Listen to The Small Nonprofit podcast on your favourite platform:

5 steps to securing corporate sponsorship

Sponsorship can be intimidating. There are hundreds of great causes out there looking for support, and companies seem to be supporting every organization but yours. What is a fundraiser to do?

Whenever I feel overwhelmed by anything, my first step is to break the situation down into manageable steps. I summarize the situation, and break it into bite size chunks that can be tackled one step at a time.

When it comes to developing your sponsorship program, cultivation is the first (and arguably the most important) step in the sponsorship cycle. For those fundraising newbies, cultivation is just a fancy way of saying, building relationships before a donation is made.

Like all forms of fundraising, sponsorship is a business that is based in relationships. Cultivation marks the beginning of your organization developing a relationship with the people inside of the companies that you would like support from. Taking the time to develop and nurture personal relationships will significantly improve your chances for sponsorship success.

Steps to Cultivating a Potential Sponsor

1. Research

Make sure that the companies you are targeting are a strong fit for your organization – both from your point of view and theirs!

  • Does the company have a history of supporting organizations like yours?

  • Does the company publish a sponsorship or corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandate?

  • Do you understand the marketing and branding goals of the company?

  • Does the brand of the company align with your organizations mission and goals?

  • How can your organization help the company meet its business, marketing or philanthropic goals?

The more things you have in common with the goals and priorities of the company, the better your chance of getting them interested in supporting you!

2. Prospect Identification

Identify companies that already have a relationship with your organization:

  • Past ticket buyers

  • Suppliers to your organization (insurance, printing, venue rentals etc.)

  • Personal and professional contacts of board and staff

Identify companies that have a strong alignment with the work your organization is doing:

  • Brand categories and companies that support organizations like yours.

Example: You represent a film festival. Through your research, you have found that several larger film festivals in Ontario have sponsorships from key categories, such as insurance, health and beauty, banking, online stream platforms etc. These are categories from within your community that you should be identifying and cultivating for your Festival.

  • Companies that manufacture or provide services to the area that your event focuses on.

Example: If you are a music festival, identify companies that manufacture instruments, service and repair instruments locally, venues that showcase the type of music that your event showcases.

PRO TIP: Research organizations from across the country who are like yours. Look at their list of sponsors and philanthropic contributors (including foundations, government contributions etc.)

3. Determine the Connection

Sponsorship is not the job of a single individual. Use your network to find strong contacts! Once you have developed a list of companies you feel are a strong match for your organization, you need to determine how you will get in the door.

  • Start with who you know

  • Start with your staff, board and members know

  • If you don’t have a contact, start with the marketing team (find the person in the most senior position and begin there)

A warm lead is always better than going in cold!

If you don’t have a warm lead at a company, try to figure out a way to engage them with your organization BEFORE you call them for a meeting so that they are familiar with you.

This could include things like:

  • an invitation to a performance or screening

  • hosting a “cultivation event” with members of your organization with the sole purpose of bringing new people in to learn more about you

  • asking a contact for a coffee to get their advice on how your organization might be able to work with them

4. Develop Your Offering: The Sponsorship Menu

Before you go knocking on doors for pitch meetings, you must know what you are going to be offering them!

  • What profile, visibility and benefits will you offer your sponsor in return for their support?

  • Standard benefits could include the following (scaled based on the value of the sponsorship):

  • Logo placement: on advertising, websites, e-bulletins, posters

  • Social media profile: announcing the partnership on social media, working with your sponsors’ social media team to leverage the announcement and support of your group, links to their website and social media channels

  • Invitations and tickets: giving your sponsor the opportunity to host clients and staff at your event

  • Signage: On-site recognition at your event or performances recognizing their support

  • Verbal recognition: Publicly thanking your sponsors

Always leave the door open to develop a customized sponsorship property for a potential lead. This can garner a significantly larger sponsorship fee, and allows the sponsor to tailor their presence in a way that is in direct alignment with their goals.

5. Outreach

Send an email or letter. In the first paragraph list anyone associated with your organization who has a direct relationship. If there are celebrities or noteworthy community leaders attending mention them in the first paragraph.

Make sure your letter includes the following:

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

  • Name of the organization and its mission

  • How you would like them to get involved (ie. sponsorship, corporate block of ticket etc.)

  • Your contact information

  • When you will call them to follow-up

Follow Up

  • Always follow up with a phone call. Leave a clear voice mail if the call is not answered.

  • Assume that it will take a minimum of 3-5 attempts before a cold call responds.

  • When following up a second (or third…or fourth…) time, have a reason to call or to send a follow up email. Update them on an upcoming event or performance, let them know something interesting that is taking place. These touch points work to engage the contact outside of a straight pitch.

PRO TIP: Reaching out to a small, locally owned business can be quite different than reaching out to a large, multi-national company. Larger companies often have layers of decision making steps. Smaller companies are often able to be nimbler and make a decision more quickly. Larger companies may have bigger budgets and offer a higher level of support, but may require significantly more sponsorship benefits and reporting. There are pro’s and con’s to cultivating and pitching small and large organizations. Ultimately, you need to determine which approach is best for the resources that you have available to you.


Jenn Shah is the Director of Sponsorship Marketing for Hot Docs. She will be our guest on our free, monthly fundraising masterclass on October 21, 2017 at 1pm. To join us, register here!