Between 2013 and 2014, I wrote a blog at higher-learning.ca covering a wide variety of student-centric concerns. I have archived some of these posts here since that website no longer exists. For more information on my student leadership experience, please click here.
As many student leaders know, one of the most challenging parts of being in charge of a club, team, event, or group is finding the resources to make things happen. Often, some outside help is needed when it comes to funding, prizes, publicity, expertise, and everything else.
As a former co-chair of an experiential learning program called MARS Apprentice, I managed relationships with some of Canada’s largest companies, who all go above and beyond to share time, resources, internship opportunities, passion, and knowledge with students in the program.
Most of our sponsors have been with the program for between seven and ten years. However, since I began my leadership role in MARS Apprentice, we’ve acquired a few new sponsors, including Labatt and Microsoft.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t have a lot of experience reaching out to sponsors when I started.
If, like me, you’ve ever struggled to get sponsorship for something you’re working on, or are looking for some outside help but don’t know where to start, these are a few rules of thumb that I’ve found valuable.
Contact The Right Person
In any organization, there’s a lot of people who can say ‘no’, but only a few people that can say ‘yes’. All too often, groups, teams, clubs, and events who need a sponsor will try to work their way up the ladder so they don’t step on any toes or come across as pushy.
This is a nice sentiment, but it won’t get you anywhere. You may be a student, and you may be asking for a big favour from a company, but do yourself a favour and get in front of someone who can actually make a decision.
There’s a few different ways you can do this, but the way that’s worked for me is cold-emailing people at the top of the totem pole – Vice Presidents, Directors, and other decision-makers. This is fast, efficient, and surprisingly effective.
For example, I had a friend who used to work at Company X. I could have asked him to connect me to his old boss, and then started to work my way up the corporate ladder. This would have taken way too long.
Instead, I looked at my friend’s business card and realized that company emails were organized as firstname.lastname@companyX.com. One search on LinkedIn later, I had the name – and therefore, the contact information – of the relevant Vice President of Company X.
A couple emails and phone calls later, I had my sponsor. It’s surprisingly easy to get in contact with the head honchos in any company – you just need to get a little inventive.
Important Note: Do some research on the company first. In big corporations, you might want to go for directors and managers instead of VP’s. People with job titles like ‘Manager of’ and ‘Director of’ usually have the final say over spending and sponsorships, so they’re the ones you’d want to target.
Of course, anyone you contact will only respond if you have an enticing offer.
Have a Strong Value Proposition
For those of you not familiar with the term, a Value Proposition (or Value Prop) is what you are offering the company in return for their money/time/giving a shit.
Typical Value Prop:
“Hey, we really need money for this bake sale convention. We can put your logo someplace and thank you publicly.”
Better Value Prop:
“Hello! We’re the organizers of the Bake Sale Convention at University X. As a (local/influential/famous/adjective) baking brand, we believe that your involvement in our Bake Sale Convention would create opportunities for meaningful engagement between your brand and consumers. Some of these opportunities include….”
The bottom line is that any idiot can slap a logo on their website, say a quick ‘thank-you’ into a microphone, and think they’ve created value for their sponsors. This is wrong, wrong wrong.
In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, companies are no longer content having their logo on something and calling it a sponsorship. If you want outside resources, you are going to have to think of creative ways to get your sponsors involved in what you’re doing.
For example, in MARS Apprentice, we have:
- Companies sponsoring marketing case challenges, where they get fresh ideas
- Companies offering internship opportunities to top-performing students
- Companies donating Meyers-Briggs testing and professional coaching
- Companies sponsoring specific events or functions of the competition
Companies that offer internships through the program are usually very satisfied with their new hire, and those that don’t still get value from being a meaningful part of an experiential education program as they are developing a (well-deserved) reputation on campus as being an employer that cares about students’ success and education.
Did you know: It can often cost companies thousands of dollars and many person-hours to hire one good employee?
Given the time and money it takes to acquire good employees, our main value proposition is clear.
Have a Solid Sponsorship Package
If you want to be taken seriously, you’re going to need to take yourself seriously enough to make some good-looking sponsorship material. It is also crucial to concisely communicate who you are, what you do, what you need, and what you can offer in your initial contact with the company.
Don’t Limit Your Sponsorship Opportunities
In our quest to play nice and not step on any company’s toes, we can miss out on many opportunities. Here’s a couple of examples of how you can get in your own way.
One of my biggest mistakes when starting to look for sponsors was waiting until one company said ‘no’ before contacting another company. This is a rookie mistake and will waste your time. It could also leave you without crucial sponsors. Simple solution: for every sponsor you need, contact at least three companies that would be able to add equal value to your club, group, team, or event.
Also, never think you have ‘enough’ sponsorship. Keep contacting companies, and figure out how you could create value for them by their participation in your event. Perhaps a print shop could feature their services by taking care of all of your brochures, programmes, or signage, and maybe a local magazine or newspaper would like to feature what you do because it’s a good story.
Have a sponsorship package (and ideas) ready, but don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re up to and ask an unlikely sponsor how they think they could get involved.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Going out and getting sponsorship is equal parts terrifying, exhilarating, and educational. Once you’ve identified value propositions, prepared a sponsorship package, and figured out who you’re going to contact, the only thing left to do is ask.