We Love Our Sponsors!
The fall event season is in full swing, and the multitude of galas and other fundraising events taking place across the Twin Cities would not be possible without the support of event sponsors.
Thank you to the corporations, local businesses, family foundations and individuals who invest in the work of nonprofits and inspire others to do the same through sponsorship support.
This month we are responding to a recent request from one of our partners for an article focused on insights for developing and growing an event sponsorship program.
Tips for Cultivating and Growing Sponsorship Support
For the majority of our clients, sponsorships make up the largest revenue category for their events. However, it is not uncommon for organizations to struggle with how to navigate securing new sponsors or moving current sponsors to a higher level of support.
Thank you to our partners Kathy Vigil from CommonBond Communities, and Holly Johansson from the local chapter of The Nature Conservancy, for sharing their expertise in sponsorship development for this article!
- Focus Prospecting Smartly
When brainstorming a list of new prospective sponsors, Kathy advises focusing on who already has a relationship with your organization, and who else in the community has a business focus that aligns with your mission. Some low-hanging fruit can be the vendors your nonprofit contracts with for services. Think about who you bank with, and who does your audit. Spend time researching the sponsor lists of organizations with a mission similar to yours.
- Involve Your Internal Team
Engage staff members throughout your organization in generating ideas for expanding your sponsor prospect list. Your accounting department or program staff may have relationships with businesses that can be invited to get involved with your event. For many organizations, the majority of sponsorships come through the companies where Board members work and/or relationships that Board and event committee members help cultivate.
- Start Early!
The biggest misstep we see with sponsorship solicitation is not starting early enough. Holly says The Nature Conservancy ideally targets at least nine months before an event to begin submitting requests. It is important to have a sense of the funding cycle of your key supporters so you get to them before their sponsorship allocation for the year has run out.
- Offer Benefits that Matter
Holly says they have found that pre-event visibility through social media and logo recognition on event collateral such as the invitation and website, as well as appreciation and recognition at the event, is what matters the most to their corporate partners. Kathy agrees with this, and their top-level sponsors also appreciate the added benefits of complimentary parking and beverage tickets.
- Moving on Up!
One of the best strategies for growing your overall base of sponsorship support is through strategic invitations for sponsors to consider increasing their level of support. As Holly notes, if sponsors have a great time at your event, they are more likely to consider an increase. A milestone anniversary year, or a major new initiative within your organization that will be highlighted at the event, are great opportunities to invite your sponsors to stretch to a new level of giving. CommonBond’s 50th anniversary in 2021 will play a role in their sponsor cultivation strategy for that year’s gala.
- Shine the Spotlight
Foam core signs in the reception space are a traditional way to give sponsors a shout out at an event. Consider elevating the visibility of sponsors at the event with something more creative and impactful. The Nature Conservancy recognizes sponsors on the social media wall monitors during the reception and dinner break. Some clients have their décor company create a sponsor wall in the reception space that provides a wow factor and good photo opportunity.
- Create Sponsorship Materials with Intention
There is a lot of competition for sponsorship dollars, so it is important that your materials represent your organization and event well. Make sure your sponsorship packet shares your mission in an inspiring way and gets people excited about your event. Include photos from your last event and/or photos illustrating who you serve.
- Personalize Your Follow-Up
Your post-event follow up with sponsors is just as crucial as securing those sponsors in the first place. Holly and Kathy’s teams both make it a priority to do personalized follow up with sponsors, including handwritten notes, phone calls, and the sharing of event photos of the sponsor’s guests. Consider creating a sponsor report that summarizes event results, impact, and the exposure your sponsors received through their benefits. And, be sure to invite feedback from your sponsors on their experience at the event!
- Stay in Touch
Your sponsors are some of your organization’s best friends! Be proactive in having multiple touch points with these friends throughout the year. Keep your sponsors informed of exciting things happening at your organization. Kathy sends periodic impact updates of “Here’s something we’re up to!” along with a photo. Let your sponsors know about volunteer opportunities, and consider inviting one of their representatives to serve on your event committee.
We hope these nine tips inspire some new ideas and exciting cultivation opportunities in taking your sponsorship program to the next level.