A corporate sponsorship is different from 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 want to reach.
Once you put a business’s logo on anything (program, website, etc.), that represents marketing value (brand recognition), which the Canada Revenue Agency deems to be sponsorship.
A donation is philanthropic which means the business is not getting marketing value in return - so instead of a logo, you would likely print their name in the program and/or include their name on your website. The CRA sees that as a donor relationship. In order to provide a tax receipt for a donation you receive, you have to be a registered charity. In contrast, anyone can receive a corporate sponsorship - no charitable registration required.
There are two types of sponsorship:
- In-Kind: Anything that is not cash. This includes products, space, advertising, services, etc. Examples could include: program printing, photography services, a product you use as a prop in the performance, food for an opening night gathering, etc.
Some sponsorship agreements combine the two; you may wish to negotiate a sponsorship that is mostly in-kind, plus some cash.
Sponsorship benefits can take many forms. Benefits may include:
- Brand visibility (print materials, signage, digital/social media)
- Public relations and media relations (recognition and exposure)
- Hospitality and exclusive on-site activities
- Loyalty and database marketing (access to perks for company members or loyal customers)
- Customized workshops
- Employee access to discounts, merchandise
Take the time to identify what you have to offer prospective sponsors. Make a list! We have a Sponsorship List of Benefits Excel Template at the bottom of this page that you can adapt for your own company or production. You will likely have to customize benefits for sponsors, but you won't have to start from scratch.
Remember that everyone within the prospective sponsoring company will have their own goals; for instance, the goals of the marketing team will be different than human resources. If you can gain 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.
- The marketing team will be focused on 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, but they might divulge their team targets, and they will probably be quite open about the company goals.
- HR will want 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 your guess is rooted in logic from your research. For example, you might say in conversation: “I saw on your website that you just added delivery. Is that something you're currently trying to build more awareness about?"
- Having an audience in a specific space creates different potential than traditional marketing platforms and allows for new opportunities. For example, a new flavour of ice cream can be showcased on a TV commercial, but it could actually be tasted in person at your event.
Prospecting is the process of identifying which companies or organizations to approach for corporate sponsorship. In order to do that, you need to know your audience. Businesses tend to be less focused on the show itself, and more interested in who is going to see it. As an artist it's easy to get caught up in the content of the show, but it's important to keep in mind what the business needs and will get most excited about.
- Talk to people in your network to see who they think will attend your show.
- Think about that market: what do they want to buy and consume? Who do they want to interact with?
- Get as specific as possible.
Once you've identified your audience, you can better identify which companies or organizations to approach. Businesses of all sizes count as corporate sponsors - right down to the independent store around the corner from you. Smaller businesses may not advertise that they are open to sponsorship, but that shouldn't stop you from walking right in and talking to the manager about the great project you are doing in their neighbourhood! This can be a great way to garner local support.
The next step is to figure out who to talk to. 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 or obvious fit, you may just need that one person to champion you internally. To help you identify a company champion, you might want to take a look at their:
- Staff descriptions and biographies
- 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 before you approach them. Go into the business to find out who the manager is. Then, go and do your research: find out 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 stay away from. And when you come back to the business to talk to them, make sure you come in at a slow or off-peak time!
Corporate Sponsorship is all about 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 you can set up a phone call from there.
There are a few ways you might secure a meeting:
- Use your network to get an introduction and arrange a meeting from there.
- “Cold” call/email to express interest in the company and to suggest a meeting. Unless someone is actively seeking proposals, don’t send your proposal in the first introduction. Whether you are reaching out over the phone or by email, remember that it's not about you: It’s about them. If your first paragraph is all about you, you will lose them.
- For example, if you see that your local Home Hardware is promoting a new lawnmower, you may want to draw the connection between them marketing to families and homeowners, and you having a show that you expect lots of families will come to. Even if Home Hardware gets back to you saying they've axed the lawnmowers, if you've successfully made your approach about them, you've made the connection for that business. You've proved you are considering their interests.
- Scroll to the bottom of this page for a downloadable sample script for cold calling prospective sponsors.
- The ambush: show up and hope for the best. This only works in small businesses. Know who you want to meet with, make sure they are actually working that day, and do not arrive at a busy time.
- Not the most recommended strategy.
- The same rules apply if you are going in to 'ambush' someone: it's not about you.
- Make as many connections as possible so they can see that you care about what they do: “I understand that you are trying to do X…..”
Once you've secured a time, prepare your goals for the meeting:
- What can you do or offer that is different from someone else?
- Your offer doesn’t have to be super expensive or time-consuming. Put together an offer that you can actually do, and do well.
- Have an idea of how you can work together. Make sure to express your interest in them as a business.
- Bring a sponsorship proposal and a sponsorship deck or package that you can leave with them.
- Use their language (be familiar with how they talk about themselves on their company website and social media), and highlight what they care about.
- Listen more, talk less.
- Have someone come with you if you can. If you are new to this process and/or nervous, you may miss something or misread the interaction. Having someone else with you means they can help catch those things.
- Show your uniqueness (not just your "unique" logo).
- Be specific, yet flexible. Be ready to give specific examples, always with the caveat that you are open to different options that better suit the business's needs. Don’t leave the brainstorming to them: you need to arrive with ideas.
A proposal document should encompass everything you’ve discussed on the phone or email that covers why this sponsorship is a good fit for the business. Customize your proposal using the language and tone of the company you are working with – for example, you wouldn't use the same language to approach a toy shop that you'd use to talk to a realtor. You have an opportunity to be creative with the format and presentation of your proposal. Whether it's through a Powerpoint or a Google document, you are pitching sponsorship as an artistic company, so use this opportunity to showcase your uniqueness and creativity - make them curious!
Understand that when you are providing a proposal, it might ultimately just be forwarded to someone else – everything you've discussed with the business up to that point needs to be included in the written proposal. Don't assume the reader has all the context.
- Why this is a good fit - not your life story. You should have a strong idea of why this works for the business because you will have already had a conversation with them. Only talk about yourself in context of why this sponsorship is a great fit for them.
- The opportunity - you are not asking for a donation; you are a valuable partner in this agreement. Only promise benefits that you can deliver.
- Audience demographics - when you're operating as a small company, you won't have access to the more fulsome demographic information that larger arts organizations have (they devote more resources to audience and development and tracking than you likely have access to), but do your best!
- Sponsorship fee – whether it’s at the beginning at the proposal or at the end is completely up to you. Some proposals include options for levels of sponsorship, but at the indie level it can be difficult to customize sponsorship benefits in this way.
You want to be transparent and confident, but don’t make promises you can’t keep. Talk about what you know and what you've secured, but don’t commit to anything that is still uncertain. Sponsorship only works well when there is trust. At the end of this process, you want to be able to go back to them and continue the relationship.
Sponsorship decks are a thoughtfully designed and curated information package 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. They can be in the form of a slideshow, document or series of graphic designs. 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 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!
Larger corporate bodies with sponsorship budgets, like banks such as CIBC, RBC, and Scotiabank, have clearly outlined sponsorship programs. If the art aligns with their funding goals, they will often have a specific program that art-makers and organizations can apply to. Do some research! See if your project aligns with the goals of the sponsorship programs they have available. 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 initiate a relationship with the person (or people) who will read about your offering.
Valuation is an estimation of the monetary worth of something. When seeking sponsorship, you will need to come up with a valuation of your sponsorship benefits. How do you value your product and what you are doing? Some companies provide formulas, but they aren’t that applicable to indie theatre. You can do a Google search to give yourself an idea of what's out there, but there are no rigid rules to follow. Some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Know the types of sponsors you are trying to approach – what is their capacity? What are your costs (hard costs as well as time for yourself or volunteers) to deliver what you are proposing?
- Know your market – look within your community at what other people are pricing their sponsorships at. Look for companies who have put their sponsorships online.
- Understand who your prospect is – you can ask them what their average sponsorship fee is (in an in-person conversation – don’t put that in an email)
Keep in mind: what you're offering probably has more value than you think it does. The arts sector undercuts its own value all the time. Your work provides an opportunity for businesses to reach their target markets, which has real financial value to them.
Sponsorship exclusivity – If you feel like you have a number of options and your sponsorship offering is in high demand, you can say something like “I’ve also been talking to Rona and they are interested. I can offer you sponsor exclusivity so you will be the only home renovation sponsor. The exclusivity fee is…” Always consider what other sponsorship possibilities you may be sacrificing by granting exclusivity.
It would be unethical not to tell a sponsor that you have another agreement with a company in the same line of business as them. If you have to think about whether the businesses are too similar, they probably are and you should disclose that.
Not everything is going to align with your values. A business may want to reach out to your audience in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Your audience is your lifeline, and a poorly matched sponsorship relationship could risk you alienating that audience.
Congratulations! You've secured the sponsorship. Now it's time to get 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 deliver X benefits.) You may also want to consider approvals: are you agreeing to send a digital copy of the program to the sponsor so they can approve their logo/ad before you go to print? Make sure you build this into your producing timeline!
- Schedules - when is the performance that is being sponsored? When are you receiving in-kind sponsorships or payments? When are you completing your benefits?
- Signatures - of both parties. Businesses have personnel turnover - the person you made the agreement with might not be there by the time you go to collect. Your agreement needs to contain everything that was agreed on so their replacement can honour the arrangement. Without a signature, there is no deal - so do not move forward without securing a signed copy.
After you finish your production, you should create a report for your sponsor telling them how the event went, and confirming 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 audience/review quotes can help them feel like they were part of the success. It is always easier to renew a relationship than it is to prospect and start a new one; you want this report to be an honest account of what happened (to build trust), as well as an opportunity to ask them how they feel it went from their perspective. Putting care into building (also know as stewarding) long-term partnerships is an effective way to create sustainable sponsorship activities.
For additional reading on sponsorship proposals, categories, and general guidance on sponsorship for small charities, click the links below:
Sponsorship Categories for Community Festivals
Crafting Sponsorship Proposals for Fundraising Events
How Small Charities Can Get Corporate Sponsorship
Downloadable templates and sample documents to help execute a successful sponsorship partnership, from planning and prospecting, to writing a letter of agreement:
Artsvest Sponsorship List of Benefits Excel Template
Artsvest Sponsorship Prospect List Excel Template
Artsvest Phone Script for Uncultivated Sponsorship Prospects
Artsvest Sample Sponsorship Cover Letter
Generator Sample Sponsorship Proposal
Artsvest Sample Sponsorship Proposal
Simple Sponsorship Agreement Template
Artsvest Sample Sponsorship Letter Of Agreement (LOA)