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Did you play in a little league or other kid’s sports organization as a child, wearing the name of a local company on your chest or hat? You might not have realized it back then, but you’re already familiar with the idea of corporate sponsorships.
The idea of getting companies to sponsor student organizations isn’t a new one. How can you secure sponsorship for your student organization, and what sort of companies should you be looking to connect with?
Sponsorship vs. Fundraising
Before you start seeking sponsorships, it’s essential to understand the difference between obtaining a sponsor and holding a fundraising event. Fundraisers are primarily about raising money for a specific task or cause. Maybe you need funds for a new venue or to repair existing structures, or replace aging equipment.
Whatever the cause, you’ve got a specific goal in mind, as well as a specific amount of money that you’re trying to raise. People — both businesses and individuals — can make a one-time donation to help you reach that goal with no commitment or obligation.
Sponsorships, on the other hand, are a partnership between your organization and a company. Sponsors provide you with some level of agreed-upon support in exchange for marketing, brand recognition, or other tangible or intangible benefits. It’s a contract, and you’ll have to live up to your end of the partnership agreement or risk losing the sponsorship.
Set SMART Goals
Obtaining a sponsorship doesn’t start with beating the streets and knocking on doors. It starts with setting goals and figuring out what you want to get out of this relationship before you start figuring out who is going to fill that role.
Specifically, you want to set SMART goals: specific, measurable, actionable (or attainable), realistic (and relevant), and timely. If your ultimate goal is to obtain corporate sponsorship, your SMART goal breakdown might look like this:
- S: Specific — We will obtain corporate sponsorship for our organization to assist with operational costs.
- M: Measurable — We will research potential sponsors and submit requests to three different potential companies.
- A: Achievable — We will make a compelling case to show these companies why they should want to sponsor us.
- R: Relevant and Realistic — We will only choose companies that can offer the level of support we need.
- T: Timely — We will secure a sponsorship within the next six months.
This is just a broad example, and your goal breakdown should contain more specific information. Once you’ve got your sponsorship goals laid out, the real work begins.
What to Look For
The companies that offer sponsorships to student organizations are often as varied as the groups they support. But the basic characteristics you’re going to look for in a sponsor are almost always the same:
- They’re active parts of the community. You may see them often featured in local news articles for their participation and donations.
- They have the means to support your requests, should you agree to a partnership.
- They’re a brand that aligns with your organization’s ethics and morals.
- They don’t make unreasonable demands in exchange for their support.
This may seem like a very broad list, but each company you deal with may have different criteria — and the companies in one city may have very different sponsorship rules than one just down the road in the next town over. A good general rule of thumb is to only work with companies you’d be proud to be associated with.
Make Your Case
The next step, once you’ve researched potential sponsors, is to make your case. Figure out what you need from the sponsor and what you can offer in return. This is where skills of persuasion and negotiation will come into play. You need to persuade a potential sponsor to believe that you are worth their time and investment and that you have something to offer in return.
Maybe you need help purchasing new equipment for your events. In return, your sponsor wants to add their logo to your uniforms or flyers, spreading their brand as far as possible. For the company, this isn’t just a way to make themselves look good — it needs to have some sort of return. This is how you’ll make your case. Show them what you have to offer. Use statistics such as attendance numbers whenever you have them to reinforce your argument.
When you’re seeking out a new sponsor, it’s important to be realistic in your expectations. A small business that only has five employees won’t have the buying power of a larger corporation. On the flip side, a large corporation may already be providing sponsorships to other organizations or may have practices that conflict with your ethics or the ethics of your group. It’s a case of having to realistically look at what each company has to offer and who you’re willing to work with as you move into the future.
At the same time, it’s important to realize that not everyone will be excited to help support your student organization. Rejections are a part of seeking sponsorships. Don’t be offended or discouraged by them. Instead, learn from them. What could you have done differently or better to improve your chances of securing a sponsorship?
Uphold Your End
Perhaps the most important thing about securing sponsorship is ensuring that you uphold your end of the bargain. This isn’t a one-sided arrangement, with the company funneling money into your organization. If you agreed to add their logo to your uniforms or include their name in your announcements and you don’t follow through, you risk finding yourself in breach of contract, which could end up costing you quite a lot of money, in addition to losing the sponsorship.
Make sure you’re holding up your end of the partnership. Most sponsors aren’t going to be unreasonable in their requests — and those that are aren’t the kind of company you want to work with in the first place.
Sponsorships for student organizations can come from a great variety of companies. And there’s no one perfect formula to help you find a sponsor. But with a bit of research and some patience, you can find a company that will work well with your organization moving forward.