Here Abby Clemence offers five sponsorship sales tips to help you expand your networks and create the best possible impression of your organisation.
Does the thought of approaching corporate partners and asking them to invest in your organisation make you feel like you're begging, make your mouth go dry or help you suddenly 'remember' a bunch of other tasks that need completing?
It's true that in any 'sales' situation (and sponsorship is one of those situations), you are going to have to speak with people and build a relationship. But the focus should be on that – the relationship. No sponsorship professional in their right mind picks up the phone to a well-aligned brand and starts the hard sell, and neither should you.
The great news is there are ways to attract a sponsor's interest by being proactive about exploring new opportunities, forging new relationships and positioning your organisation as a thought leader and innovator in your field before you've even contacted them looking to build a relationship!
Here are a few ways to comfortably set yourself up for sponsorship success without feeling like you're selling out.
1 Develop a professional-looking website
Your website is often the place that creates the very first impression of your organisation. And more importantly for sponsors, it can create an immediate sense of what you might be like to work with. How does that make you feel? Encouraged or worried?
There is really no excuse not for having a professional web presence these days. It is simple – your website needs to be intuitive to navigate, provide eye-catching images and content, it must be easy-to-understand what you do and why you do it, and people need to immediately understand what they need to do because you are using calls to action.
When it comes to the potential sponsors who will visit your website, how well are you celebrating the amazing corporate support that you receive? Are your partners easy to find, or are they hidden away on some sub-page that is hard to locate unless you are specifically looking for it?
Yes, you are an organisation that is for-purpose, for-passion and for-social change, but potential sponsors are going to want to see that you understand the importance of branding to ensure that you are actually looking for a partnership rather than a donation. Remember, when it comes to sponsorship, you are not a charity in need of handouts, you are a valuable marketing partner to the right company! A professional-looking website can do a lot of leg-work for you in your sponsorship approach.
2 Use sponsor testimonials or case studies
Every organisation that has sponsors will generally have a landing page on their website with logos or the names of their sponsors. Why not take it one step further and ask your current and past sponsors to give you a testimonial?
What was your organisation like to work with? How responsive was your team to their requests for help? How did sponsoring your organisation help their bottom line, put them in touch with new customers or leads? There is truth to the saying 'sponsors speak with sponsors'. You can also take my word for it that when you make an approach to a potential sponsor, one of the first things they will do in their due diligence checks is get onto your website to check you out. Having some great testimonials there from sponsors is a fantastic social proofing exercise.
Another great idea is to create a case study of a partnership that went really well. Maybe it is a great event partner that you secured and together you created a fabulous experience for your attendees. Whatever it was, consider writing a case study that maps the alignment, the relationship, the teams involved, what you loved about your partner, why it worked so well, how you got creative, what skills and experience your partner brought to the table, anything that you can think of that provides other prospective sponsors with an insight into what a partnership with you might look like. This can be a powerful exercise as it also creates a benchmark of sorts. Depending on how cleverly you craft your case study, it can also send a very clear message to potential partners about how seriously you take corporate support, how well you understand the business outcomes they are seeking and what a great partner you make.
Of course, when you are in the throes of speaking with new potential sponsors, you can always use these great testimonials and case studies to send through to them as further evidence of how you work in partnership.
3 Help your board to help you
In order for your sponsorship strategy to succeed, your board and CEO must demonstrate both ownership and commitment to the goals and mechanisms of the sponsorship process. It is also important that your board has a strong 'fundraising mindset'. A mindset where, among other things, they know they should be the first to buy tickets to your events, as well as rolling up their sleeves up to sell tickets, encourage people to join or attend, be a strong ambassador for your brand and offer to engage in public speaking where appropriate.
How well are you engaging with your board? Do they really understand what's involved in your role as fundraiser and sponsorship seeker? What you struggle with? What kind of support you need? I so often hear fundraisers complain about how their board has completely unrealistic expectations of how long it will take to get a sponsor onboard.
However, when I ask, "Have you spoken to your board about your sponsorship strategy, educated them on the path ahead and set some expectations around timeframes and the kind of support you'd like?", it is often met with a 'no'. Boards are people. They get together in a room or, worse, via teleconference once every so often and they have a LONG list of things that need addressing. More often than not, they won't get to everything on their agenda. But, if you feel that there are things that you need from your board then ask for an agenda item to be put on the next board meeting.
Your board is part of your organisation because they believe strongly in your mission and purpose. Many, however, are never truly engaged to their full potential. They may have so much more to offer than their board meeting contributions.
Many directors are successful and respected people in their own right. They are often also well connected. One of the best ways to move forward with potential sponsors is when you have a solid introduction. This, however, is not an exercise in asking the board to go and meet with prospects and report back with 'how it went', and it is not about the board deciding on who would be the best sponsors for your organisation are.
As part of your role, you will be brainstorming great potential alignments with your whole team – a dedicated staff meeting for this is ideal – include everyone and you'll be surprised and delighted by what people come up with. Then you will take this initial list away and refine it. Research the companies – find the strong alignment. Then when that is complete, you can take your list to the board for their review and input and be sure to ask them if they know anyone in these companies that they can introduce you to.
4 Provide a Taster
You may be in discussions with a brand that is just taking forever to make up their mind and nothing you do seems to push them along the decision-making road any faster. Or you may have an event coming up very soon and in the madness of planning and implementing, it's now too late to secure the sponsorship you need.
If this is the case, then it can be a great time to reach out to companies where you KNOW there is a great alignment and offer them a 'taster' of what it would be like to work in partnership your organisation or event.
The idea here is that you invite your potential sponsors along to your event, program, launch or whatever it is and you give them a first-hand experience of what it would be like to be your partner.
The ideas here are endless but think always in terms of what sponsors want. They want access to their ideal customer. Their ideal customer will be your delegates, attendees, members or community of followers. Can your chair and CEO make time to meet with them, thank them for coming and take the opportunity to build rapport and ask them what they would like to see if they were involved with your organisation?
Are you hosting a 'sponsors only' event where your corporate partners get access to backstage passes and exclusive offers? Are you able to organise for one or a small group of your supporters to meet with your potential sponsor and share their story, including what they love about your organisation and why their life is better for being part of your community?
If you can make your organisation or event 'real' to a potential sponsor, then as you continue your discussions and the time comes for them to negotiate their marketing budget, who do you think will be top of mind? Someone who invited them to come and see the positive impact they create first hand or the organisation that send a generic bronze, silver, gold proposal?
5 Ask Your Sponsors and Suppliers for Introductions
You are always on the lookout for how you can diversify your income streams as a for-purpose organisation. If you already have great sponsors on board who love you and what you do, then there is potential to be able to find new brands to approach if you ask for their help.
Have you seen LinkedIn recently? Wow, successful Marketing, Brand and Sponsorship Managers can move upwards and onwards at a rate of knots! If you have a good relationship with your sponsor, and the time is right – that is, you are face-to-face, you've just delivered above and beyond what you said you were going to do for them, your event has just wrapped up and it was a huge success, then now could be the perfect time to broach the topic with them.
Remember, this point is really only best explored if you have a good relationship with your sponsors. Approaching them for help thinking about new sponsors, if they feel you are not delivering value to them or they are struggling to make this sponsorship work may have the opposite effect of what you are hoping to achieve.
Obviously, you are not looking to approach competing brands, but much like you do with your board, you are wanting to explore whether they may know of anyone else that might like to know more about your organisation. They may have some relevant contacts and may even have worked for a company previously that would make a great fit.
There are many different ways of coming up with a list of great potential partners. Rome was not built in a day, and nor was it built by one person. Use your relationship with your board, your workmates, family, friends and your current sponsors and suppliers to explore where there may be alignments that you haven't yet thought of.
Some sponsors are keen to work with other companies in order to create their own connections and alliances. You may just be doing your current sponsors a favour! Just remember, ultimately it's your role to research the fit. Someone going out on a limb to facilitate a great introduction can be a total waste of time if you can't see how you can make it work.
So there you have it! Five sponsorship sales tips to help you expand your networks and create the best possible impression of your organisation, without feeling slimy.
Abby is Managing Director of Infinity Sponsorship and Founder of the Fundraising Academy. She loves working alongside organisations that are for-purpose, for-passion and for-social change with a singular focus in mind: helping them to become better at engaging corporate support and investment. She has created a free 14 Day Sponsorship-Game-Plan Program to help fundraisers create a water-tight sponsorship plan, and her LinkedIn Group, The Ultimate Non-Profit and Charity Sponsorship Network, brings together people who share and support each other's journey towards corporate fundraising success.