Monday, June 14, 2010

Sponsorship and Fundraising 101

Part 1: How do I get sponsorships?
There is an idea that getting sponsorships is as easy as finding an address of someone who has money, writing a letter, and then waiting for the check to arrive. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Most often, those doing the fundraising will target big companies since these seem to be the most likely targets. Aren’t these the companies we see in the newspapers, on TV or on the radio sponsoring everything from the local Breast Cancer 10K or the 7th Annual Apple Jamboree?

Most people will approach these companies first, get shot down and then walk away from their fundraising efforts deflated. Before you approach that large local bank or grocery store it’s good to have a basic fundraising plan in place.

Part 2: The Money
How much money do you want to raise and what exactly are you going to do with that money?

I know it sounds silly, but most creatives go into a fundraiser thinking they’ll take as much as they are given and they have no real plan of what they plan to do with the money once they get it. Nothing reeks of a lame fundraising opportunity more than this.

Most companies and individuals want to know exactly how much money you’re attempting to raise and what you plan to do with it. You should have a budget in place and a detailed plan that is available to potential funders.

Often times raising a small amount is actually harder than raising a large amount. Most big companies will scoff at a $10,000 goal, but may be more than happy to contribute to a $65,000 goal. They know that a larger budget means more exposure and more community outreach potential for them.

Part 3: The Approach
When we approached companies for my PBS special, “The Neon Man and Me,” (a television program that deals with bereavement and loss) we first targeted large drug companies who created anti-depressants. The problem we ran into with these companies was that their budgets were usually planned and accounted for two quarters before we even contacted them. After researching and contacting these companies, we shifted our plan midstream and began to seek companies in the funeral industry including book publishers and funeral organizations. We found success with our new plan.

Most large companies like Target, Pepsi, and Kraft have grants that you can apply for, but they are mostly for non-profits, extremely competitive and have specific deadlines that usually occurred six months before you decided to visit their website.

Part 4: Linking the Like with Like
The salesperson I hired for my Neon Man sponsorships was someone who was extremely familiar with the funeral industry which made things extremely easy for us. I think this fact is extremely important. It helps build rapport. In fact, it’s so important that I would take someone with knowledge of a potential sponsor’s industry over someone with sales experience and no knowledge of the industry 9 times out of 10.

Part 5: Misconceptions
I raised the budget to create my PBS special by doing a living room tour. I made a DVD documentary about what I was attempting to do and took it into living rooms all over the state of Virginia. A host would invite me over to his house, and then invite 10-15 friends over. We would watch the 30 minute documentary, I would talk about what I was trying to do and then guests would make donations. I was able to raise $65,000 this way.

When you are fundraising there is no right way or wrong way to do things. But you should have a plan for how much you’re raising, a detailed outline of what you plan to do with the money, be able to explain what potential sponsors will get out of the experience, and provide multiple ways for people to give.

You should have a link on your website that allows people to donate to the “specific cause” (not just a general donate button) and you should have items for sale where a portion of the sales will go directly towards your goal.

Part 6: WIIFM
WIIFM stands for What’s In It For Me? Why are you approaching a company or a person for sponsorship? Is it because they have money? If so, think again. That’s not a good enough reason. 

You should approach companies and individuals because you think there is a good fit. A good fit means that there is a reciprocal link. In other words, their own mission should be compatible with your own. You are helping them and they are helping you. You should know how your event will benefit a company or individual before you approach them and ask for money.

Part 7: Initial Contact
If you have all your ducks in a row (See Parts 1-6), and have a two-pocket folder full of the above information which you can mail to perspective funders (only when they’ve requested it), and the event now appears prominently on the first page on your website, I recommend you start by writing individual e-mails (the more personal the better) to your fan base.  

Let me repeat the most important part of that last sentence - the more personal the better to individuals.

In the subject bar you should include the person’s name. The e-mail shouldn’t sound spammy, like you’re trying to sell something. What you’re offering is an invitation to collaborate.

This shouldn’t be a 10 page e-mail. It should be 2-3 paragraphs which outlines your goal, includes what sponsors will get out of it and include a link to more information. In the e-mail, you aren’t asking for money at this point. You are asking the individual if they know an individual or company who may be interested in sponsoring your event.

Once you get some return e-mails with individual names, phone numbers or e-mails, then you can contact these new individuals using the recommendation from the first person.

Part 8: Don’t give up
Big companies don't have an easier time with raising money. It's still done one handshake, one phone call at a time, just like a Presidential election. Even with big companies, that have a department dedicated to sponsorships, it’s no easy road. If you think a large company has an easier time, consider that they have to hit up potential sponsors year after year. If you think getting a person to give once is hard, trying getting them to give twice.

You should spend at least a month developing your plan and give yourself a deadline with a specific date to meet you fundraising or sponsorship goals. Three months should be plenty of time to do this. Less than that and you’re really not giving yourself enough time to brainstorm new ideas if your original ideas fall flat.

Don’t give up. If you believe in what you are doing, then so will other people.

For more info about "The Neon Man and Me" and other storytelling projects by me - Slash Coleman - please visit

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