, or using a special code to receive a discount on a future purchase. Ultimately, having reliable quantitative data can be a great way to convince the business-minded individuals within the potential sponsoring company.

Gathering qualitative information can be more complicated than with quantitative data. A company may run ROI numbers internally, concluding that it will lose money by sponsoring your event. However, the company could still decide to sponsor because of the positive public exposure in the community. Therefore, promote the advertising opportunities to the business. Sometimes it is easier to have the company decide that sponsoring is the right qualitative decision first, and then it is more likely to accept that quantitative ROI data, regardless of the result.

Which type of data should you have when meeting with a potential sponsor? BOTH, of course! During the meeting, exercise flexibility with the type of data to be discussed. Have the packet ready and a copy to be read, but allow the sponsor to direct the conversation. If questions are asked about the type of public exposure the company will receive, spend sufficient time in that area of conversation. Remember, as a consumer, the company is choosing which product to purchase, so avoid trying to sell the sponsor something in which there may not be any interest.

Personal Experience

For our event, this approach reaped significant benefits. By meeting all sponsors in person, and being diverse and flexible in our approach, we were able to secure sponsorships from 80 percent of the businesses we approached.

Our group was tasked with finding in-kind meal donations and bottled water for staff and volunteers. We needed large quantities, and sponsor levels ranged from a minimum of $500 to over $5,000.

We made a list of potential sponsors—in this case, restaurants—that we felt had the most to gain from the event, and started calling. For every phone call, we had the sponsor packet available so we could answer any specific questions, but the primary goal of each call was to set up a convenient time to meet in person.

It was very important to speak with the primary decision-maker in each company. In preparation for the meetings, we made several copies of the packets in case others were present. Of course, we dressed in professional attire and usually made a purchase when arriving at the restaurant. Again, these are all personal strategies that you may or may not find efficient or successful.

We definitely would comment about our personal experiences with the restaurant, asking if there were any new items being considered for the menu, or if the manager felt like the restaurant was effectively reaching the target market. The goal was to make every visit personal, and to connect with the decision-maker.

A Bit Of Advice

One key difference in this approach is that we were asking for in-kind sponsorships of products as opposed to monetary donations. These types of decisions can often be made at a local level, whereas monetary donations often have to be approved by many more individuals.

One last important note is that all sponsorships in our city have a contract that must be completed and approved through the legal department. While some people may feel this is an unnecessary step and may actually be a deterrent for a potential sponsor, it allows all parties to have the agreement in writing in case questions arise or if a change in management occurs.

Diversity is the theme of the world in which we currently reside. When preparing to speak to businesses about sponsorships, be diverse in your approach so you have the greatest chance of success. Happy hunting!

Gerry Logan , CPRP, PTR, is the Special Events Supervisor for the City of College Station, Texas, Parks and Recreation Department. Reach him at .