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Do your homework before approaching sponsors!

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

Experts say that 75% of the work in obtaining sponsorship should be done before writing any proposals or approaching any potential sponsors. The work should be in planning and preparing.

The reason for this is simple – you will be wasting a lot of your time otherwise. Sponsors expect proposals to be tailored to their specific needs. And there is more competition for the sponsorship dollar. Therefore you need to work at a more professional level these days.

Firstly, you need to pave the way in your own organization. You need to check that your own organization is sponsor-friendly. Find out what the office-bearers and management of your organization think of sponsorship. This may seem to be an unnecessary caution, but a significant number of people in organizations seeking sponsorship aren’t convinced of the merits of sponsorship – they may see it only as a necessary evil being endured in order to raise money.

You can survey all staff or conduct focus groups to flush out any objections to sponsorship. Then you need to embark on a communication program to demonstrate the benefits and overcome any objections, some of which may be quite justifiable.

Appoint a sponsorship committee

Secondly, appoint a sponsorship committee to help your search for sponsorship. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you could approach relevant staff members from areas such as marketing, PR, advertising, finance and operations. You could also invite nominations from general staff who are interested in participating. This helps the sponsorship quest to be perceived as accessible to anyone with an interest and therefore helps staff ‘ownership’ of the concept. But keep the total size manageable – a limit of about 8 is recommended; otherwise it becomes unwieldy.

When you form a sponsorship committee, you may be able to invite experienced external people to donate their time to the committee, such as an advertising agency executive or PR consultant who are good with creative ideas and contacts and who may be prepared to make some time available pro bono (for free). They may also be able to persuade their organizations to assist with the production of information material in support of the sponsorship quest.

Write a sponsorship policy

One of the key roles for the sponsorship committee is to develop a sponsorship policy. This is important because it clarifies how sponsorship supports your organization’s goals and objectives, it ensures a consistent approach to seeking sponsorship, it outlines how the sponsorship activities will be administered, and it details any limitations or exclusions. A documented policy looks impressive to potential sponsors, to your management and your board of directors. It also helps to ensure transparency and accountability of your sponsorship processes. Details on how to write a sponsorship policy are in the e-book, The secrets of successfully seeking sponsorship, which can be found in

Set procedures to maintain high integrity and honesty

Sponsorship requires different administrative processes from other activities by the giver and the receiver. Therefore there is more room for manipulation and conflict of interest if there are insufficient checks and balances. To safeguard against intentional or unintentional inappropriate benefit from sponsorship activities, you should develop specific measures to safeguard the integrity and honesty of the processes. These should be included in the sponsorship policy.

High standards of ethical behavior, such as integrity and honesty, need to be maintained and perceived to be in place.Most problems of real or perceived unethical behavior relate to conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest includes any circumstance where an individual’s relationship with another party acts against the interests of his or her employer. A conflict of interest is not necessarily unethical unless it is hidden or unresolved.

Target potential sponsors that are a good fit

When you have identified the industries and categories of business that you believe would be most compatible with your organization’s culture and values, you can start to examine the details of specific companies to approach.

When you think an organization is a good fit, do some extensive homework on them. You may think this is a lot of trouble to go to, but it will pay off for you, literally. It will enable you to focus your question on genuine prospects, not ‘maybes’.

Start with desktop research. Having gained an initial understanding of the sponsor, you can then make direct contact with them. Sponsorship seekers are notorious for wasting the time of their target, so when you do contact the potential sponsor, stick to a tightly prepared script and ask intelligent questions that show you have already done some homework on them. In fact, this may be one way to show a potential sponsor that you are a good prospect for them. It could be the start of your selling process!

Here are some of the research activities you can engage in:

  • Research the company’s marketing objectives as expressed in their annual reports, website and public statements. Also use Web search engines.

  • Look closely at the attributes of their products or brands and their target markets.

  • Find out what their special interests and needs may be in the near future. This may be especially useful if they are planning to launch or relaunch a brand, start a new marketing campaign, or undertake mergers or takeovers. 

  • Their overall financial performance for the most recent period may influence the company’s outlook. Obviously a buoyant financial position will give them more confidence to sponsor. On the other hand, they may want to use sponsorship to show confidence and help them emerge from a difficult time. Your findings on this will help shape your approach to them.

  • Determine what their existing sponsorships are and whether any of those sponsorships are on a similar wavelength to your concept without duplicating the same ground.

  • Identify their main competitors and whether those competitors are engaged in sponsorship commitments. This would influence the company’s own sponsorship program. (If your application to them fails, you could consider their competitors!)

  • Search for any precedents elsewhere of similar sponsorship that you could point out in your proposal to the company.

  • Check if they have published sponsorship guidelines that imply receptiveness and compatibility to your concept.

A well-organized company will publish its own sponsorship guidelines to help enquirers know what their sponsorship priorities are. This will save the valuable time of both you and the potential sponsor.

Keep a database of all the companies you have considered for possible sponsorship. The "Sample sponsor database information" below is a template for the company details relevant to possible sponsorship of your events. It is important to record the name of the person who has researched the information and the date the information was obtained or entered so you know how recent the information is, especially if your sponsorship manager departs and someone new comes into the role for your organization.

Sample Sponsor Database Information

[Arrange the layout and formatting to suit your needs.

 And remember to regularly back up this priceless information!]

Database information

Original date of data entry
Referral? If so, by whom and why
Detail the source/s of data for each item
Dates of updates – show which items updated, when and by whom
Indicate name of person providing the information for each entry

Company information

Name of potential sponsor
Contact person/sponsorship assessor

  • Job title

  • Address

  • Telephone

  • Fax

  • Email address

Other contacts within the company and their contact information
Do we have external contacts who could help us to get a foot in the door with this company?
If so, who?
Is this a parent company or subsidiary?
Location of head office
Company business/es and recent activity, eg takeovers, expansion, entry into new markets.
Name of CEO. Any speeches, media statements on website?
Annual revenue for the past five years
Number of employees and the spread of their locations
Employee composition
Main business locations – list retail outlets, plant locations etc
Financial year
Seasonal influences, eg summer: fashions, soft drinks, winter: warm clothes, gas heaters.Website – check for sponsorship policy (summarize here), annual reports, corporate media statements.
Check Google references and any blogs about the company.

Current and past sponsorships

Describe the company’s current sponsorships and the duration of each, if known. How successful are they? Can we offer a better deal?
Has the company sponsored any events previously? If so, who, how, why, what, when and where?
What were the outcomes of the sponsorship/s? Was the company happy with the outcomes?

Target markets

Name/s of products
Analyze the demographics of their customers in terms of:

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Occupation

  • Income

  • Where they live

  • Family structure

  • Hobbies

  • Leisure interests

  • Education

  • ChildrenInvestments

  • Buying habits

Sponsor marketing activities

What are the company’s marketing objectives?
Discuss their marketing in terms of price, promotion, place, product/s.What is the company’s positioning of its products (eg luxury brand, middle-level etc).
What place do the company’s products hold in the market (Does it dominate, is it second, in the top three etc)?
Describe the recent advertising pattern for the company’s product/s (seasonal information, product changes, links with external promotions etc).
Explain the creative stance in the company’s product advertising.
What is the planned marketing mix for the next 12 months?
Any special events planned (anniversaries, product launches, other celebrations)?
Does the company need to alter or improve its corporate image/reputation?
Has the company ever used a role model, celebrity or star to promote products or sponsorships?
Does the company use an advertising agency or public relations consultancy? Who?
Would they advise re their client approach to sponsorship?
What is the agency/consultancy’s attitude to sponsorship?
Obtain examples of the company’s advertisements.


This article is adapted from a chapter in the e-book, The secrets of successfully seeking sponsorship, by Kim Harrison, available on

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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