Getting a sponsorship isn’t THAT difficult. Over the last three years, I’ve sponsored a large number of local, national, and international events. My company mainly sponsors causes that are close to my heart as well as my business. This means startup community events, tech competitions, mobile app development conferences, etc. The problem is that the types of requests I’ve received from organizations have been so unbelievably poor that I’ve turned some of the requesters into whimpering piles of PTSD. I’m not a mean person by nature. If you’re going to ask me for money, please put a little time and professionalism into your request. I know that most of the people that are forced to handle these requests can be a little green, but an ounce of training, or a decent template, could go a long way to settling my annoyance.

So, here are a few tips based on some of the most egregious faux pas I’ve had to deal with.

1 .Start with the people or companies that gave last time

I’m not sure why, but I’ve heard a number of times something similar to this:

“Well, I didn’t contact you first, because you were really generous last year, and I didn’t want to bother you.”

That’s so unreasonable, I cannot begin to imagine the mindset. This can only come from eating too many crayons as a child. The entire value proposition to a company in sponsoring an event or institution is marketing exposure. Yes, you give to the events and organizations you believe in, and there is a feel-good charity aspect as well. But all the feel-good reasons in the world are not going to get anything but the largest companies to sponsor you. This is an advertising play. The deal is simple: I want exposure, you are offering exposure. You’re not bothering me by giving me the offer to promote my business.

The second thing to remember here is that no one likes to be picked last. I have had a number of organizations contact me with my other pet peeve:

“Hey there, I know you were one of our main sponsorship partners last year, and I wanted to know if you could help out. We’re only $X away from meeting our goal, and I was hoping you could help us cross that finish line.”

Are they suggesting that the only reason we’re getting the offer is because they didn’t get enough money from their first choices? Am I to understand that you’re scraping the bottom of your funding barrel with your email? No thanks.

2. Ask your sponsors to participate

Most of the types of events that I sponsor in the tech world have some sort of support role needs. These are things like being a mentor for young entrepreneurs, being a judge in a startup competition, or possibly being a guest speaker. What’s nice about this is it’s a little extra exposure; something your marketing people can write about how awesome their CEO is for helping out the little guy.

Other than the ego stroke, it is also really rewarding to help out. I feel good when I get to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learnt the hard way. I feel even better when I can steer someone into a new way of thinking that they had never considered.

Unfortunately here’s what happens: I show up at an event to which we’re the premier sponsor, and the list of mentors, judges, or dishwashers includes a list of people who didn’t actually shell out cash, listed on the event’s website (usually above our company’s logo). Not to mention that I’m not sitting at an event, which I paid a lot of money for, and I’m not doing anything. I’m not a participant. I’m not a mentor, judge, or dog walker. What am I supposed to do? Write blog posts?

Get your sponsors involved. If they’ve got the cash to fund your event, they might know a little bit about whatever it is you’re doing and can help.

3. Don’t treat the offer to sponsor as a Noble Prize nomination

Here is another gem of an email I’ve gotten:

“Hey Greg, I’ve attached a document here to our event. It’s going to be huge, and I wanted to see if you would like to get in on this.”

The document you attached is targeted toward the attendees, not potential sponsors. It tells me nothing about how much money you’re looking for (I assume you’re looking for money, but I can’t tell from your email…), or what my money will go to, how it can help you, and what exposure I will get in return.

Look, I don’t need to be buttered-up to strike a check, but for heaven’s sake, there are wiki-how articles on this stuff. Due to the last five or poor sponsorship requests, I’ve gotten I’ve changed my sponsorship policy: If you’re looking for $100 or for me to buy your homemade cookies, this is fine. If you’re looking for $10k, then you probably need to show a level of professionalism that is a little more than “this is going to be huge — let me know if you want in.”

Look, this isn’t the worst request I’ve gotten (which is embarrassing to say the least), but it’s pretty bad. Maybe you have so much money coming in that you really don’t care. Or, as you imply, the event is so big that you have sponsors fighting over those last two spots like rabid Black Fridayers. But if either were the case, it would leave a bad taste in my mouth for the next time you came to ask for money.

This is a sales call. You want me to give you a sponsorship for something in return. Something as simple as, “We would love for you to be a sponsor” would go a long to preventing your evisceration.

4. Personalize your pitch

See above point. Don’t just attach the document you’re sending out to attendees. Make the offer about me.

I have had those emails to the masses just copied and pasted to me. The last guy who sent me something got a fairly unprofessional response from me (something I regret!) His implication was, “Hit me up if you think this is cool” which I don’t see working for anyone outside of high school.

Put my logo into the sponsorship document, mention how it will benefit us, talk about our companies previous events… anything. I’ve dropped huge sums on people who have actually mocked up what a stage will look like with our logo embossed over it, and I felt great about it. A little effort goes a long way.

Let me know exactly what you’re looking for; how much money, time, and anything else. Tell me what you think the benefits to sponsoring the event will be.

5. Call me for that sponsorship

This is somehow not obvious to people. I understand an email is easy, but this is a sale. Basic sales etiquette should apply. Pick up the phone, call me, and tell me you’re going to be sending me an email to follow up. Even better, email me asking me for a call or a meeting! The sponsorship is as good as yours.

6. Make good on your promises

I recently sponsored a gala at my alma mater, for the third year in a row. I’m a got a nice award from them one year. Why wouldn’t I sponsor? Well, last year their pitch was pretty good. They promised that our logo would be smeared over every wall and digital display, there would be a kind “thank you” on stage for our few dollars of assistance, we would have a full-page ad in the event booklet, and we’d receive some social media recognition. Not bad for a few thousand bucks.

What did we get? Not even a mention.

Every screen was blank, no one said a word on stage, and there wasn’t even an event booklet. To add insult to injury, we didn’t even get an apology after the fact, let alone a thank you email. So this is called a scam. This year I declined to sponsor, even though I believe in the cause. It’ll probably take me a year or so to stop being so angry. They might be able to get something out of me again in the future. Right now though, I’m just angry.

Don’t be like these people.

Try taking a look at PRHelper or Spark Templates for some examples of how to write a sponsorship letter. Or even that SEO dreamers Wikihow’s version. There is honestly no excuse to mess this up.


Published by Greg

I help cruise lines turn their technical ideas into reality. I'm experienced in all stages of innovation and technology management. I've also been programing since I was 8 years old, and have somehow retained the ability to have normal human interactions. Occasionally I speak about how Industrial Psychology and Neurophysiology can be interrogated with IT and systems management, because I spend a lot of time thinking about the subject, as strange as that may seem.

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