Find Corporate Sponsors for your Special Event

Your special event’s attendees are critical to its success. But for any successful fundraiser, individual participants and donors are only half the equation. Corporate sponsors are the other half, whether they’re local businesses, Fortune 500 companies or in-kind service providers. Here are five tips for finding — and keeping — these valuable supporters.

1. Don’t put the cart before the horse

Before approaching potential sponsors, make sure you know what shape your event will take (10k run, dinner/dance, used book sale) and nail down as many details as you can, such as the approximate number of attendees and demographic information. This will enable you to target appropriate sponsors and allow sponsors to fairly evaluate the opportunity.

For example, if you’re hosting a women’s fashion show, your best prospects are likely to be clothing retailers and manufacturers, as well as businesses that cater to fashion-conscious women, such as cosmetics companies and beauty salons. Such sponsors will probably be less enthusiastic about sponsoring your event if it later morphs into a battle of the bands or a baseball tournament. So be sure to stick with your plan once you make it.

2. Pursue every opportunity

Although it makes sense to appeal to potential sponsors whose business relates to your organization’s mission or the event’s theme, don’t focus too narrowly. Revisit past sponsors, ask board members to work their professional contacts, have employees and volunteers check with the businesses they patronize — even consider making cold calls. Just keep in mind that most companies receive dozens or even hundreds of requests, so your proposal should succinctly explain what your nonprofit does and how your event can benefit sponsors.

3. Offer value and options

Sponsors enjoy supporting a good cause. But they’re also looking for exposure to new customers and want to know they’re getting a bang for what are, essentially, marketing bucks. Provide a menu of options for sponsors of all sizes and pocketbooks, starting with a small ad in the event program, moving up to inclusion in your event’s name and all its publicity materials.

When setting prices, consider your fundraising goals and what other charities in your community charge for similar sponsorships. Also, be flexible. You may need to toss in “sweeteners,” such as a speaking opportunity or free entrance to your gala for a certain number of the business’s employees. Some sponsors will offer to donate gifts in kind instead of money. For example, a bakery may be interested in providing dessert in exchange for prominent notice on the event’s dinner menu.

4. Show gratitude

If you hope to retain sponsors’ support for future events, you must thank them — repeatedly. This starts with a thank-you letter after they’ve agreed to become a sponsor, acknowledging their level of support and reiterating the benefits of sponsorship. Also list and thank sponsors in your event program and verbally recognize major corporate supporters at the event, including during opening and closing remarks.

Send another note after the fundraiser. Although its primary purpose is to express thanks, take the opportunity to build on a budding relationship. You might suggest, for example, organizing a volunteer day with the sponsor’s employees or asking a business owner to consider serving on your board.

5. Watch out for UBIT

Corporate sponsorships can be considered paid advertising, which means that your organization could become liable for unrelated business income tax (UBIT). The Internal Revenue Code includes an exception from UBIT for certain sponsorship arrangements, but the rules are complex. So to be safe, don’t provide any sponsor with a substantial benefit in return for its sponsorship. For more help understanding the rules, talk to your CPA.