Walking into a sponsorship meeting can be intimidating. Companies are asked nonstop to sponsor this walk, those galas, that luncheon, donate to this auction, etc. and you know going in that their knee-jerk reaction to your request is likely going to be “no”. So we've put together some tips in how to position yourself for success.
Always make the ask in person.
Sponsors take as much cultivation as individual donors, so always make the ask in person. This will benefit you in a few ways: 1) Many nonprofits are relying on emails or phone calls for sponsorship asks, so being face-to-face sets you apart and shows your sincerity right away. 2) Even if the sponsor does say no, you start to build that relationship and know what/when to ask next time. 3) It’s harder to say no to someone who’s sitting in front of you than someone who is on the phone.
Do your research.
You should know before you walk into the meeting basic information about the company and about the person you’re meeting with (without being creepy, obviously). Do they sponsor anyone else in the community? If so, at what level? What seems to be their giving theme (children’s causes, health, etc.?) Who is the person you’re meeting with, do they control the fundraising budget? What are their interests? Reading their bio before you head in can give you some nuggets for small talk that position you as more relatable right away.
Let them talk first.
Use the very first meeting as a fact-finding mission. If you’ve never talked to this contact or company before, don’t jump into the ask. Find out all information that you need to know before you make the pitch. Ask strategic questions instead of launching into your elevator speech. I like to start meetings with “would you tell me a bit more about your company and your philanthropy in the community, just to give me a bit of background?” This will immediately tell you what is important to the company and will help drive your pitch in a more strategic direction.
Have a few ideas in mind.
Don’t walk into a meeting with only one sponsorship option in mind and definitely don't pull out your proposal until absolutely necessary. If they’re not interested in your one idea, you’ve pigeon-holed yourself and that’s the end of the conversation. So once you’ve listened to them talk, take a second to think about which opportunities really would fit best into their company priorities. For example: You came to ask X company about a sponsorship for the water tent at your walk, but in listening you uncovered that they have a strong focus on children’s issues. Now that you know their focus you can say, “This year we are hoping to have a really great children’s area at the walk, which sounds like it aligns with your company’s interests.” Now you’ve got them on the hook.
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Follow up is key.
Don’t leave the meeting without setting your follow-up phone call or meeting. Ask when their fiscal year ends, when they decide on their budget, and then when they might be able to make a decision. If they say “next week” respond with “Great! If I haven’t heard from you by Thursday, would it be alright for me to follow up with you at that time?” Make sure you follow up when you say you’re going to. If there are more questions that you need to discuss say before you reach the budget conversation say, “Can we go ahead and schedule our next meeting while I’m here? That way we can avoid some emails!” Make it light-hearted so they don’t feel the pressure.
Your goal in sponsorship is ultimately to raise money for your mission, so always keep your mission front of mind when talking to sponsors, but make sure you tell them why it’s best for their business, too. A sponsorship should be a win for both parties: funds for you and marketing for the company. With that in mind, you’ll both have a positive ROI and hopefully a sponsor relationship for years to come!
Need help creating a sponsorship proposal? Download a sample, editable sponsorship template: