Sponsorships That Work
I originally wrote this article on LinkedIn on May 2nd, 2018 and have since updated and transferred it over to this blog.
I decided to write this article partly because on occasion I'll get a message from a friend asking how we got XYZ company to sponsor our event, but also because I want to add some value to some of the youth startups and organizations out there.
I've raised sponsorship donations for numerous non-profit organizations and events: including Toronto Youth Network, InspireHacks 2018, Model City Hall, Network Nights August 2017, and Network Nights March 2018. In total, I have raised over $10,000+ worth of sponsorship in-kind donations, cash and venue space. Through the process, I have learned so much and fallen victim to many pitfalls.
Here are some tips I have learned from my experiences when it comes to obtaining sponsors for your organization or your event.
The Statistical Fallacy
When I first started, I had the mentality that the more emails that I send out, the more people will respond and that will surely have to translate into more money, correct? FALSE. The reality is, cold emails are a long shot, and it's much better to focus on the quality of contacts rather than quantity. Focus on finding and contacting businesses/organizations that would have a good fit for your event/organization and really focus on how you can provide them value. If you can communicate the "WHY" message, the reason why you do what you do then you can more effectively communicate (check out Simon Sinek's book, Start with Why, for the whole WHY philosophy).
I find it crazy that some of the most amazing people I have met were by pure chance at an event. If you go looking for people to meet and connect with, then it can go a long way in benefiting your cause. Even better, go networking with the intentions to meet new people and not to get money, it will yield better results.
When I made my first attempt trying to find a venue sponsorship, I was always discouraged by the results. However, I was lucky enough to have numerous mentors like Lucas Chang and Salman Shahid that had gone through the process already. Lucas advised that I should focus on the overarching goal in mind and build off that. The guidance and advice that I received proved to be beneficial.
Have something that you can show to prospective sponsors and connections what you are doing. Sponsorship packets are great, event info packets are better, and previous event photos and videos are amazing. Having some tangible proof of your mission is magnitudes better than saying "I have this idea" in an email.
For some supporting help here is the event info packet with photos and a video of our last event that we used to get sponsors for Network Nights 2018.
Production Cost is your friend
Sometimes you may need supplies or equipment for your endeavour that you can't get for free or for a donation. In which case it is miles easier to ask a business to sell you the good or service for the price it costs them to produce. It's a win-win scenario, the company does not lose any money, and they still get some great brand recognition. This is also a great way to build strong corporate relationships, I have had a fantastic relationship with EmberPrint this way, they have been able to supply any equipment I need at production cost for longer than I can remember.
It's tough to get money, and when you do get cash, it's essential to use it wisely. For food and any other supplies that you need in bulk, Costco is your friend (they also sponsor local organizations with gift cards). If you are ordering custom t-shirts, lanyards or anything custom it's best to order well in advance on Alibaba and get it shipped from overseas. Whenever there is a way to avoid spending money, whether that is using gift cards, discounts, coupons do it! Cash is the most valuable asset when it comes to any sponsorship donation.
The Emergency Fund
"A failure to plan is a plan to fail."
Stuff happens. Maybe a dishwasher breaks, you lose your adapters, a homeless person shows up to your event, the mayor shows up to your event, a person has a severe allergic reaction at an event, painful leg cramps, and missing power bars. I have seen it all (or so I think). The point is, the unexpected will occur. It's important always to have some cash set aside to deal with the unexpected. Luckily, In all of the scenarios above we were able to deal with all the situations because we had steps in place. Always plan for the unexpected and don't be surprised if things go awry.
The Retail vs Corporate Dilemma
Sometimes you don't have much time to get donations. It might be tough because you aren't fully incorporated yet. I get it, I have been there. In that scenario, it might be easier to contact local retail stores rather than contact a corporate location for donations. Often, not always but often, corporate office will take a significant amount of time before deciding to sponsor an event or organization. Whereas, if you contact one retail location they may be more willing to help out. Personally, this strategy has proven effective when reaching RBC, Tim Hortons, Cineplex, Costco and so many more big-box retailers. On the other hand, if you have time on your hands, it might be worth the time and investment in contacting corporate offices, usually their donations will be more significant in value.
There are so many different opportunities and chances to receive donations the question is whether or not you are looking for them. Ask friends, families, employers, acquaintances for help. Even asking other organizations or event organizers can prove really helpful. To help you get started, I have linked Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs Resources for Teens and Pre-Teens: http://bit.ly/Y2LABS-RESOURCES. It has helped me, and I hope it can help you too. Reach out to Omicron too, their whole goal is to help youth startups and organizations receive the support they need.
At the end of the day, building strong relationships and creating value for sponsors is what matters. Follow your mission and keep those two things in mind and you should be golden.
A final note from me: If you are a community manager or public relations director at a company and receive a sponsorship request you can not fulfill, send them this article or provide your own insights. Always add value, even if it is not monetary.