Sponsorship Sales Rule #1: Sell What Sells, Not What You Need Money For

Australian moneyEvery day, my inbox fills with messages from people who want advice about selling sponsorship. There is nothing wrong with that – I’m happy to hear from you! The issue is that many, if not most, of those sponsorship sales efforts are destined to fail. They are trying to sell the impossible.

When it comes right down to it, not everything you need money for is sponsorable. Some of the things that you have to do, because you are the kind of organisation you are – listen closely all you non-profits out there – do not have enough commercial appeal to attract sponsors.

I am not for one second saying that you shouldn’t do those events or programs, just that seeking sponsorship for them is unlikely to be successful, so you need to shift to Plan B – a much easier and more realistic way to raise the money you need.

There are four steps to this Plan B.

Accept defeat

What often happens when an organisation plans an event is that a budget is drawn up, and whatever the shortfall is, that is the sponsorship target. You need $12,000 to break even, so that is what you must raise in sponsorship.

Unfortunately, your need and the commercial value of an event to sponsors are very rarely the same amount (and if they are, it’s pure coincidence). It is much more likely that the amount you could realistically raise around one of your events or programs is either a lot less or a lot more than you need to run it. Therein lays the beauty of Plan B. Read on.

Move away from compartmentalisation

Imagine you have two events. You need $10,000 in additional funding for each of them to make them happen. One is very commercially appealing and you raise the $10,000 without breaking a sweat. The other has an extremely small or niche market, doesn’t have any critical mass, or maybe it is a particularly tough or dry subject, and you end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying in vain to raise the cash. Your board is calling in favours, you’re discounting like crazy, but you never even get close to your goal.

I hear this scenario over and over, but it is based on an inherently flawed premise: That every event or program needs to break even. Wrong. Every event or program needs to meet the needs of your target market. Your whole organisation needs to break even (or better). It doesn’t really matter which event provides what funding. Putting this arbitrary rule on how you fund the programs that meet your target markets’ needs is counterproductive and unnecessary.

Concentrate on your most commercial properties

Identify your “sexiest” properties – not the ones featuring Angelina Jolie or Eric Bana (hubba hubba), the ones that have the most commercial appeal for sponsors. Then, sell as much sponsorship of those events as you possibly can, generating maximum revenue for the least amount of effort. The goal is to raise significantly more sponsorship than you need to run the event, so you can shift the excess to the events and programs that need a financial boost.

Going back to the two events that need $10,000 each, what if you concentrated on the most commercial, raised $32,000, and used the excess to underwrite costs for other events?

Some of you – largely non-profits – will probably be asking yourself whether it is ethical to sell sponsorship of one event and not spend the revenue on that event. The answer to that is a big, fat “yes”.

We are not talking about grants or donations, which can be earmarked to fund specific projects. We are talking about marketing. When you sell sponsorship, you are not selling the right to underwrite your costs; you are selling marketing opportunity, and it is worth what it’s worth. Sponsorship is unallocated funds, and as long as you deliver whatever has been promised to the sponsor, you are free to do with it whatever you please.

Stop selling “lemons”

Those great, but un-commercial, programs of yours need to be put on the backburner. Stop even pursuing sponsorship of them. At best, it will require a lot of your time and still underperform. At worst, it will be an utter waste of time and talent, damaging your credibility with sponsors who may be good candidates for some of your other events, and making you hate your job.

If there are a few decent benefits, you could add them to other sponsorship offers, providing a bit of added value, but not requiring a lot of marketing weight.

Selling sponsorship can be tough. Make it easier on yourself. Sell what sells.

Need more assistance?

For all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.

If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265


Updated and reposted. Originally posted December 2009.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.

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