10 Step Guide to Cultivating Corporate Sponsors

Why Cultivate Corporate Sponsors for Your Non-Profit Event?

First, it’s all about relationship-building. Second, in a tough economy the expanding number of nonprofits vying for the same corporate dollars makes the pickings even slimmer. But anyone can enhance their chances of success by following the ten steps outlined here.

1. Determine your target audience:

a.    Research companies with a strong presence within your community and identify those with commitment to your organization’s cause.  This can include:

i.     Corporations headquartered in the region

ii.     Branches of large companies

iii.     Local businesses

iv.     Local sports teams

b.    Make sure you’re going after the right corporate sponsor category.  For example, if it’s a kids’ walk-a-thon you are probably not going to reach out to a luxury brand like Gucci.  Similarly, if it’s a designer fashion show fundraiser soliciting the local bakery is most likely a waste of time.  Moreover, if that local bakery were to sponsor, it will deter a national brand from wanting to affiliate with you.

2. Leverage Personal Relationships:

Ask committee and Board members for contacts they may have at corporations on your list of targeted prospects.

a.    Bring a clipboard with a sign-up sheet to committee and Board meetings so members can list those companies they have a personal connection with.   They very well may also provide suggestions on companies you may not have thought of during your research phase.

b.    Ask committee and Board members whether they’re willing to do the outreach directly, whereby they sign the letter –or- if they prefer letter comes from you with them referenced within the body.

– If one of your members is willing to sign a letter directly, offer to have the letter drafted on their behalf so all they need to do is sign their name.  You then actually put the letters into envelopes and mail. This ensures it gets done. If they want to personalize the letter, we recommend they handwrite a note on the printed letter itself rather than redrafting a new letter, although flexibility is important.

– If a member is merely referenced it would be beneficial if they were willing to make a phone call after the letter was mailed.  On this call they can ensure the recipient received the letter (and read it).  It also acts as an endorsement of the organization and event as well as addresses any questions.

3. Develop your offering:

Prepare a well thought out program that provides a variety of options.

a.    Review previous year’s program

– Obstacles that were overcome

– Pitfalls to avoid

– Successes that are replicable

b.    If possible, provide demographics on your audience:

–  # of guests anticipated (be realistic)

–  # of guests previous year, if applicable

– # of invitees

– Age range

–  Sex (if it’s a luncheon fashion show there are more women, usually, than a black tie Gala)

– Socioeconomic range, if known

If you do not have this information, we suggest doing a short survey through a program such as Survey Monkey (if 10 questions or less there is no cost) as far in advance as possible.  It’s an online survey and the answers can remain anonymous.

c.    Before developing the financial commitment associated with each sponsorship level, there are several considerations to review:

– What sponsorship levels worked in previous years?

– Is there enough benefit differentiation between the various levels?

–  How does your sponsorship offering compare to similar fundraisers?

– How much time is there to promote your sponsors?

d.    Draft the sponsorship levels and what the benefits are to the corporations at each level.  Reference to the sponsors at each level can tie into the event theme or standard ones include:

–  Major Sponsor, Lead Sponsor, Platinum Sponsor.  If a first-time event, could be termed Founding Sponsor.

–  Secondary. Gold Sponsor, ‘Also Sponsored By’

– Silver Sponsor

– Bronze Sponsor

– Other types of sponsorships:  Table sponsor, Activity sponsor i.e. Cocktail Reception, Dinner, Program, etc.

e.    Sponsor benefits usually include acknowledgement in the following ways:

– pre-event promotion

– invitation

–  links to sponsors websites from the event website

– event signage

– verbal thank you at the event

– gift

–  Sponsors usually are offered guest passes to the event, with the number of passes depending on the donor level.  This provides them an opportunity to meet prospective clients as well as a way for them to entertain current clients.

4. Understand Sponsors’ motivations:

a. Brand building: Corporations are willing to sponsor an event if the fundraiser aligns with the key messages a company wishes to communicate.

b. Marketing:  If a sponsor views your guests as viable prospective clients their sponsorship participation can often be derived from marketing dollars reserved for client cultivation.

c. Meets their charitable goals: If your project aligns with their philanthropic efforts you have a better chance of attracting their support.

5. Craft your letter:

a.    Keep your cover letter to one page.

b.    In the first paragraph list anyone associated with your organizations who has a direct relationship.  [For example: Your long-time customer, John Doe, who is on our Board asked me to invite you to be a sponsor of our upcoming fundraising Gala on…]

c.    If there are celebrities or noteworthy community/industry leaders attending mention them in the first paragraph.

d.    Make sure your letter includes the following:

– Name of the event with the date, time and location

–  This year’s theme

– Name of the organization and its mission

– What you want them to do – sponsor

– Your contact information

– When you will call them to follow-up

e.    Have someone proofread your letter before it is sent out to check for grammar, typos, spelling, etc.   If you rely just on your own set of eyes you often miss the smallest of errors.

f.      Make sure your letters are personalized to whomever you are sending them to.  Do not send a letter ‘To Whom It May Concern’.  If you don’t know who the decision maker is at the corporation, do a bit of research to find the CEO who will surely forward your letter to the right person.

6. Outreach:

There are three types of prospects in order of preference.

a.    Previous corporate sponsors.  Note that many corporations choose to sponsor an event only one time so they can spread their reach to a broader audience over the years.  Hence, do not be disappointed if a past Sponsor says No.

b.    Referenced sponsors.  Those personal contacts from your Board or committee are most important for prospective sponsors.

Keep in mind that the personal contacts may not be the final decision maker within the organization.

c.    New sponsors. Commonly referred to as ‘Cold Calls’ since there is no ‘warm lead’.   Usually the most difficult category of prospective sponsors, often solicitation committee members get discouraged.  Turn if from a qualitative process to a quantitative one.  For example: for every twenty letters sent out, your goal could be to get five calls and the one company to request a meeting.  For each meeting, your goal is to convert half to sponsors of your event.

Remember, even if a company turns you down for this coming event, you are building the underpinnings of a future sponsor.

7. Follow-up:

You must assume prospective sponsors will not contact you directly; it is your responsibility to contact them.

a.    Whether you called the prospects before you sent your letter and sponsorship overview or not, always follow-up via phone within five to seven days after the letter was mailed.

b.    If someone does not return your call, that does not mean they have said No to you.  You should continue to call back until you get a positive or negative response.  We recommend spacing the calls three days apart with a minimum of five calls before giving up.  Each time you call have a new piece of information that may be helpful to their decision making process.  For example “Hello, Mr. Doe, I am happy to let you know that XYZ Corporation has signed on to sponsor our event and we hope you will join in the community support of the fundraiser.”

c.    Your goal is not to necessarily get a prospect to say Yes over the phone, although that would be terrific.  Rather, it is to set up an in-person meeting with the appropriate decision maker(s).

Since they, like you, are busy, you should request a meeting of no longer than 30 minutes.  This ensures you get right to the point.  If you get the meeting – be prepared, especially with a sponsor contract ready for signature!

d.    Remember to ‘ask for the order’ –or- ask them to become a sponsor.

8. Be creative:

Customize a sponsorship package that addresses their goals.

a.    Do not take the word ‘No’ as a rejection.  Rather, it is a request for more and/or better information.

b.    Don’t be afraid to tailor a program to meet a sponsor’s needs.  Ask them what their goals are and then try to create something that meets those goals.  For example: merchants want potential customers in their store.

9. Deliver what you promise:

You can never express enough appreciation for the support of corporations with regards to your event. Overdeliver!

a.    Have someone specifically delegated to review each contractual commitment.

b.    Ensure you have done everything you committed to do.

c.    Follow-up after the event with a final thank you.  This will also give you the opportunity to let them know how their participation helped achieve the success of the event.

10. Be passionate:

If you and your committee are enthusiastic about the cause it will shine through and will be infectious to people around you.

a.    Don’t be afraid

b.    A No is not a rejection

c.    Remember to share what you’ve learned with others.  After you’ve been successful at corporate solicitation others can learn from your efforts.


Soliciting corporate sponsors is serious business and volunteers who agree to take on the job should break down the responsibilities into manageable tasks.  Being methodical about the job will make it much easier to succeed.


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