How having to work your way up to the sponsorship decision maker can, in fact, be the best approach!
Don’t get me wrong, speaking with the person who is ultimately going to give you the ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on whether a partnership goes ahead, is vital. But, as time-poor, for-purpose sponsorship-seekers we can often get ourselves in a pickle over the ‘need’ to speak with the decision maker from the outset.
You know as well as I do, that at the beginning of the process (unless you have a personal connection within a company), you won’t always have access to the ‘right’ people. So what happens then?
Do you wait till you have more time to research the best person to approach? Procrastinate over what the next step should be? Decide to try and find the best person on LinkedIn (oh wait…is your profile up to date?) Put your sponsorship strategy on hold? Make other excuses for why this approach won’t work? (Believe it or not, I’ve heard all of these reasons and more!)
Whilst getting to the decision maker on the first go might feel like the Holy Grail for your inner sponsorship-seeker, the reality is that the vast majority of brands, businesses and companies are very good at ‘hiding’ their senior managers. Have you found that to be the case too?
Thank goodness then, for the fact that, just as it takes your whole organisation to deliver on your sponsorship strategy (because your sponsors will want to interact with your CEO and Board, the people who manage your newsletter, magazine, communications, and website will all need to be involved in the process, as well as, of course, you, your events people and potentially your volunteers. And yes…. if you are a small charity, all of these people could be, well… you. I get that…)
So, where was I?? Ah yes, thank goodness then, for the fact that, just as it takes your whole organisation to deliver on your sponsorship strategy, the same is true for your sponsors.
When you come together in partnership, teams across a company will need to collaborate (PR, comms, brand, sales, marketing, senior management and more) to implement and activate different aspects of the sponsorship.
The reason that this is all good news for you is because, the more people you speak with, ask advice from about the alignment, and explore possibilities with, the more you have a chance of connecting with people who will be excited about the potential and are willing to champion your cause, event or program internally.
Even when you speak to a ‘decision maker’ they never make a sponsorship decision in isolation (unless they are a tiny company where the decision maker is also the owner). They will have to get other areas of the business and executive team onside, ‘sell’ them on the benefits to their business or brand and seek agreement in order to spend their budget.
There is one caveat in all of this, and that is, by the time you are reaching out to a business, you’ve done a sufficient amount of research on their brand and who their target market is, to be able to prove to them that you can put them in front of their ideal customers who are in the market for what they are selling. Or, show them the research that demonstrates that their customers care about your cause and core mission. Of course, you will want to seek additional advice from them about the goals they seek from sponsorship, but in order to get your foot in the door (at any level of a business) you must be able to prove that you’ve done some initial research that shows promise and potential for everyone concerned.
So… back to those decision makers. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you can’t make a connection with them straight away, that all is lost. I’ve started conversations with the person on reception and the marketing co-ordinator who saw value in the opportunity I presented and they were instrumental in helping me ‘cut through’ the layers that I would have had to do alone with the Marketing Director (and their busy role, full inbox, multiple other sponsorship requests, meetings, meetings, meetings, and travel itinerary.)
The point is, if you’ve done your due diligence and developed a qualified list of aligned prospects, then you have a duty of care to your organisation and community of followers to see each sponsorship lead through to the end. After all, your vital work allows your organisation to expand its revenue streams so it can be more relevant to and supportive of your supporters, right?
Sure, we all want to put our best foot forward and make the most efficient use of our time (I coach some fundraisers who have 30 mins a week to dedicate to sponsorship!), but sometimes life gives you lemons (and no clear details on who those decision makers are!)
So, go ahead. Make lemonade. Start where you can and go forward from there, and spread the passion and excitement for your organisation as you go!
Who is the best person to seek out, if you have no idea where to start and who might be the decision maker? My best tip is the Marketing Manager. The reason is, that sponsorship will most times come out of a company’s marketing budget. Therefore they will have the delegation of that spend. Of course, there are many names for who the right person could be, including Sponsorship Manager, Corporate Partnerships Manager, Community Engagement Manager, NFP Engagement Specialist and the list goes on and on. But, if you’re stuck and don’t know where to begin, the Marketing Manager will be a great starting point.