This post was contributed by TravelPledge.
You're pivoting to a virtual gala. Great!
With many businesses suffering due to the pandemic, though, how will you secure corporate sponsors?
In this post, I'll cover the key dos and don'ts to build your target list for securing sponsors, making a compelling ask, and retaining sponsors year after year.
1) DO: Ask Your Organizational Contacts and Personal Connections
There's no better place to start your list of target sponsors for your virtual event than with businesses that have previously contributed to your nonprofit.
On the flip side, any businesses to which your organization has contributed should also be on your list. Include every business that benefits from your nonprofit's work or any vendors where your nonprofit regularly writes a check.
Additionally, leverage your personal connections: yourself, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors & anyone who owes a favor. Identify where they work, shop or otherwise have a meaningful connection, and ask for an introduction.
2) DON'T: Add Every Business to Your List
After listing your organization's contacts and personal connections, you may feel the need to grab the yellow pages and contact every local business for a donation.
However, you'll spend loads of time churning through your list, and your pitch will feel impersonal. Rather, filter targets based on where you can make a compelling pitch.
- Is the business doing comparatively well during the pandemic? Cleaning services, drive-in theatres, grocers, liquor stores, landscaping companies and tutoring service providers may be more cash-flush than other businesses and willing to contribute.
- Does the business's target customer overlap with the interest and demographics of your attendees? For example, if your audience is relatively affluent, consider local lawyers, accountants, financial planners, bankers, real estate agents and car dealers.
- Have you seen the business sponsor other organization's events? When a business sponsors another organization's event, it indicates that they value promotion at benefit galas.
If the answer isn't "yes” to at least one of these questions, the business isn't likely worth your time.
3) DO: Make Some Test Phone Calls
You've done the work to build a great list of target businesses. Wouldn't it be a shame if you completely missed the mark on the messaging or contacted the wrong people?
To perfect your approach, pick ten or so businesses that are middle or lower priority targets and call them to ask for support. You will feel comfortable talking with these prospects and they are great "warm ups” to new companies that you pitch.
If they agree, then great! If they reject you, learn as much as you can about their decision making. Who makes decisions and when? How has the pandemic affected their corporate giving? What messages resonate and what falls flat?
While you may decide to email others on the list instead of calling, calling your test sample is important so you get immediate feedback.
4) DON'T: Send the Same Message to Everyone
While it's easy to send your boilerplate sponsorship pitch to each business's info@...com email, you'll more than likely reach the wrong person or be immediately dismissed as another charity asking for a handout.
Rather, you want to personalize your message to focus on the primary reason each business might give.
For example, suppose you are targeting a small law firm that specializes in estate planning. Then, your messaging should focus on how your event can help them build awareness among a wealthy and older demographic.
Your "ask” should be that they join you at the "Supporting Sponsor” giving level, since a small business is not a good candidate for title sponsor.
This personalization will get the business's attention and show them that you care about driving customers their way.
5) DO: Emphasize the Promotional Benefits of Virtual Galas
Perhaps you have a list of businesses that have sponsored your in-person gala in the past. They're probably wondering if they will get the same promotional benefit at your virtual gala.
In fact, you should argue they will get even better promotion than they did before:
- Your online audience is much larger
- They'll be promoted for multiple days at your online auction.
- You can hyperlink their logo to a special offer on their website.
Additionally, there are many more things to sponsor, like gala-in-a-box, mailed programs, pre-show slides, AV expenses, streaming software and more. Bring these examples to life with mockups featuring their logo.
If your prospect is still skeptical, you can bundle in additional promotional opportunities throughout the year, like inclusion in a future email blast.
6) DON'T: Apologize for Asking
It is important to empathize this with businesses hit hard by the pandemic. The last thing a struggling small business owner wants is to be asked for money.
That said, if you are willing to make the ask, you should never apologize for doing so. After all, you are trying to convince the business owner that you are providing a valuable promotional opportunity. That's nothing to apologize for.
The next time you are on the phone with a target business, avoid saying, "Would you please consider supporting our event? Sorry if it's a bad time. I know things are tough. It's OK to say no.”
Instead ask, "Will you support us by becoming a silver tier sponsor?” Then, hold the silence until the recipient responds.
Awkward? Effective? Yes.
7) DO: Follow Up After the Event
While your pitch to sponsors may be focused on the promotion they will receive, they will also like to know the results of your event.
This will deepen your connection with the business so next year they will step up to the plate again for your cause.
Call your sponsors to thank them for their support, share the total amount raised and the projects you plan to pursue with the money. Hand-written notes are always a nice alternative to calls.
Guest Author: Alex McDonald
Alex McDonald is the Director of Customer Experience for TravelPledge, your benefit auction's connection to generous business owners. Alex manages TravelPledge's content strategy and customer onboarding. He is passionate about helping nonprofits exceed their auction goals.