One of the biggest challenges that conference organizers face is covering all of the expenses associated with hosting their event.
While registration fees can make up the bulk of the event revenue and cover the cost of the conference, this revenue comes in down the line, after the organizers have had to spend money to organize the conference.
Conference sponsorships can provide money before the registration fees come in and help make sure you can cover all your expenses.
There are a few things that sponsors look for when determining whether to get involved in an event.
- The theme of the conference and how well it ties in with the sponsor’s mission, product and/or service.
- The size of the event and who will be attending.
- Do conference attendees fit within the sponsor’s target demographic?
- Which other sponsors are on board? Are they are competitors or operating in a related field?
- How participating in your event will benefit them from a business perspective.
With our experience getting sponsors and talking with other conference organizers, we’ve put together these steps to help you plan your sponsorship asks, improve your chances of securing sponsors for your event, and fostering the relationships you develop to keep them coming back year after year.
1. Identify your potential sponsors
To do this, ask the help of your organizing committee to brainstorm a list of target sponsors. Research previous events in your field and include the organizations or companies that sponsored those. Think about private companies, governments, universities, think-tanks, research groups etc.
Then, do some Googling. When you search for phrases that are related to your event, see what kind of organizations and companies pop up. Add them to your list. For example, if you’re hosting a conference on climate change, Google terms like ‘melting ice caps,’ ‘neutralize carbon,’ and ‘reduce carbon footprint.’ You’ll be surprised by all of the organizations devoting resources, and companies selling goods and services related to the goal of your event. These products and services are offered by companies who could be excellent sponsorship targets to approach.
Consider any potential conflicts of interest and how these could impact your sponsorship. For example, if you are hosting a medical conference with the subject of Alzeimer’s disease and you have companies selling Alzeimer’s treatment on your sponsorship target list, do your research to make sure you’re staying within the confines of the law.
2. Search out connections
It’s often surprising how far your personal and professional connections reach when you start digging into them.
Take your sponsorship target list and review it with your organizing committee. Each member has their own set of connections, so running down this list together will often identify personal connections to people who work at these organizations or can make introductions. This makes things much easier for you – it’s much more effective to reach out to a personal connection or via a mutual connection than blindly sending a sponsorship request to a stranger.
3. Determine your sponsorship levels
If your conference organizing committee has a finance chair that isn’t you, this is the person who you should be working closely with to make decisions around your sponsorship asks. Determine how much money your event needs, and set sponsorship goals based on that.
Now that you have identified who you’ll be asking, research these organizations and their sponsorship histories to estimate the kind of sponsorship levels they gravitate towards. You can then determine your sponsorship levels based on that information.
Consider the benefits offered under each sponsorship level and how attractive they will be to your sponsorship targets. Are these organizations that would value tickets to the event? Are they more likely to appreciate marketing opportunities or having a stage or breakout room named after them?
Different types of companies and organizations prioritize different things, so to make your sponsorship package attractive to the organizations you’re targeting, try to match up your benefits with the type of institutions or companies you approach.
4. Prepare your sponsorship packages
Work with your marketing chair to create and assemble your sponsorship package. It’s good to have someone creative on the committee that can help you design and assemble the packages.
Customize the package to the company if needed. On top of having multiple options in terms of the sponsorship level they can select, customizing a package to the needs of a specific organization will greatly impact your chances of winning them.
Looking into other events in your field and reviewing their sponsorship packages can also provide helpful design and wording ideas.
Post your sponsorship opportunities on your event website, ideally on a dedicated sponsorship page.
5. Contact potential sponsors
Draft a sponsorship request letter or email that can be sent alongside your sponsorship package. Refer back to the list you made earlier that identifies potential sponsors as well as the committee members that have connections at those organizations.
You can divide up the sponsorship asks between your committee members to accelerate the process.
Letters and emails are the traditional more formal way to request a sponsorship. Organizations that frequently sponsor events may even have a sponsorship request form on their website.
If you are opting to send a letter or email, personalize it with the organizational contact’s first and last name. Show them you’ve done your research and actually considered whether the organization would be a good fit for your event.
Whenever possible, follow-up your sponsorship email with a phone call, or even an in-person visit if this makes sense. A verbal or face-to-face conversation allows for more context and story-telling than a simple written communication.
If you don’t hear back, follow-up on each one of your sponsorship asks about one or two weeks after the initial requests.
6. Negotiate the sponsorships
Hear out your prospect to get a better understanding of what they need in a sponsorship, and the level of sponsorship that would work best for them. The negotiating phase can make or break a sponsorship. Being a little flexible can go a long way.
For example, perhaps your target wants to supply food and drinks but this was not listed in your sponsorship package. Unless there is a conflict of interest or you’ve already secured an exclusive food and drink sponsor, this could be a great opportunity for you to cover expenses for your event.
7. Deliver on your promises
Follow-through on all of your promises and prioritize giving your sponsors every benefit that was outlined in their sponsorship agreement. If you promised weekly social media posts, make sure they are scheduled in advance. If you promised customized swag with the organization’s name, send a few samples to the sponsor so they can review them.
As your event concludes, you should thank your sponsors publicly. Take a lot of photos and share them with the sponsor as part of the thank you package that you send after the event. This package doesn’t have to be fancy – it could be as simple as a thank you letter, but including some photos of how their name/logo/branding was used at the event will add a welcome level of personalization.
Lastly, this is a good time to ask for feedback. This will increase the chances of having them back as a sponsor at the next event.
The first sponsor is usually the hardest to secure. Don’t get discouraged by rejection. There’s a reason you ask multiple prospects in order to secure a few sponsors – many will say no.
Be persistent, don’t be afraid to follow-up, and you will find organizations that are the right fit for your event.
Honor your commitments and treat your sponsors well and you may just find financial support that you can rely on year after year.