As much as we’d like to partake in the noble endeavor of creating opportunities for the community, it all boils down to one thing: money. Or more specifically, the acquisition of resources. Without a venue, where will the event happen? Without speakers, where will you get content? Without marketing, how will you get participants?
Of course, there are lots of ways you can get these resources without expending your personal funds (because seriously, we’re already giving our body and soul for free, don’t tell me we have to do that to our wallets too) – one of these ways is sponsorship. But before we get into too much detail, I suggest your read up on my disclaimers from my last blog post to get a better idea of the context and perspective I’m speaking in to get the most out of the article. If you’ve done that (or not), let’s begin!
So, sponsorship. To be honest, I find this topic intimidating too. Even I struggle to get certain people to work with me sometimes, much less give me money. But I would like to clear out this misconception: “sponsors” aren’t this wellspring of cash that many event organizers think they ought to be and believe me, even I’m still taking a while to wrap my head around this concept and put it into action. Just because a business or an organization is deemed a thought leader of this certain field and it happens to coincide with your event’s theme and whatnot, doesn’t mean they have the budget to just throw at any program that supports their cause.
A sponsor, most of the time, is also a business. A utility-paying expense-generating business that has people and consumes resources. Sure they might be known to have contributed to communities every now and then but they also have to think about their own business objectives and priorities.
So as an entity that is approaching them to
take their hard-earned cash request support for a community program, you have to take it from their cold dead hands their business needs into consideration, see what you can offer them, and see if this partnership is mutually beneficial.
1) Finding Sponsors
Before I do any kind of direct sponsor outreach, I do some prep work:
- I reach out to the community, explaining what kind of event I’m thinking of having and requesting if they know anyone or if they themselves are open to supporting it.
- I scour the internet and my network to look for previous events similar to the one I’m planning. Often times, sponsors of those other similar events are willing to hear you out too.
- I create a list of ideal sponsors that I’d like to have for my event from the existing companies in my space. This in and of itself is also deserves another list of criteria that I’ve included below:
Questions that I use to tell me that I should reach out to a certain sponsor for my event is:
- Is the audience of my event their target market (for sales purposes or others)?
- Is the product or service they offer relevant to the purpose of my event?
- Do they have an advocacy that vies for the purpose of my event?
- Have they supported an event like mine before?
By this point I’ll already have a list of sponsors to approach (and hopefully you do, too) which leads us to the next topic.
2) Approaching Sponsors
There are generally three methods to consider when approaching a sponsor: directly, through a contact, or through cold calls.
The first one is the easiest for experienced community builders. Chances are, you already have a pre-existing list of people to approach when a certain event comes up as you’ve already worked with them on something similar in the past. I personally think a casual message to these contacts is most appropriate first before sending them the formal outreach letter and sponsorship package as that invokes a sense of familiarity and friendliness between you and them (despite not talking to them since the last event). The initial e-mail could sound something like this:
It’s been a while! I hope you’re doing well. Thanks again for helping make [past event] happen, it couldn’t have been as successful without you!
I’m reaching out again for another opportunity for us to work together. We’re planning to host [present event], a [event description]. I know [contact’s company name] is still pursuing projects on/for [cause you both care about/people you both care about] and I think this event would be a great platform to make things happen.
Hope to hear what you think soon? We’re planning to roll out [marketing materials] by [reasonable deadline] and it would be awesome if we could hear from you before then so we can maximize your brand’s reach.
Looking forward to working with you again soon.
Having a contact introduce you to a sponsor is the next thing you can do. Reaching out to the contact can be done in a similar way as the previous method: courteously casual and with familiarity.
Note: You can use whichever medium of communication that is most appropriate to the person you’re reaching out to as these are always situational (this tip applies to all three methods).
I usually ask my contact to e-introduce me to the potential sponsor either by adding us to the same group chat on Facebook Messenger or by an introductory e-mail. This is how I personally reach out to the contact to ask for an introduction:
I’m planning to organize a [type of event] with the goal of [event vision]. I remember that you [reason why this person would be interested to help you make the event a success], so I thought to ask if you knew anyone that would like to support our efforts?
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
A response can usually be expected within a few minutes to a day, depending on how busy this contact is. I usually wait a week after sending your last e-mail before following up and I only do this three times. If they still don’t respond after the third followup, take a hint and find alternative methods to get sponsor recommendations. Nothing depletes your credibility more than appearing desperate.
Now if the contact has gotten back to you and has introduced you to a potential sponsor, here are the points you can bring up in the conversation:
Thanks for the introduction, [John]!
It’s nice to e-meet you. As [John] said, I’m [how John introduced you] and am interested in organizing a [type of event] to [event vision].
I am joined by the awesome people of [who and/or what is your team representing] and we’re ecstatic to get things rolling. I’ve attached below our outreach letter and sponsorship packages but if you have any idea on how else you can support us, please just let me know. Thanks a bunch for considering and we hope to get your input soon.
All the best,
As for cold calls, this is basically the same template I use for the sponsorship outreach letter in general. So if you’re reaching out to a potential sponsor directly or through a contact and already have their initial interest, this is the sponsorship outreach letter template I can suggest to you which is heavily inspired by the templates provided by Startup Weekend to it’s community organizers:
Note: If you’re sending this as a letter, don’t forget to apply the standard practices of letter-writing like adding the recipient’s full name, title, and address, along with the date and proper margins. I’m assuming you’re smart enough to know what I mean.
We will be having the [tagline of the event or identifier ex. “first dog lovers event in the Philippines”] called [name of event] this [date of the event] and we think [contact’s company name] would be a great [association to the event ex. “co-presenter”] for this event.
[one or two sentences talking about your event/organization and what’s so special about this event?]
We have outlined the details of our event in our overview document attached and we have a few methods of sponsorship available, depending on what you’d like to do. As a starting point, take a look at our Sponsorship Packages for options and additional details.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss the opportunity further, I can be reached at [your e-mail] or through text at [your phone number].
Thanks for your time and we hope to hear from you!
[your role at the event]
3) Keeping Sponsors
Treat them well, greet them properly and cordially when they show up for events or any extra meetups you’ve invited them to, address their companies respectfully and timely both online and offline, and, if you want to go the extra mile, assist them with their travel and accommodation plans if they’re from out of town. What I normally do is assign a dedicated team member to assist them with what they need done pre, during, and post-event.
Now after all that, do you really feel like letting the relationships you’ve invested so much in to just wither away over time? Of course not.
Stay connected through social media and e-mails. If you can afford to send them a greeting every other holiday then go ahead (just don’t be creepy about it). Treat them like people when you can but never baby them. They’re affiliated with you because of business goals (most of the time) and the best thing you can do for them to thank them for their support – even without going through all the fuss I mentioned in the first paragraph – is to help them achieve the business goals you promised them as the event or program they’ve signed up for unfolds.
How do I reach out to sponsors when the community needs support for an event or program?
- Find the sponsors the best fit your values and have the same desire for the success of your event.
- Approaching sponsors can come in three ways: directly, through a contact, and through cold calls.
- Remember, your sponsors are people too. Maintain connections, treat them well, fulfill your end of the bargain, and they will remember you.
I recommend that you read the whole thing for this particular article as the value comes from the thought process in sponsor selection and outreach that is explained in detail above.
Haifa Carina, my fellow community builder in the Philippines and the Former Executive Director of DevCon, shared her slides about her Sponsorship Tips & Tricks. I highly encourage you to give her slides a look as she also makes a lotta valid points especially on emphasizing visuals on your Sponsorship Packages and setting deadlines to increase the sense of urgency and accountability.
Thanks for reading this far! As I’m writing this blogpost I can see that there are still a few topics I can expand on like how to structure Sponsorship Packages, and how to deal with sponsors in general to maintain relations. If you would like to read more about the topics I can share from experience, or if you would like to add something to this topic from your own experience, please feel free to comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.