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What to do when meeting with a potential sponsor for the first time

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

It is a very positive sign when a potential sponsor agrees to meet with you. The situation is usually that you have mailed your proposal to a potential sponsor after you have researched their company, and in your proposal document you have shown that you understand them.

They usually don’t like to waste their time meeting people whose proposals are of no interest, so you know your proposal is at least of some interest. All the same, don’t expect the meeting to run for much more than half an hour.

Don’t take unnecessary numbers of people to the initial meeting with a potential sponsor.  At the most, take another person, and only then if they can add value to the meeting by talking intelligently or, for instance, if they have high-level contacts.

You need to use the meeting time efficiently. When a potential sponsor does agree to meet for the first time, plan carefully for the meeting. This is a basic point, but it is surprising how many people don’t do the basics.

Firstly, learn beforehand about the company’s products and services and the basic facts of its operations staffing, revenue, and profitability. Their website, annual reports and Google will help. If you do this, you won’t waste the sponsor’s time with dumb questions. Write out a list of questions you wish to ask and think through fallback situations if the sponsor presses you hard to offer concessions. Prepare your key points well by rehearsing what you will say with one of your colleagues or even with a family member. Don’t just repeat chunks of your proposal document; add value by coming up with new information or offering to fine tune your original proposal.

Potential sponsors don’t want you to waste their time by boring them with a PowerPoint presentation that merely repeats your sponsorship proposal document. If you intend to use a visual aid such as a PowerPoint presentation, check beforehand that the appropriate equipment will be available in the meeting room. If you want to use a data projector, arrive early to give yourself time to make sure your presentation works on the equipment.

Don’t assume knowledge. It is likely the sponsor knows nothing about your ‘property’ – so give them a brief verbal overview, but keep it brief and only deal with major points. Again, don’t just regurgitate what the sponsor has already read in your proposal. They have limited time and interest in your organization’s life story.

Sponsorship applicants tend to be focused entirely on their own situation, and they forget to consider the viewpoint of the sponsor company, so listen to the sponsor’s questions and if you can’t answer some, nominate a date by which you will provide them with the information – and stick to the date. 

Don’t ask for comments or a commitment at the end of the meeting. It is unlikely the person you are meeting would be able to make any sort of decision without gaining approval from higher up the line, so don’t even try to get a hint, much less a decision.

Just present your information, try to understand what the potential sponsor is mainly interested in, and politely wind up the meeting. You might ask when they are likely to let you know the outcome. If they are vague on this, ask them if they wouldn’t mind you checking in, say, three weeks’ time. This will give you both something specific.

If they say the proposal is off course, but they could be interested if it is revised, then by all means take the hint and arrange another presentation after you ensure you understand their priorities.

After the meeting, write to the sponsor to thank them for taking the time to meet with you. In the letter, briefly reiterate the key benefits of your proposal, especially the ones that the prospect responded positively to during the meeting. Offer to clarify any further information they may want to obtain from you. Depending on the final discussion at the meeting, you might indicate when you are planning to call them to follow up the meeting.

When you do speak to them to follow up the meeting, one of three outcomes is likely:

  1. The prospect will enthusiastically embrace your proposal and become your latest sponsor. If this is the (rare) case: Well Done! Go straight to contract discussions.

  2. The prospect will ask for another meeting to discuss amendments to the proposal. If this is the case: Well Done, again! If they are going to the trouble of attending another meeting with you, they almost certainly intend to become involved.

  3. The prospect will politely decline the opportunity. If this is the case, try to keep the proposal alive, but be prepared to gracefully accept rejection. Be polite, thank them for their time and remember, they are still a prospect for next year.

If you are rejected, don’t take it personally. There are various reasons for rejection, many of which may have nothing to do with you, such as internal politics and budget cuts. Try to find out why. In exploring the reasons you may be able to keep the proposal alive. Hear what they say so you could amend the proposal to keep it alive.

For example: If they say, “The cost of your proposal is too big for our budget,” try asking if the payment could be moved to the next financial year or could be split over two years or you could even offer to accept payment after the event.

If they say, “This amount is too high for our budget at the moment”, can you re-work the budget to deliver less value for a lower cost? Could you accept a lower amount this year in return for a full commitment next year (if it is an annual event)? Or, could you re-present a revised proposal to them next year?

If they say, “We’re not really sure this fits into our overall marketing strategy”, can you re-work your proposal to make it fit (after finding out what their marketing strategy is)? This may merely be a way of giving you the brush-off, so it is worth asking further questions to clarify how genuine their comment is. 

What to do when your sponsorship proposal is rejected

Sponsorship proposals are rather like job applications – you get more knockbacks than acceptances.

Rather than being a catastrophe, a rejection can be an opportunity to learn from the experience and could possibly be an opportunity to develop a relationship with the company.

A rejection will usually be conveyed in a carefully sanitized letter that gives you no real idea why your proposal was unsuccessful (much like a rejection of a job application). When this happens, telephone the contact person, thank them for spending the time assessing your proposal, and ask why your proposal was declined and whether it is worth re-applying at another time.

If you are not even in the ballpark, ask them, “Who else do you know who may be interested in the opportunity of sponsoring us?” If you have been professional in your contact with the company, they may be happy to suggest other possible sponsors. Your wording is important here. Don’t ask them if they know anyone else; ask them who else they know who could be interested. This is a proven technique for getting new business referrals.


This article is one of a series on sponsorship by Kim Harrison, consultant, author and Principal of

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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