9 Tips for securing corporate sponsorship with CRAVE Chicago

Doing what you love and having some one else foot the bill, also known as corporate sponsorship, is a mythical concept for many entrepreneurs. CRAVE Chicago invited the CEO of Aspire, an innovative non-profit, and the Vice President of External Relations at Inspiration Corporation, a charity focused on helping those affected by homelessness and poverty, to discuss the in’s and out’s of corporate sponsorship.

You too can secure a financial-backer for your business, cause or event. Here’s how:

1. Define your selling points
Companies are focused in on what they do and they have specific key issues that they want to align with. To secure sponsorship you need to know what differentiates you. Figure out what you have to offer that a corporation wants and sell it to them. Know what you are good at, be clear on what your idea is and be able to concretely explain what you can provide for a sponsor, whether it will be driving traffic or simply creating affiliation. Don’t worry about being a small business: “Every big business starts out as a small business and a small idea,” said Jim Kales, CEO of Aspire.

2. Build relationships
Don’t be shy if you have a need. It’s OK to approach a company and ask them for help, just make sure you do it the correct way. Don’t cold call and don’t flat out ask for money. To successfully secure a financial backer you need to create a relationship first. This means networking, getting coffee and making more then one contact per company. “Only having one contact is an indication that it’s a superficial relationship,” Kales said.

3. Use your social networks
It’s not magic, but a little social networking everyday can snowball into something big. Leveraging social networks can be a good way to make a personal connection before selling. Remember, CEO’s are busy, so keep emails short and conversational when reaching out.

4. Treat corporations as people
Your relationship with corporations is very similar to your relationship with a person. “They have a specific need and they have something that you want. To build a relationship you have to listen to their need and give them what they want,” said Diane Pascal, Vice President of External Relations at Inspiration Corporation. 

5. Create the right environment
To make this relationship work you need to figure out their expectations, address their concerns, deliver a benefit and fulfill the promises you make to them. Creating an environment that makes people feel like they are needed and appreciated will help to build strong relationships.

6. Target small companies
Don’t judge a book by its cover; small companies may surprise you. “Local companies give big to local charity,” says Pascal. Contacting smaller companies also gives you a better shot. “Everyone wants their piece of the pie from McDonalds but no one is contacting these small companies,” Pascal said.

7. Don’t wait
When asking for money it’s best not to wait until you need a sponsor for an event. Just like cold calling, this is not appealing to the corporation. If you take the time to build a deep relationship when the time comes to host an event that needs funding they will practically volunteer. Building these relationships helps avoid the dreaded ‘ask’ stage.

8. Follow up
“No one gives you money for an event without someone following up,” Pascal said. Get over the shame of following up and bugging people. Because budgets are tight you need to have a cultivation strategy. Again, this comes back to relationship building.

9. Provide an experience
“Ultimately what people are looking for is something that is different and stands on its own. It has to be distinct and look different from everyone else because it is crowded out there,” Kales said. To foster innovation he recommends looking beyond the normal sources to help fund ideas. Diversifying relationship connections and bringing in an outside perspective can help do this.

Filed in: Startup Community