Do you know how to get sponsors for an event your non-profit is holding? Nearly every non-profit holds one or more fundraising events each year. Whether those events are in-person or virtual, the key to raising more money at your events is finding more event sponsors.
As explained in one of our recent articles, the best non-profit events (those that raise the most money) focus on selling event sponsorships. Yet many non-profits aren’t sure how to get sponsors for an event. In this article, we’re going to talk all about finding sponsors for your events. These strategies apply whether your event is live and in-person, or a virtual online event.
What are Event Sponsors?
First, I want to talk a little bit more about what we mean when say “sponsor.” If you want to learn how to get sponsors for an event, you need to understand what a sponsor is. Simply put, an event sponsor is a person, family, or business that makes a leadership gift for your event. Tickets for your event may be $50 per person, but your sponsors may be donating $500, $1,000, or $25,000 towards your event.
Notice that I said that a sponsor can be a “person, family, or business.” This is important… many non-profits think of sponsors as only being businesses. If you are only approaching companies for event sponsorships, you’re missing out on 50% or more of your event fundraising potential. Individuals and families can and should be approached to serve as sponsors for your events.
If you want to learn how to get sponsors for an event, it is essential that you understand the role of sponsorship benefits. In general, event sponsors are offered a package of event-related benefits in return for their donations.
For business sponsors, these event benefits are usually focused on marketing. You can offer your business sponsors things like listings and links on your website, signage at your event, ads in the event program, etc., in addition to tickets to the event (if it is an in-person event).
For individual and family sponsors, your event benefits are normally focused on enjoying the event itself, meaning that you offer tickets or tables at the event (if it is an in-person event), in addition to recognition in the event program or other recognition opportunities.
If you are holding an online-only (virtual) event, you can be creative with your event sponsorship benefits… offer mentions by the speakers, signage on the online platform, and recognition in your annual report and e-mail newsletters. But whatever you do, don’t sweat the benefits… the vast majority of donors (event corporate donors) are giving because they believe in your mission, not because of the sponsorship benefits you provide.
How to Get Sponsors for an Event: A Step-by-Step Guide
Now that you understand what event sponsors are and what types of benefits you can offer your sponsors, let’s talk specifically about how to get sponsors for an event. Here’s the step-by-step process I use with my clients to get maximum results:
Step #1: Create Your Sponsor Levels
The first step is to create your event sponsor levels. This means setting the giving levels for your event sponsors and the benefits sponsors will receive at each level. A very simplified example might be:
Gold Sponsor: $1,000
- Reserved table at the event
- Full page ad in the event program
Silver Sponsor: $500
- 4 tickets to the event
- ½ page ad in the event program
Bronze Sponsor: $250
- 2 tickets to the event
- Listing in the event program
If you’re looking for more creative names for your sponsor levels, check out our recent article Finding Creative Donor Level Names for Your Non-Profit.
Step #2: Put Together an Event Host Committee
This step is one of the least utilized but most powerful when it comes to understanding how to get sponsors for an event. An event host committee (sometimes just called an “event committee”) is a group that is focused on fundraising, not logistics. Your event committee should be out helping you find sponsors, sell tickets, find auction items, etc.
You can learn more about the purpose of your event host committee by clicking here, but suffice to say that your committee should be helping you find new sponsors, as should your board of directors.
Step #3: Renew Past Sponsors
The people and businesses most likely to sponsor your event this year are those that sponsored it last year. For that reason, you should be reaching out to all of your past event sponsors very early in the process. For big annual events, I recommend reaching out to previous sponsors at least six months in advance to ask them to renew or upgrade their sponsorship for the coming year.
You’d be surprised at the number of fundraisers who ask me how to get sponsors for an event but later tell me they aren’t stewarding and cultivating their current sponsors and asking them for upgraded sponsorships each year. This is a huge mistake. I recommend sending all of your past sponsors a renewal / upgrade letter and then following up with a phone call to directly ask them for a sponsorship for this year’s event.
Step #4: Upgrade Current Donors and Past Attendees
Another great source of sponsors for your event are your current donors as well as all past attendees of the event. Search your donor base for donors who have the capacity to be event sponsors and send them an event sponsorship letter followed up by phone call. Do the same for everyone who has attended the event in the past (if it is an annual event)… try to figure out who has the capacity to be an event sponsor and then send them an event sponsorship letter and follow-up with a phone call.
You can see the pattern here – my biggest advice in learning how to get sponsors for an event is to identity those with the capacity to be sponsors (including past sponsors, current donors, and past event attendees) and then send those individuals and businesses an letter asking them to be sponsors… and then to follow up on that letter with a phone call. During the phone call, you need to actually make an ask. Don’t be wishy-washy. Ask the person to become a sponsor and suggest some giving levels that might work for them.
Identify prospective sponsors, send a letter with an ask, then follow up on the phone with an ask. That’s how to get sponsors for an event.
Step #5: Ask Cultivated Prospects
Notice that all of the steps before this one were focused on past and current donors. Generally, you don’t want to spend a lot of time approaching new donors for event sponsorships. I know this flies in the face of the way most non-profits think about finding sponsors. Most non-profits think they should use events to approach every business in town to ask for a sponsorship. (And most organizations are disappointed and frustrated with the results if they use that approach).
Sponsorships aren’t magical. Just because you’re having an event doesn’t mean you can suddenly throw cultivation out the window and make cold asks to local businesses and they will say yes. When figuring out how to get sponsors for an event, focus on your current and past donors.
The only exceptions are those prospects who have not yet given to your non-profit, but who you have already started cultivating. If you are far enough down the cultivation path with a particular donor that they are ready for an ask and have the capacity to become an event sponsor, then by all means go ahead and make an ask using the same strategy as above: send a letter and follow-up with a phone call.
Step #6: Include Sponsorship Options in Your Event Invitations
While the majority of your event sponsors will come from the steps above, one strategy that I use that often results in one or two new sponsors coming on board is to include sponsorship options in your event invitations. This means including a list of sponsor levels and benefits either right on your invitation or on your invitation reply card. This will allow potential attendees to opt for sponsorships instead.
Often, one or two people you approached for sponsorships in earlier steps of this process who said no will change their minds and choose a sponsorship level once they get the actual mailed or e-mailed invitation for your event.
Step #7: Steward Your Sponsors Year-Round
As noted above, so many non-profits that wonder how to get sponsors for an event struggle because they don’t steward their event sponsors with the same care as they do other donors. I can’t tell you how many organizations will call, e-mail, and meet with their $10,000 donors several times per year, but will only talk with their $10,000 event sponsors when it comes time to ask for another sponsorship. This is a huge mistake!
Treat your event sponsors the way you do all of your other donors. Thank them, recognize them for their gifts, talk to them, ask them for their advice, send them notes throughout the year, and when the time comes for your next event, they’ll reward you with upgraded sponsorships and even referrals to new sponsors from within their own networks.