Applying Principles of Major Gifts to Your Event Sponsor Approach

Do you treat event sponsors like one-off’s—accepting their money each year, but taking the relationship for granted? This practice can make an individual or business feel undervalued and not invested in your organization’s success. Icema Gibbs, Director or Corporate Social Responsibility at JetBlue, sums up the problem:


“I gave a large donation to an organization for its event and I thought we were dating. But when the phone call never came, I realized I was just one of many.”


Instead of taking an event-centric approach, focus on cultivating long-term relationships with event sponsors. Give them the same level of respect and the same mindset you bring to prospects for major gifts.

Explains Kristin Steele of Swaim Strategies, “If we can create emotional resonance between our organizations and our donors, we’re going to evolve out of the transactional relationship that we have with them. When people feel they’re treated like a checkbook, eventually they’re going to move on to someplace they’re seen as people taking action to change the world.” Steele continues, “The event is an opportunity. When people walk into a room and the event wraps its arms around them and brings them into the organization, they feel like they’re a part of something.”

Here are some tips to help you change up your event approach:

1) Research and Target Prospects

Too often, event sponsorships are solicited via a onetime letter and a follow up call. Instead of using this “shotgun” method of reaching out to a large number of unsubstantiated prospects, selectively target a “Top 10” list of prospects and dig in.

Find these prospects by talking to people who already support your mission: board members, community supporters and even existing sponsors. Who else do they know for you to approach? Remember, you’re just asking for recommendations. By offering to do the heavy lifting, aka “the ask,” you make it more likely they’ll participate with suggestions.

Do your research of that person’s or that company’s past community giving and see if you can identify any patterns. Utilize a service like DonorSearch to help your organization pinpoint your most likely prospects for long-term engagement. Look for “signs", such as previous donations to your organization or a similar nonprofit and review personal information, such volunteering history and membership on boards.

Add these prospects to your newsletter lists, mailings and holiday appeal letters, and then communicate with them regularly. This will foster familiarity and will ensure they’ll have some awareness of the work you do by the time you reach out and ask for a substantive contribution.

2) Talk to Potential Sponsors

In major gifts, “asks” are personalized and done in person. To acquire major corporate sponsors for your event, follow suit by asking for an appointment. Remember, your contact at the sponsor is a “real person” and people give to people, most often for emotional versus logical reasons. Be prepared to illustrate what your organization is doing and invite your prospective sponsors, as individuals, to participate. Getting prospects personally involved will directly affect their company’s involvement.

Build a compelling case as to why this potential sponsor should be invested in your organization’s mission. When you meet, know your statistics and the impact of your mission’s work on their own employee base. For example, if you work in a mental health agency, you might cite the statistic that up to one third of Americans report they’ve struggled with mental health issues. Then, break this down to the number of people in the company who may be affected and possibly helped by your agency. Make the case that your agency helps their company be more stable by providing a valuable service to the community.

Ask questions to determine their “sweet spots” and motivations:

  • Do they have any direct connections to your work?
  • What do they look to gain from supporting your organization?
  • What can you offer to make supporting you more appealing?
  • Is it in their interest to engage their employees to volunteer for your agency?
  • Can you plan a day on site to discuss your work and rally employees behind the mission?
  • Would they be interested in spending time getting to know your nonprofit personally?

3) Bring Marketing Value to Event Sponsors

During these trying economic times, philanthropy dollars in corporate budgets have been greatly reduced or eliminated. Consider instead, positioning “the ask” from the vantage point of “What’s in it For Me,” and suggest that the company fund the sponsorship from its marketing budget. Offer real value and recognition that positions the company as a good neighbor to your constituents and the community at large. How many people attend your event? Are on your email list? Are in your social media communities? Add up ALL the numbers and give them the gross impressions you may be able to generate.

Creative use of electronic media is the key to this strategy. Consider a digital ad journal that remains online for a full year, with color sponsor ads and logo banners that link to company websites. Such ads are indexed on search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, so people searching for the company will likely see its name associated with supporting your mission. (Read 5 Tips for Successful Journal Ad Sales.)

Also, acknowledge new sponsors on your social media pages. Each time you get a commitment, “Tweet” it or post it to your social media page, thanking that sponsor. (Make sure that your contact person at the company “joins” your social media communities, so he or she can see the posts firsthand!)

4) Propose a Multi-Year Commitment

Let the company know that the problems you tackle are not a “quick fix.” Ask for a 3-5 year commitment of annual sponsorship dollars or donations. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And any good business person should understand that successful ventures are not realized without a multi-year investment. This is good business and a “major gifts” strategy that has been proven to work.

Your long term donors are people and organizations that you are able to move along your cultivation cycle because they’re known donors. They feel valued and validated in their generosity and in supporting your organization.

5) Nurture a Donor Relationships across Multiple Donation Points

An event is more than just a party. It is an opportunity to tap into hundreds of new donors. If you hyper-focus only on the event details and think only about existing donors, you are missing out on a tremendous amount of potential and an opportunity to build relationships. These guests, friends of friends, individuals from sponsoring companies may have a personal connection to your cause. But you won’t know unless you connect to them.

Smart fundraisers nurture donor relationships with multiple touch points. By creating an easy, secure. online fundraising platform for donations and participation, a one-time event guest can evolve into a long-term, multi-point donor. Start by enlisting a reputable, secure merchant account provider, like iATS, that specializes exclusively in nonprofit fundraising. For events that incorporate auctions or pledging, iATS offers mobile functionality and allows for easy payment acceptance anywhere. iATS even enables receipts via text, email or Bluetooth-enabled printers, so you never have to slow your event guests down. Hopefully, happy guests are generous guests!

When you nurture philanthropic relationships, they mature and become more productive over time. And this is true, even for event participants. A donor-centric approach with a long-term perspective can lead to lasting, more rewarding relationships for your organization.


 This post was generously contributed by Karen Perry-Weinstat, the President and Founder of EventJournal, a web-based digital ad journal for fundraising events.

Back to News