Congratulations: You’re in a leadership position with a community sport organization. You’re doing work you love in the industry you were educated to join. The joys of your work light you up and the challenges keep you focused. Among them is the ongoing quest for funding. How can you ensure your organization’s growth and long-term financial success when membership and admissions revenues are so unpredictable?
You need to create and maintain a strong portfolio of sponsors: businesses and organizations willing to support your work in ways that decrease costs and/or increase revenue. This is an ongoing, long-term endeavor, and its success rests largely on how you present the idea to potential sponsors. Read on for guidance on how to create a successful sports sponsorship proposal.
Select Potential Sponsors Carefully.
In contacting possible sponsors, it’s good to cast a wide net—the more people you ask, the higher your chances of positive response—but this isn’t a moment to generalize. People know when they’re being treated personally and when they’re being talked to as if they’re just another face in the crowd. Approach each potential sponsor with the individualized attention and professional respect that you hope to receive from them.
Before making any overtures, take the time to research the companies you’re considering. How do their priorities, regarding community service as well as sport, align with yours? What businesses do your organization’s members represent, and what sponsorship connections might be possible through them? By conducting thorough preliminary research, you avoid wasting time with disinterested organizations and you target your efforts toward those most likely to respond positively.
Determine What You’re Looking for and What You Offer in Return.
Sponsorship is a reciprocal relationship. You’re not just asking for support; you’re also equipped to provide it. You’ll get much a better response when you approach the proposal—and the new relationship—as an exchange rather than as a handout. Start by establishing a clear picture of the benefits that you and your potential sponsor can provide for each other.
Your organization may need financial support, but that can take many forms other than transfers of funds. Assess your specific needs. Does a possible sponsor provide services, products, or facilities that your club could use? Securing any of them for free or at a discount is good for your bottom line. Could their customers be interested in your organization? If so, and if a potential sponsor is willing to promote your organization, you’ve just saved money on advertising and expanded your reach in the community. How can your two organizations be present and involved at each other’s events in ways that benefit you both?
You have plenty to offer. That could include membership, training opportunities, access to facilities, promotional expertise, and any number of other benefits. Your organization’s strengths, its physical space, and the privileges that your members enjoy can all serve your potential sponsor. Examine your company in clear detail to determine exactly what you can bring to the table. The better you know yourself and your potential sponsor, your collective strengths and areas for growth, the better you’ll be at finding ways to help each other.
Be Smart About Reaching Out.
Pause here for a moment and think of what you most dislike in junk mail and spam email—the traits that immediately get them ignored. They’re not addressed to you personally. They come from a stranger who pretends to know you. They’re written with fake, unearned familiarity. They take forever to get to the point. They load you down with unwanted junk in the guise of giving you a gift. Sound familiar? Add to that list every applicable annoyance, and then resolve not to inflict any of them on your potential sponsors.
Unsolicited emails often get deleted or lost in the shuffle, so take the time to polish your skill at writing business letters. Make your introductory letter absolutely professional, with impeccable spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax. Keep the tone respectful, direct, confident (not arrogant), and engaging (not overly casual). Use business-letter structure and format and keep your letter concise.
Personalize it. Address it to the company’s CEO or, better yet, the person you know to have direct authority over sponsorship decisions. Use the company's name and tailor your message to address the specific relationship you’re hoping to create with them.
Include these essential components:
- A brief, upbeat introduction of your organization and your sponsorship proposal
- Benefits for the sponsor: what’s in the sponsorship relationship for them
- Specifics about your organization: basic stats, priorities, and the ways in which you can provide the benefits you’ve noted above
- Two or three overviews of sponsorship options: your best ideas for different ways in which this could work
- Contact information: this will appear in your header, in keeping with business-letter format
No one likes to be pressured, so give your recipient some time before you follow up. A week or so after your letter arrives, call to suggest a meeting to review the proposal in detail.
Present the Proposal.
Your proposal is the detailed document that expands on the ideas included in your introduction letter. Your meeting with an interested potential sponsor, remotely or in person, is your moment to present the full picture, including:
- Your organization’s story: when you were founded, where you play, the age groups of your athletes, and your involvement in community service
- Your audience: the demographics of the people you serve and those you hope to reach, starting with the largest numbers, followed by the specifics of age, gender, etc.
- Your presence online, including the numbers (because the bigger your existing audience, the more people a sponsor can reach by sponsoring you), noting the traffic to your website, total followers on social media, and as much as you know about their ages, genders, and locations
- Details of the sponsorship options mentioned in your letter, possibly delineated in a tier system (gold, silver, bronze, etc.), and always highlighting the benefits that accompany costs: sponsors get more when they provide more
- Clearly defined expectations: exactly what you’d count on a sponsor to do
Keep It Beautiful and Clean.
The documents you present will represent you and your organization to people who might decide to help you. Make them look terrific.
Use only high-resolution photography and graphics that are streamlined and easy to understand. Remember that grainy, hand-held video footage from a phone will undermine the idea that yours is a high-quality organization. If you choose to include video in your presentation, have it professionally shot and produced.
Be sure that your letter and proposal are linguistically flawless. Keep them concise and to the point. Proofread your documents slowly and carefully, and then ask someone whose writing skills you trust to proofread them. Even strong writers can become blind to their own typos, and another person’s knowledgeable perspective is always helpful, even if it only confirms the strength of your work.
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