Sponsorship for Grant Writers*
To write a great sponsorship proposal, you must first forget half of what you know about grants.
You've spent years perfecting your grant writing skills: shaping a logical argument for why your project needs funding, creating detailed budgets to reinforce your narrative, and gathering a variety of attachments to support your case. Now you've been asked to create a corporate sponsorship proposal and wonder what you can use from your grant writing experiences. Well, as we say in New York, "faw-git-about-it."
Sponsorship and grant proposals are as different as night and day. When writing a grant, you certainly make a point to tie your project to the foundation's guidelines and mission, but the main point of the proposal is how important it is for your organization to accomplish its project. With a sponsorship proposal the situation is reversed -- you will spend the largest part of the proposal describing how your project will help the company meet its goals. It's mostly about what you can do for them. Don't get me wrong: companies want to do good by sponsoring a nonprofit -- they just want to make a profit for themselves in the process.
To write a corporate sponsorship proposal you need to think like the marketing people who will evaluate it. They will want to know about:
Tangible and intangible benefits to the corporation
Demographics of your audience
Reach of your nonprofit and your project
Description of your organization and the project
All of those elements could be included in a letter, but I prefer to send a short pitch letter and back it up with attachments giving the critical data. That way, I can emphasize the most important facts for a very quick read, while also supplying greater detail once I have their attention. Your sponsorship proposal will include the following elements.
Pitch letter: This short letter will begin with the two most important elements of your pitch: (1) what's you big idea and (2) why are you bringing it to this particular company. Your big idea is, in essence your project and what you have to offer. For example: "More than 5,000 active gardeners will attend our 2009 tulip festival." And the why you're bringing it to this company might be "As the leading supplier of bulbs in the U.S., participants will be interested to learn about your latest hybrids, which we will showcase throughout the festival."
You'll also note the most important benefits to the sponsor, especially how the qualities of your organization/program will enhance the company's brand. You'll also include how you'll recognize the sponsorship and just enough information on your nonprofit to convince the corporation that you are a vital, ongoing operation. It should be no more than a page and a half. You really have to sell your organization and project in this letter. The more tempered approach you use in a grant proposal cover letter won't do the job. You must make your project sound like the best opportunity out there for the corporation.
In a grant proposal, you always ask for a specific amount base on the foundation's past giving and its guidelines. With corporate sponsorship, it's every difficult to find out what they have paid for other sponsorships, so you must determine what sponsorship of your project is potentially worth to your sponsor. This will be based largely on the demographics and reach of your project (see below).
The International Events Group (sponsorship.com) provides a valuation service, which doesn't come cheaply but can be very important in securing a major sponsorship. Reading their free downloadable brochure about the service, however, will give you some good ideas on how to decide what your property (yes, in the sponsorship biz your nonprofit is a property) is worth. These will include tangible benefits like logo recognition in all publications and free admission for employees, as well as intangible benefits, such as the loyalty of your audience and your organization's prestige and position in the community. Finally, it is customary to offer a range of sponsorship fees rather than a single price. This shows that you are willing to negotiate based on the sponsor's needs.
Demographics & Reach: This is the all-important "who" and "how many" of the proposal. You should mention the most relevant statistics in the pitch letter, for example, if your audience is primarily women and the sponsor makes a product mainly used by women. You will give more complete information in the one-page attachment, such as gender breakdown, household incomes, and buying habits. Include information on your constituents' loyalty to your nonprofit.
If your donors/clients tend to support your nonprofit for many years, that loyalty will transfer to the sponsor. The sponsor will also want to know about products or services your constituents purchase. If you don't have information on your constituents, you're not ready to create a sponsorship proposal. But all is not lost: You can do a quick constituent survey using one of the free online services like surveymonkey.com and have some data in less than a week.
In addition to demographics, the sponsor will want to know how many people will take part in the project or interact with your organization. If possible, back this up with the numbers from past events/projects. Also include how many people will see the sponsor's logo (web site, print, at events, etc.). Be specific and accurate. You may feel you need to overstate the numbers you'll reach, but don't. You'll have to report back to the sponsor, and inflated numbers will come back to haunt you. (For web site traffic, use "visits" or "unique visitors," not the irrelevant "hits" as a measurement.)
Finally, you may include a small brochure or one-page fact sheet about your organization and/or the project you want sponsored. You will never include (unless specifically requested) a CD/DVD, annual report, bulky brochures, or publications.
Follow Up: Is the rare that a sponsor will call you as soon as they read your letter. You must follow up within a week or so to get a conversation started. Be prepared to negotiate and keep in mind that most sponsorship dollars go for events with mass audiences like professional sports. Chances are you can't compete with those numbers, but your nonprofit has the specific and loyal audience that some company is looking for. Many companies now require online submission of sponsorship proposals. Even in these cases, try to find a name of someone in marketing to call to follow up.
Keys to Success with Sponsorship
Another article you might find interesting: Corporate Sponsorship: Turning Intangible Benefits into Tangible Cash
You'll also find a chapter on writing sponsorship proposals in my book including a sample proposal, The Wise Guide to Winning Grants.
You can learn more about the steps toward seeking corporate sponsorship in my The Quick Wise Guide to Fundraising Readiness.
For more about sponsorships, check out sponsorship.com.
Martin, Patricia. Made Possible By: Succeeding with Sponsorship Basic A to Z guide to creating sponsorship proposals.
*This article originally appeared in the June 9, 2009, issue of The NonProfit Times.