How to Approach a Potential Sponsor the Right Way



Updated By: Amelia Mazza

Best Practices for Sponsorship Sales

How you approach a potential sponsor can make or break your ability to close the sponsorship sale. Follow these best practices to help form lasting sponsor partnerships that benefit all parties.

How to Find Potential Sponsors

First, you need to build your list of prospective sponsors. It’s tempting to look for marquee names, even those adjacent to your industry, to galvanize your sponsorship program. These are great for brainstorming in the planning phase, but to land the big fish, you need to determine how your association can significantly move the needle for that large company.

You need to approach a company for sponsorship with a realistic mindset and build an emotional connection. That connection begins with the right person within the company. Within an organization, look at who is in a position to be most engaged with your association and who will value unique access to your membership. These folks are right under your nose; however, you may have a legacy reaction of offering them the opening reception. Do better because anyone can do that, including the competition.

How to Approach a Potential Sponsor

It’s best to start with a conversation but you can introduce your partnership idea with a brief and specific email, a phone call, or an in-person meeting. Whichever channel you choose, plan to offer something specific to consider in the first conversation.

My introductory conversations usually go something like this, “I know this is our first conversation, but after reviewing your business and the direction it’s heading,– I think a special session on innovation would be a great sponsorship opportunity for you. However, I have an entire portfolio for you to consider.” Hold off on sending the entire prospectus until you know how to tailor it based on what you’ve learned in the first conversation.

Questions to Ask a Potential Sponsor

It’s important to gather some facts that will help the sponsorship sales process move along. Get answers to these questions early:

  1. What partnerships do you currently have?
  2. What sponsorship opportunities have you had success with?
  3. Do you have a budget for anything new?
  4. How does your decision-making process work?
  5. Are there any budget deadlines approaching?

Keep the Focus on The Sponsor

When you’re face-to-face with a potential first-time sponsor there is a natural inclination to talk about your organization. Instead, make the conversation about value. Stop and ask yourself, “What’s the best way to show this sponsor the benefit to their organization?” Shift the focus of your discussion to their business goals by following this two-step process:

  1. Ask, “What do you want to accomplish in this market? What moves the needle for you?”
  2. Listen and learn how your sponsor wants to engage your audience. The best opportunities are those that make result in a fantastic member experience, serve the business goals of the sponsor, and drive your revenue. That’s the trifecta.

Your goal is to be prospect-centric, so the communication of your sponsorship proposal is key. Be careful not to assume that you understand what sponsors are looking for or that they automatically see the benefit of your program. Communicate to your sponsor what they will get out of a partnership with your association and how your goals and interests align with their values and target audience.

Approach Sponsors During Transitional Times

Many of your traditional member companies are doing business with each other, have launched new campaigns, want to introduce a new chief executive, or are celebrating a milestone. If you reach out during these times you may be pleasantly surprised at the positive response. Your members are likely doing more business-to-business work than ever before. One or two of them may jump at the opportunity to move up from a participant to a presenter to showcase new leadership or offerings to the industry.

Allow Time for Budget Adjustments

Be sure to engage a new sponsor in a time frame that suits the prospect’s decision-making process, not your timeframe for distributing the prospectus. If you are looking for new association revenue streams cash, remember to allow for extra time to work through the sponsor’s budget process. It’s likely they will need to add more or take away budget from someone or something else, so your timing needs to be spot on.

Offer an Exclusive Relationship

Brand loyalty is a key selling point. The largest sponsors may want some category exclusivity or naming rights option. Be ready to navigate that question upfront. A first-time sponsor should know how you work with the competition. To offer an exclusive program that offers brand loyalty means you have to give up some other relationships to partner with their business – hopefully in exchange for premium dollars. This effort can draw them in.

Bring the Numbers

Sponsors want to see hard numbers showing that your approach works. Provide them with metrics and data. They are looking to reach a target market so show them how your association can deliver more effectively to that market than other channels.

Interview all Sponsors Annually

Enlist a third-party sponsorship consultant to interview your sponsors every year. This is a critical step in ensuring that you continue to improve the process, gather new ideas, and make the association prospectus valuable each year. If you can say, “It’s the same thing year after year,” this is a sign that your sponsor platform needs a facelift.


Corporate support does not spring up overnight. It takes a planned development process to find organizations you may want to work with and explore creative ways to advance each other’s goals. The good news is that companies are looking to be sponsors – your job is to be able to show them how your association delivers the results they are looking for. Approaching potential sponsors the right way in the very first interaction will set you up for success.


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