Getting to Yes: Steps to Successful Sponsorships


In the past, events were designed to be all things to all people. You could put together a street fair or festival with food vendors, arts and crafts, and entertainment that appealed to the masses and your event would have something for everyone. Sponsorships were limited, and those who did sponsor an event were happy just to see their logo on a banner and get some free tickets. Will that formula work today? Not a chance.

Narrow the Market, Broaden the Choice

Our world has changed. No longer do we look at a group of people en masse. What once was “mass” is now “many” as our society has become segmented by household composition, demographic patterns, lifestyle and leisure choices, shopping patterns, employment, media choices, corporate benefits, etc. By staging events that appeal to dramatically different demographics, a Main Street program can attract a wider market for the district and offer sponsors a broader range of audiences.

A close study of these changing demographics is essential as they not only dictate the composition of an event but also the marketing strategy to promote it:

Cause-related marketing (CRM). Linking a company, brand, or product to a social cause or issue—known as cause-related marketing—is a powerful method of building long-lasting, meaningful relationships with customers. A primary reason is the ability of a company to differentiate its product from the competition through association with a cause that reflects its customers’ concerns and values.

Grassroots marketing. “Think Globally, Act Locally” has become a major corporate tagline these days. Grassroots marketing supports this theme. Basically, it means getting a company’s marketing message out to communities. So often in the corporate world, a firm will have a global theme that spreads the message worldwide but no way to drive the message home at the local level. Grassroots marketing is aimed at reaching the individual.  Local events are lifestyle activities that evoke strong, positive feelings among individuals. People will associate a company’s brand or product with that positive activity. If your revitalization program develops activities that support that sponsorship, you further intensify the association.

“Entertainmentization.” Everything has an entertainment component today, preferably one that is interactive. As one media consultant put it, “Event organizers who do not understand that they are in the ‘experience business’ may find their days numbered. The only way to compete with old and new media is to provide something event attendees can’t experience over the air or online. That means designing event components that will have people saying, ‘Wow, I’m glad I came to this.’”

Reinventing Sponsorships

Corporate sponsors typically require a value for their sponsorship dollars that is roughly equivalent to the advertising costs for reaching the same audience. They are interested in sponsorship opportunities when the venue offers access to their targeted customers. Local service businesses, for example, might find value in sponsoring an event or another aspect of your revitalization program if they see the opportunity as a good match for them and if the sponsorship is visible. Goodwill and good public relations can be strong selling points for getting the support of business owners who understand the value of public perception. Naming rights, logo placement, website banners and links, putting the business name on event materials, and asking a representative to speak at the event or to set up a booth can all be valuable elements of a sponsorship package.

Remember that sponsorship is an investment in cash or in-kind in return for access to business potential associated with a worthwhile organization that delivers value for the investment.

Steps to Successful Sponsorships

Understand what you are selling. Take an inventory of the items you can offer a sponsor and put a value on each item. For example, will you let the sponsor put a corporate logo on the back of the event t-shirt or allow the company to display a banner?

  1. Put together a marketing plan to support the sponsorship effort. Think about the sponsor’s market position and strategize ways to help them reach that market through your media and online promotion.
  2. Understand what your sponsors want. In general, companies want to increase sales, promote their brand, expand their market share, and get greater media exposure, just to name a few items. Show them how sponsoring your activities can help them achieve those goals.
  3. Go outside your community to seek sponsorships. Don’t limit your search for sponsors to local businesses. Potential resources include the Festival Media Corporation, Hubspot’s Marketing Event Directory, and IEG’s Sponsorship Marketplace.
  4. Create a sales plan. Write down your goals and put together a goals chart. Start seeking your sponsorships a year in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute and don’t rely on direct mail or e-mail to contact prospects. E-mails and letters are easy to ignore and even easier to reject. Call and ask for a face-to-face appointment. Personal contact is the best way to begin establishing a relationship.
  5. Making the “ask.” Start the interview with general questions, such as “what are your target markets”; “what are your primary business objectives”; “what are your major business challenges.” Then move on to questions about what the company expects from the organizations they sponsor: “what do you expect from the nonprofits you sponsor”; “how can we help you reach your business goals”; “how can we give you the ‘biggest bang’ for your sponsorship buck.” Finally, ask about the funding policies: “when does your company make budgeting decisions”; “who makes funding decisions about nonprofit sponsorships”; “how long is your usual sponsor relationship.”
  6. Create multi-year agreements. Ask for a long-term sponsorship. Avoid letting a single event drive sponsorship policy—if you do, you’ll have to go back to your sponsors over and over. If you offer incentives for a three-year sponsorship instead of one year, you’ll save time, money, and effort—and have a more predictable revenue stream. The drawback to this approach is that in some cases sponsoring a single event is all a company can afford, or it may have viable business reasons for only funding one event. If you are open about why you think your organization is a good fit, they’ll be equally open about what they can do for you now. And you can always go back to them later when their situation improves or changes.
  7. Confirm your sponsorships in writing. A written confirmation prevents communication errors or misunderstandings in the future. It details what the sponsor will provide and what the Main Street program will provide and should be signed by the chair of the board of directors.
  8. Build a strong partnership. Once a sponsor is on board, educate the company’s representatives about Main Street’s mission and how their company can become more involved with the community. Keep them in the loop by sending them your newsletter or e-communications, involving them with the event committee, asking them to participate in the event, sending them a post-event report, and giving them a thank-you note, gift, or plaque.

For sample sponsorship packages, visit our Solution Center. In the "filter by topic" search box, search under "Funding and Fundraising."