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Nine Ways to Make Sponsorship Success Easy

Posted By Paul Hanscom , Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Whether embarking on a sponsorship campaign for the first time or reviewing sponsorship options that have been in place for a number of years, it is important to have a process in place that engages input, boosts value, and nurtures sponsor relationships over time. This process maximizes sponsor value for the organization and the sponsor’s feeling of being a valued partner. You can get there with these nine steps.

Why Should Someone Sponsor?

Sponsorship creates a meaningful partnership between a vendor and your organization. Through sponsorship, a supplier demonstrates commitment to advancing your organization and industry as a whole. Sponsorship builds a vendor’s credibility and develops a good rapport in the industry. It also diversifies your revenue sources, and can assure additional funding to allow your organization to better serve its mission.

When you seek sponsors, don’t be timid. You are offering them an opportunity that may be their best — if not only — chance to get the word out about their product or service to a very targeted market. The alternatives available may be expensive, impersonal, and/or have a low return on investment (e.g. mass marketing, cold calling, direct mail). Don’t undervalue what you can bring to a sponsor.

Identify Sponsor Prospects

Consider how your organization identifies sponsor prospects. Are you regularly branching out to new prospects or do you wind up contacting the same few vendors over and over again? While it is important to nurture and reinforce relationships with long-term supporters, you also want to cultivate new relationships. Ask yourself which vendors in your industry might benefit from getting their name in front of a targeted audience — your audience. Companies that have no previous involvement with your organization could see sponsorship as their vehicle to launch into the market.

An additional way to identify sponsor prospects is to research companies that are sponsoring similar activities at a different scale — be it local, regional, or national. Find organizations that are similar to yours and see who is supporting them. If they serve a similar demographic, it is likely that the sponsor will want to support you as well. Companies that have a history of supporting organizations in your industry will naturally benefit from sponsorship with your association.

Communicate Value to Your Sponsors

Start with the data you already possess. If you have demographic data on your group, share that with prospective sponsors to illustrate who they can reach. This concept also applies to event participant lists and the board of directors roster. Demonstrate the breadth and depth of your organization’s reach to decision-makers in your group. This is valuable and compelling information to companies, especially those with a limited marketing budget. By providing this information, you guarantee exposure that other marketing approaches may not be able to muster. Several analytics platforms track the number of hits that your website is getting as well as how many viewers clicked a specific sponsor’s link. This is another concrete measure of sponsorship value.

A key element of success in securing new sponsors is the person who makes the ask. Your organization needs people on your side who are influential and able to capture the attention of decision-makers. Think of the top five companies/leaders in your field and make sure you have a contact with each of them. Ask your board members to name leading companies and people they consider to be key thinkers. By securing support from known authorities in the industry, you demonstrate that you can likewise connect sponsors to these leaders. Establishing a connection to industry authority is very valuable; you will have an easier time getting the attention of a prospective sponsor if you can offer them this type of value.

Start the Dialogue

If any of the leaders in your organization already have a relationship with a prospective sponsor, they may be the natural choice to take the first step to make contact. However, for those sponsors who are being contacted for the first time, it is best to begin by familiarizing them with the organization. One way to do this is by adding the sponsor prospect to your newsletter or magazine mailing list. Send them a complimentary copy of your association’s special publication along with a personalized letter of introduction. Now your potential sponsor will have some frame of reference when you call about sponsorship rather than making a complete cold call.

Oftentimes we speak at a sponsor prospect by explaining what our sponsorship opportunity will give them before we ask what the sponsor is looking for. Get their interest, biggest challenge, and see if you can help them. Ask them, “Who are your ideal customers?” and, “What are you looking for in the sponsorship? How do you want your company to be thought of in this industry?” Ask the sponsor, “What is your biggest challenge?” For some, it is finding the decision-makers at industry companies. For others, it is a challenge to announce a new product launch. Some are looking for the right environment to help them network more effectively. In each case, your sponsors have unique challenges. It is your job to discern whether or not your organization is able to help them address these challenges and connect them with potential customers. These questions will tease out whether or not sponsorship is a wise investment. If the answer is a great big “No,” then it’s in everyone’s best interest that you move on. Don’t waste resources providing sponsorship benefits that are not appreciated or even wanted! If sponsorship does not appear to be a good fit for the organization, it is best to identify this early. If sponsorship has a lot to offer to the prospect, answering these questions makes their decision to sign up even easier. Sponsorship is a partnership, not a one-time sale. Nurture the relationship all year long and follow up to keep the value fresh in your sponsor’s mind.

Set Sponsorship Fees Right

When setting sponsorship fees, remember that you are selling an investment in the sponsorship experience, not just a one-time expense. Set your price to the market and don’t underestimate the value you can offer to a sponsor. If affiliation and sponsorship support with your organization generate sales and notoriety in the industry, your sponsors will come back every time. Communicate this value.

When estimating a sponsorship fee structure, there are a variety of elements to consider. First, if there are multiple levels of sponsorship, each fee must be less expensive than the sum of each smaller level to entice a sponsor toward a larger investment. Likewise, make sure to guard your ability to tailor a package to meet a large sponsor’s interests. If a prospect wants to give you money, make sure that there is a fitting way for them to do so.

Sponsor Recognition

You’ve secured your first sponsor. Congratulations! Who knows about it? Did you get the word out to members? Did you thank the sponsor in your industry magazine or newsletter? Sponsorship is an important decision for many companies and you need to provide some visible result right away. Sponsors need to feel the value of sponsorship as soon as possible and for the length of their support — be it for one event or five years. Make sure to get the word out about your new sponsor so they know they are appreciated from the very start of the relationship.

Be creative when acknowledging your sponsors in writing. Write a feature article that profiles the sponsor, why they are involved with your organization, and what benefit they offer to your readership. This is much better than simply listing them in the magazine or newsletter because it helps your members relate to the sponsor and it even further clarifies to the sponsor why your organization is the right fit. You could place a sponsor’s ad in the publication for free. As more organizations move to electronic publications that may not be as conducive to ads, having an exclusive e-newsletter sponsorship can be very valuable to the sponsor and lucrative for your organization. However, it is important to consistently tell your e-newsletter sponsor how often your website is visited. Certainly ask members if they are sensitive about giving out their electronic information before you provide this to a sponsor.

Make sure to recognize your biggest sponsors at your biggest event. A supplementary “Sponsor Thank You” event that will likely get low attendance from the people your sponsor wants to meet and is a poor use of the resources you’ve worked hard to secure.

The Multiplier Effect

The value of sponsors to your organization is not limited to the price tag you put on sponsorship packages. There are plenty of ways that you can partner with your sponsors to multiply the benefits to your organization, the people you serve, and the sponsor. If a high-level executive at your sponsoring company is the authority on a subject of interest to your members, you can include this individual as a speaker at one of your events or s/he could present an award to one of your members. This is a way for your sponsor to get exposure, your members to get cutting-edge information, and for your organization to be reinforced as an authoritative forum for such interactions. The sponsor will have a keen interest in helping you promote the event by distributing information to its own customers — people who may not know about your organization yet, but who could be prospective members. Don’t forget to ask your sponsor about the best way to let its customers know about the event and their support for it. Ask for a link from the sponsor’s website stating, “We are a proud sponsor of organization ABC.”

Follow-Up & Feedback

Send prompt follow-up to sponsors after an event is held or a publication is printed with statistics about the number of attendees/readers, any press exposure about the event/publication, and any measure of their exposure. Send a reminder of the cumulative recognition received as a sponsor for your organization: press releases, call for entries, registration piece, even a printed copy of an email promotion. It is compelling to see — in one place — all of the points where the sponsor received exposure through a consistently branded message.

Try to communicate feedback to your sponsors from the event attendees or publication readers. This can include testimonials from surveys or evaluations, focus groups, or interviews. Most importantly, ask the sponsor about the sponsorship experience, which is the first step to renewing support as a sponsor the next time.

Other nice extras

There are plenty of little extras you can use to help a sponsor relationship grow. You could offer to host one of your events or meetings at the sponsor’s facility. Most sponsors will be eager to show off their offices. Suggest they volunteer with your organization and/or join a committee so they can meet others who are passionate about your mission and learn more about the social culture of the group.

If this is your sponsor’s first time participating, provide personal introductions and guidance on how to make the most of their sponsorship. If there are sponsor representatives at your event, ask if they wish to meet a specific someone. See how appreciative sponsors are when you provide a personal introduction to someone they would like to meet for the first time.

Nurture the Relationship

Develop sponsorship packages with an annual renewal. This allows your sponsors and your organization the ability to build sponsorship into an annual budget and plan accordingly. Additionally, annual renewal means that you only have to ask each sponsor for a financial contribution once — and they get recognition all year long. Sponsors and fundraisers alike say that it is easier to ask once for a large contribution than to solicit smaller amounts every time your organization has a new initiative. Do not confuse this with a suggestion that you only approach each sponsor once per year. Remember to check in frequently and consistently throughout the year so your sponsor does not develop the sentiment that every interaction with you is a financial one. Make sure your sponsors are cognizant of their sponsorship and the benefits it affords them. 
Send communication related to their business. Send congratulations if they receive an award or if one of their staff receives a promotion. Make a point to visit top sponsors at their own office once a year so they feel valued. Survey them and host a focus group of current and prospective sponsors to get new ideas for an established event. Never assume that the benefits you offered a year ago are exactly what sponsors want today.

Keep the Momentum

Set a sponsorship recruitment goal and revisit it often. Keep the board and pertinent committee members informed of your progress. While there are several methods to communicate sponsorship options to your prospects (including blast email, direct mail, or a template message from key volunteers), personal contact through phone calls or in-person meetings is often the most effective way to communicate because it conveys how important this support is to your leaders, your organization, and your cause.

Wrapping it up 
Be sponsor worthy. Tell sponsors and prospective sponsors why your organization is a unique value to them. Show them the value. And write your own sponsorship success story.

This is a sample of the content in our e-book, Maximizing the Sponsor Experience. Download the full e-book now!

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