Corporate Sponsorship is NOT a donation. Your work has "value", not just the value it has for the community and audiences, but for the businesses you are approaching. Because of who you are and the unique things you are doing, you have access to niche groups and audiences who businesses may want to speak to.
Once you put a business’ logo on anything (program, website, etc.) that is marketing value (brand recognition) which the Canada Revenue Agency deems to be sponsorship.
Donation is philanthropic which means the business is not getting a marketing value for it so instead of a logo, you print their name in the program. The CRA calls that a Donor. If you are receiving a donation and you want to provide a tax receipt, you have to be a registered charity whereas anyone can receive a corporate sponsorship.
- IN-KIND – product, space, advertising, service
Sometimes you can negotiate a sponsorship that is mostly in-kind with some cash.
Everyone within the company has their goals and who you are talking to will make a difference - marketing goals will be different than HR. If you can have an understanding of what their goals are, you can demonstrate how you can help them achieve their goals. You are a tool for their success.
- Marketing will be about products, brand (reputation, awareness), or sales. This usually breaks down into Individual, team and company targets. They probably won’t tell you their individual goals, they might divulge their team targets, and they will probably be quite open about the company goals.
- HR will want more staff volunteering in the community, or to attract a more diverse talent pool for their hires, improve office culture, etc.
- Guessing their goals is okay if it’s based in logic from your research – can be a good segue into the conversation “I saw on your website that you are really emphasizing what services you offer and is that one of your goals right now to bring more awareness to what you do?”
- Having an audience in a specific environment space is different than traditional marketing platforms and allows for new marketing opportunities (ie. TV commercials can show a new type of ice cream but they could actually taste it in person at your event).
- Identify who are you going to approach and why
- Know your audience/reach and their audience/customer base
- Put together a list of potential benefits for them. Be as specific to each company as possible!
In order to identify what companies or organizations to approach for corporate sponsorship, you need to know your audience.
- Get as specific as possible. Think of the business, your performance, and your audience. Business cares very little about the show itself, it is more about who the show is going to bring out. It is very easy to get caught up in the work of the show because we are most excited about it, but we are not the business.
- Talk to people in your network to see who they think would attend something like your show, then think about that market and what they want to buy, consume, and interact with.
Small businesses count as corporate sponsorship. It can literally be the independent store around the street. This can be a great way to garner local support, as you can walk down and talk to the manager in person. They don’t advertise they are open to sponsorship, but you can tell them about the great project you are doing in their neighbourhood.
Depending on which business you are talking to and the size of the company, you may be looking for any of the following people to approach:
- Marketing Directors
- General Managers
- HR departments – it isn’t always about brand exposure, sometimes businesses are more interested in staff engagement depending on the size of the organization.
You want to find a champion of your cause within the company. Even if it is not a natural fit, you may just need that one person to champion for you internally.
How do you find out who these people are?
- Press Releases
- Social media
- Existing partners
- Chamber of Commerce
Even if you are going to talk to a manager just down the street, learn who they are. Go in when it’s busy and find out who the manager is to get the name and go again later when it’s slow to actually talk to them. Do your research: find out who they are and what is important to them. Look at current campaigns they are running or what they are tweeting about. Learn what they are into and what they are not into.
Corporate Sponsorship is building a relationship. Make it memorable and make it unique! We all have different strengths. Cold calling works for some people, but not for others. You can start with an email if you are a strong writer. Then from that email, you can set up a phone call.
- Use your network
- Get an introduction
- “Cold” call/email
- The Ambush - show up and hope for the best
Unless someone is actively seeking proposals, don’t send your proposal in the first introduction.
Remember that it's not about you, It’s about them. If your first paragraph is all about you, you will lose them.
Example: Home Hardware is promoting a new lawnmower, really marketing this to families and homeowners and I have this show that I think will really bring out families. They might say that they have axed the lawnmowers, but if you make it about them, at least you’ve made the connection for them and proved you are considering their best interests.
The Ambush – ONLY works in the small businesses. Know who you want to meet with, make sure they are actually working that day and at a non-busy time.
- Not the most recommended strategy.
- Same rules apply if you are going in to ambush someone, it's not about you.
- “I understand and can see you are trying to do this…..” make as many connections as possible so they can see you caring about what they are doing
- Prepare goals of the meeting
- If you are sending an intro email, your goal is to get a meeting (not secure the sponsorship)
- Goal isn’t to put everything into one email – they won’t open all the attachments = get them interested enough in what you are saying to want to have a meeting
- Use their Language
- Listen more, talk less
- When you go to meetings, if you can, have someone come with you. If you are new, nervous, etc. you will miss something or may misread. Someone else can watch and catch things for you.
- Show your uniqueness (not just a logo)
- What else can you do that is different than someone else? Can you provide an opportunity to test drive a lawnmower? Can you give their employees an opportunity to volunteer and activate their brand with your audiences?
- Your offer doesn’t have to be super expensive or time consuming. Put together an offer that you can do, and do well.
- Have an idea of how you can work together and that you are interested in them when you go in (sometimes the fact that you want to partner with them and are interested in what they are doing may be unique enough in of itself)
- Bring a deck or package that you could leave with them
- Always bring a proposal with you based on what you know so far. If it works, you can leave it there. If it is totally off-base, get info on what they are doing and follow up with them.
A proposal is the document that actually seals the deal and should encompass everything you’ve discussed on the phone or email including why it is a good fit for them. Try to customize your proposal to the correct language and tone of the company you are working with – there is a bit of different language between Scooter Girl and Home Hardware – try to echo the tone of where you are soliciting.
- WHY IS THIS A FIT – not your life story. You should have a better idea of why this works for their needs because you already had a conversation with them. You only talk about yourself in context of why this is a great fit for them.
- Clarify the OPPORTUNITY. You are not asking for a donation, you are a valuable partner in this agreement. “I am doing this show, I have this really great niche market you are trying to reach, I can help you reach them in these unique ways.”
- Demographics – not expecting that your demographics will be as full and exact as large organizations who devote more resources to audience development and tracking, but try as best as you can.
- Include sponsorship fee – whether it’s at the beginning or end is totally your call.
A lot of places use Sponsorship Levels but this does not necessarily serve indie producers the best as it’s harder to customize and if they know they can get what they want with silver, why would they pay for gold?
You want to be transparent and confident but don’t make promises you can’t keep. Talk in terms of what you are confident about and have secured, but don’t commit to anything that is not certain yet. Sponsorship only works really well when there is trust. At the end of this, you want to be able to go back to them.
You have an opportunity to be creative. You are pitching sponsorship as an artistic company. Why not demonstrate your uniqueness and creativity to make them curious! You could do this through a Powerpoint with lots of visuals (which you can print in colour and leave as a deck after the meeting). What will draw you in? (ask a friend who knows nothing about corporate sponsorship)
Larger corporate bodies with a sponsorship budget, such as banks like CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank, have sponsorship programs. If arts aligns with their funding goals, they will often have a specific program that artmakers and organizations can apply to. Do some research! See if your project aligns with the goals of their available sponsorship programs. Usually, these programs have an online application portal that can be accessed through their website. When this is the case, you can directly apply to the program. Be sure to answer the applications carefully, specifically, and as briefly as possible. If the option is available, meet with the program administrator. It's always a positive thing to start a relationship with the people who will read about your program.
Exercise your graphic design skills and put together a brief sponsorship deck! Sponsorship decks are a thoughtfully designed and curated information document about your project or program that details what the project is about, who it's for, and how and why sponsoring this project/program will benefit the business you're approaching. If you have the time and the resources, you can customize each deck to better suit the organization you are approaching to go along with your sponsorship proposal. Keeping a general one for anyone to peruse is a great strategy as well. You can leave a copy with a curious business / corporate sponsor after an initial meeting. Don't forget to include your contact information.
Corporate sponsorship applications, pitches, and decks don't need to be complicated. They should be simple - so don't get stressed out about being more than you are. Your work and audience are very valuable for sponsors - you just need to fill in the details!
How do you value your product and what you are doing? Some companies provide formulas, but they aren’t that applicable to small indie theatre. You can google to keep aware, but don’t rigidly live by them. More useful guidelines:
- Know the types of sponsors you are trying to approach – what is their capacity? What are my costs (hard and time for myself or volunteers) to deliver what I am proposing? (ie. CIBC would hardly look at $2000 because they don’t even consider that a sponsorship)
- Know your market – look within our community and what other people are pricing their sponsorships at. Look at companies that have put their sponsorships online.
- Understanding of who your prospect is – you can ask them what their average sponsorship fee is (in a conversation – don’t put that in an email)
We have an opportunity to increase the value of the work that we do. We undercut it all the time and it is a great opportunity for businesses to hit their target markets and get return on investments. Our whole sector can decide to increase the value of our sponsorships.
Sponsorship exclusivity – if you are in a great position of demand, you can say “I’ve also been talking to Rona and they are also interested. What I can do is offer you sponsor exclusivity so you will be the only home-reno sponsor, and the exclusivity fee is…” – what sponsorships are you sacrificing for them to be the only ones?
It would be unethical to not tell them when signing a contract if there is another sponsor within the same business as them. If you have to think about whether the businesses are too similar, they probably are and you should tell them.
YOU CAN SAY NO - Not everything aligns with your value set or they may want to reach out to your audience in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Your audience is your lifeline so is it worth it to risk alienating them?
Absolutely have a signed agreement that confirms all the negotiated details. Those details include:
- Sponsorship fee - in kind or cash - how much, how is it being paid out?
- Deliverables - who is responsible for what (they give X amount of product, you performing X activitations)?
- Schedules - when is the event, when are you receiving in-kind sponsorships or payment, when are you completing activations?
- Signatures of both parties
Businesses can have quite the turnover and someone who made the agreement with you might not be there by the time you go to collect. This agreement should contain everything that was agreed upon so their replacement can honour the deal.
After you finish your production, you need to write a report to send back to your sponsor telling them how the event went and confirm the details (your program ad reached X number of audience members, we gave out X number of samples, we posted about you on social media X times, etc.). Including images from the event or quotes can help them feel part of the success. It is always easier to renew a relationship than it is to prospect and start a new one, so you want this report to be an honest account of what happened (because sponsorships are all about relationships and trust) as well as an opportunity to ask them how they feel it went from their perspective. Building (also know as stewarding) long-term partnerships is a more effective way to create sustainable sponsorship activities.
- Only promise benefits that you can deliver – great ideas around the table, but can you actually deliver.
- Understand when you are providing a proposal that it might just be forwarded to someone else – all the things that you’ve discussed need to go in there.
- Use their language and highlight what they care about – it’s like compliment sandwich!
- Benefits and Activations – be creative!
- Be specific, yet flexible. You are ready to give specific examples with the caveat that we are open to different options that better suit you. Don’t leave it to them to think it up. They need you to have ideas to springboard.
1 THING YOU MUST DO = PLEASE HAVE AN AGREEMENT!
Congratulate yourself on securing the sponsorship but make sure you have an agreement that is SIGNED.