I see a lot of sponsorship proposals, and most of them are terrible. Your property may be amazing, but if your proposal is awful, you’re not going to get a “yes”.
The thing is that there are a number of red flags – proposal killers – that sponsors can spot a mile off. They say to a sponsor that you don’t understand them and what they need, you’re unsophisticated, and you’ll be hard to work with. If you can swap those proposal killers for a best-practice business case, you’ll allow what you’re selling to shine.
So, here they are… the proposal killers.
I’m going to hazard a guess that 90% of the proposals I see have the sponsor logo on the title page. Bad idea.
First off, you don’t have permission – a license – to use their logo. Considering that part of what you are probably selling them is a license to use your intellectual property, and that you wouldn’t want just anyone using your logo without permission, you should really know better.
Second, 99% of the time, you’ll use it wrong. You’ll grab some low-res image from a website, often something developed for a particular use, and drop it onto your title page.
The thinking behind this is that the sponsor will get some kind of buzz that you went to the trouble. The truth is that they’re not going to be impressed. What will impress them is not that you’ve whacked their logo on the front page, but that the entire rest of the proposal is centred on their specific needs and markets.
Solution: Leave the logo out. Just use the brand or company name. If you’re offering something where their logo will be an integral part of the sponsorship – eg, the main branding on a race car or incorporating it into an event logo as part of naming rights – you should offer to provide them with a mock-up. Don’t do it without permission.
Providing an executive summary is a dead-set guarantee that they won’t read the rest of the proposal. They’ll just skip to the back page, look at the price, and see if the single-page executive summary stacks up. This is not providing you with any advantage at all. You need them to actually read the proposal, so they understand the relevance to their brand and target markets, as well as how they can use it to achieve their objectives.
Solution: Include a one-page overview, but this is an overview of what you’re asking them to sponsor, not an overview of the sponsorship. You’re painting the picture of your property and why it matters to your fans, so they have some context as you build your business case.
More than three pages about you
Almost every proposal I see includes page after page – sometimes 15 pages or more – about your property, and how great or prestigious or worthy it is. Around page three or four – right as you’re getting into the real minutia of your property – the sponsor’s eyes will glaze over and they’ll give up, realising that you don’t get it and they’ve already given you too much time. You’re asking them to invest marketing money, with which they need to achieve a lot of objectives, but you’re too self-centred to make that connection. In a sponsor’s mind, this bodes very badly for a relationship that has to be highly collaborative to work.
This is like that first date we’ve all had, where your date does all the talking. Around the time they’re telling you about their crush on their year six teacher, you head to the bathroom and then feign getting a text about some emergency and you really have to leave, like, now. The sponsorship equivalent of that is the “all our funds are currently committed” letter.
Solution: In a strong proposal, every section serves a specific purpose, and only the first two sections are about the property you’re selling. The first one is the Overview, as specified above. Ideally, this is one page, but it could spill over onto a second. The next section is the details of the event. This will be one page, generally laid out in a table, outlining the basic information about your property: Dates, locations, projected audience, etc. You’ve now painted the picture, filled in the critical facts, and now everything else in the proposal needs to be sponsor-centric.
Board and/or senior executive profiles
These are often included as part of an overly self-centred proposal. The intent is clearly to convey a sense of credibility, but it’s really not helping you. In fact, if a sponsor hits this information before there is anything meaningful and specific about how the sponsorship works for their brand, the result is much more likely to be, “Oh great, BOARD profiles. I can see where this is going. That’ll be a no.”
Look, if a sponsor gets turned on by a proposal, they can find details of your board and senior executive team on your website. It’s not like this information is top secret.
Solution: Leave anything remotely like this out of the proposal. You can always add a line in your covering note or at the end of the proposal to say that your event is spearheaded by a great executive team, and to find out more about them and the board, they can visit your website.
Your detailed event program (or similar)
Like board profiles, getting into the details of your program, season, charity projects, etc, really stops the business case cold. A sponsor doesn’t need to know all of those details in order to make a decision, and if your business case is compelling, they’ll check out your website and/or request this information from you.
Solution: As above, you can let the sponsor know that this information is available. Alternatively, and only if it’s short (like a couple of pages), you can include it in an addendum.
Letters of support
“As the Mayor of Podunk, I’m delighted to support this new event taking place in our lovely city blah blah blah.”
Again, the thinking behind getting this kind of letter from someone in government or a celebrity ambassador is that it will lend credibility to your offer, but this isn’t what builds credibility for a sponsor.
Solution: Leave this stuff out completely. If you’ve got a celebrity ambassador, put a sentence about it in your Overview and leave it at that.
“Your sponsorship will be tax deductible”
Sponsorship is always tax deductible. It’s a business expense, listed under “marketing”.
If you’re a charity and you include this information, the inference is that it will be deductible as a donation. It won’t be. Sponsorship is a leverageable marketing platform, from which sponsors will expect to get measurable results. That doesn’t fit the criteria for a donation, and playing that angle makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Solution: Never use donation wording in a proposal. Not “tax deductible”, not “support”, not “assist” or “help” or “gift”. To sell sponsorship, you need to be able to talk marketing.
References to “massive exposure” (or similar)
“Exposure”, “awareness”, and “branding” are hallmarks of first generation sponsorship. If this is any kind of major feature in your proposal – a big reason that the sponsor should say “yes” – you are putting yourself in a box marked “1992”.
Branding is a part of most sponsorships, but it’s a minor part, and not what makes sponsorship work for a brand. A sponsor’s job is to change perceptions and behaviours around their brand. Visibility is just a mechanism, and not a very effective one.
Solution: The alternatives are many and varied, and miles more interesting. Start by downloading my Generic Inventory of benefits, to give you a lot more options. You should probably also read “Last Generation Sponsorship”, as a good primer on what sponsorship is really about.
References to “good corporate citizenship” or “giving back to the community”
The implication is that by sponsoring your property, the sponsor is going to seem altruistic, and that this should be a driver of their decision. There is a LOT wrong with this thinking.
First, sponsors aren’t altruistic. They have to achieve marketing objectives, and that’s their focus. Those objectives could include building trust, building alignment to the brand, increasing preference, underpinning their corporate culture, or any of a hundred things that you sweep into one bucket when you use the term “good corporate citizenship”.
Second, those terms imply that sponsors should be giving back to the community. But the second you invoke that implied “should”, they’ll spot the guilt trip and say “no”.
Finally, this isn’t any kind of point of difference. Every sponsor has at least some charitable/arts/grassroots sponsorships in their portfolio. By this thinking, they’re all “good corporate citizens” and “giving back”. In fact, the potential sponsor probably already has that kind of sponsorship in their portfolio, so if you’re selling based on the fact that it ticks some box, their box is already ticked.
Solution: Stop using these meaningless euphemisms. If a sponsor needs to build alignment, for instance, you should know that and create a proposal that shows them how they can use the sponsorship to achieve that – a specific, customised proposal, because this has nothing to do with ticking a box.
While we’re on the subject of customisation, sponsors hate levels more than anything else in a crap sponsorship proposal. We’re talking gold-silver-bronze and the like. And they’re always made up of the same commodity benefits – tickets, logos, hospitality, and designation.
For more on why levels are a terrible idea, read “The Problem with Sponsorship Levels”.
Solution: Provide one, creative, highly-customised offer. Just one. You can always negotiate from there, but you need to make a strong statement that you’ve thought about what they need and have put some serious effort into crafting a bespoke offer that meets those needs.
When a sponsor gets to the back of a proposal and there’s no price, that’s bad. I’ve seen proposals with wording like “price on application” or “make us an offer”. If you’re going to go to the trouble of putting together a strong business case and customised offer, you need to put a price on it, or you’ve wasted everyone’s time.
Solution: Pricing isn’t always easy, especially if you’re new at this, but you have to do it. If you struggle, you should probably read, “Sponsorship Pricing Basics”.
If your proposal has any of the above, you’re doing yourself and your property a disservice. What you’re selling could be amazing, but the way you’re selling it isn’t compelling. And the more of the above traits are in your proposals, the more doomed they are.
Sponsorship proposals need to build a strong business case and follow a sensible story arc, in order to succeed. This isn’t difficult, but it requires that you let go of all of these bad habits and restructure your approach.
A good resource for that is The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition. It has the whole process laid out in detail, including lots of checklists and templates. And yes, it has a sponsorship proposal template!
Need more assistance?
If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, you might look into the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265
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