How to Approach a Potential Sponsor the Right Way


You’re face-to-face with a potential first-time sponsor – what are you going to say? How about nothing? The temptation is to talk about your organization, but ask yourself, what’s the best way to show the sponsor the benefit to their organization? Shift the focus of your discussion to their business goals.

Ask your prospect: “Tell me about what you want to accomplish in this market. We have multiple channels – from face-to-face meetings to white paper delivery. I’d love to hear what moves the needle for you.”

Listen and learn about the opportunities your sponsor wants to engage your audience. The best opportunities are those that make your member experience fabulous, serve the business goals of the sponsor, and drive your revenue. That’s the trifecta and the type of organizations we are looking for. Don’t assume you understand what the sponsor is looking for, or that they automatically see the benefit of your program. Make these talking points in your discussion.

Be sure to engage a new sponsor in a timeframe that suits the prospect’s decision-making process, not your timeframe for distributing the prospectus. If you’re looking for new cash, remember to give your business deal time to work through the sponsor’s budget process. It’s likely they will need to add more or take away from someone else, so your timing needs to be spot on.

Seeking New Sponsors? Look Here First

It’s tempting to look to marquee names, even those adjacent to your industry to galvanize your sponsorship program. It’s great for brainstorming in the planning meeting. But, to land the big fish, how can your association significantly move the needle for a multinational search engine or tech company? Here’s a dose of reality.

A better tactic is to look at who is in a position to be most engaging, and who will value the special access to your membership. These folks are right under your nose, but you may have a legacy reaction of offering them the opening reception. C’mon, anyone can do that, including the competition.

Remember to also consider the core membership as a sponsorship option. Many of your traditional member companies are doing business with each other, have launched a new campaign, want to introduce a new chief executive or are celebrating a milestone. No one will die if you ask. And, you may be pleasantly surprised at the positive response.

Your members are likely doing more business-to-business work than ever before. One or two of them may jump at the opportunity to move up from participant to the presenter, to showcase thought leadership or offerings in the industry.

How to Make Your Offer

It’s best to start with a conversation. Introduce your partnership idea with a brief, specific email, phone call or in-person meeting.  I also like to offer something specific to consider in the first conversation.

It goes something like this, “I know this is our first conversation, but in reviewing your business and the direction, I believe heading a special session on innovation may be a great sponsorship fit for you. But, I have an entire portfolio to consider.”

Hold off on sending the entire prospectus until you know how to tailor it based on what you’ve learned.

It’s important to gather some facts, which help the sales process move along. Get these questions answered early.

  • What sponsorships do they currently use?
  • Do you have the budget for anything new?
  • How does the decision-making process work?
  • Are there any budget deadlines we need to make?·

Offer an Exclusive Relationship – Brand loyalty is a key selling point. The largest sponsors may want some category exclusivity or a naming rights option. Be ready to navigate that question up front. That first-time sponsoring company should know how you are working with the competition. To offer an exclusive program that offers brand loyalty means you have to give up some other relationships to partner with their business – hopefully in exchange for premium dollars. That effort can draw them in.

Bring the Numbers – Sponsors want to see cold, hard numbers that show your approach works. Provide them with metrics and data. They are likely not buying your brand and could have done so years ago. They are looking to reach people who buy their stuff. Show them how your association can deliver more effectively than other channels.

Interview all sponsors annually – Enlist a third-party sponsor specialist to interview the sponsors every year. This strategy is a critical step in ensuring you continue to improve the process and gather new ideas, which can make the association prospectus valuable and fresh each year. You may discover your platform needs a facelift.

Corporate support does not spring up overnight. It takes a planned development process to find organizations you may want to work with and explore creative ways to advance each other’s goals. The good news is that companies are looking to be sponsors – your job is to show them how your association delivers results.

For more sponsorship insights check out The Most Neglected Association Growth Opportunity.