One Trick that Guarantees a Sponsorship? LISTENING


Sponsorship StrategiesThis post is the fourth in a series designed to open you up to a new way of viewing sponsors and their role within your nonprofit’s overall strategy. These posts are based on the “Sponsorship Strategy: Recruiting and Keeping Sponsor Partners” eBook from the Greater Giving Fundraising Excellence Series. Each new post focuses on a different part of your sponsor strategy and how best to leverage your value for the greatest mutual benefit. View all released series articles—Sponsorship Strategies

Last time, I talked about assessing whether a potential sponsor would make a good match for your nonprofit by analyzing where your organization can meet a business’s needs for corporate altruism.

As discussed in the Sponsorship Strategy whitepaper, the next step after determining whether your nonprofit would be a good fit for a potential sponsor is to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a key contact at the business.

Now this part’s important: Your first meeting isn’t a pitch meeting! It’s an opportunity for you to gather as much information as you can about your sponsor in order to develop that powerful pitch at a later date—when the time is right.

Capitalize on basic human nature

There’s a principle of psychology that you should be thinking about while heading into your first meeting with a potential sponsor. And that principle is this: we all love to be listened to.

We love when people hear our concerns, and even more when they ask us questions about them.

We love to tell people what we think is wrong with the world; even better, we loved to be asked, “How would you fix it?” We all have ideas about what would improve the state of things.

And we all want to talk about the things we love. We want to gush about what excites us, or inspires us, or drives us to do better.

But most of all, we love to talk about ourselves.

Your potential sponsor is no different. Businesses, and the decision-makers you’ll be asking to join in sponsor partnerships with you, are the same. They want to be heard. And you’re waiting to listen.

Deep-dive into the sponsor’s needs—so you can fill them

Every business owner or decision-maker has dreams about what the business could become, what it strives to accomplish, and what new lead or market would break open a new ceiling.
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You should enter your informational meeting having done some research beforehand about the business and who they serve—e.g. their target demographic. Some businesses sell directly to consumer groups; other businesses stay out of the consumer arena and sell to other businesses. Once you know who this business is seeking out in the market, you can ask some deep-dive questions that get to the root of what they want in an ideal sponsor relationship.

Prioritize your questions around learning more, and making your sponsor feel heard. There are some easy listening tricks you can employ, like:

  • Don’t prepare anything in advance. Come ready with a notebook and pen to write and listen—nothing else.
  • When your potential sponsor expresses a need or frustration, repeat it back and ask why it frustrates them, and what they see as potential solutions. You’re seeking ways that you can provide those solutions. Be understanding about what troubles them.
  • Don’t talk too much—just enough to ask questions and get your potential sponsor talking about themselves. The more comfortable they feel opening up to you, the more they’ll reveal about what’s missing in their current situation, which in turn can reveal openings for your organization.
  • Never, ever interrupt. Wait to ask another question until your contact has finished talking. They may say something you didn’t expect when given the freedom to do so without interruption.

Learn and capitalize on other sponsorship experiences

Another to-do item to complete before your meeting: research what other organizations this business or corporation has sponsored in the past. What are those previous partners’ missions, goals, and cultures?

Once you’ve got your own idea, ask the business for their feelings about their past relationships.

In your meeting, create a welcoming environment where the potential sponsor can tell you all about their dreams for partnering with a nonprofit. Ask about those past sponsorships, and what worked or didn’t work. All of this is excellent fodder for preparing a personalized, effective pitch.

Here are some sample questions to ask to get the conversation going about partnerships:

  • What needs and expectations does this business or foundation have walking into a sponsor partnership? Think budget, payment plans, duration of the sponsorship, etc.
  • What are their goals for themselves in partnering up with a nonprofit organization? How do they envision a partnership boosting their business?
  • Ask what their ideal sponsorship plan would look like. What’s their sponsorship wish list, in a perfect world?
  • What have their past relationships been like? What did they like, or didn’t like? What would they have changed?

Get the practical details to prep for your pitch

Last, but not least, you want to find out at this meeting some critical, practical information about delivering your pitch at a later date. Make sure to ask these three questions:

  1. Who are the decision-makers at this business regarding budgeting decisions and sponsorships? (So you know who to approach with your pitch.)
  2. How does this business choose to allocate charity funds, such as through a marketing budget or a separate charitable giving budget? (So you can frame your pitch as a marketing choice or as a candidate for a limited pool of philanthropy dollars.)
  3. When is their fiscal year, i.e. when are budgeting decisions for the year made? (So you can time your pitch appropriately.)

Now you’re ready to take everything you’ve learned and look for intersections between your potential sponsor’s needs, and what you have to offer—and develop it into a killer pitch. That’s coming up next in our post on Pitching for a Yes, #1: Exploring Your Value-Add!

To continue reading about this subject, download the free Sponsorship Strategies eBook.

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2 Responses to “One Trick that Guarantees a Sponsorship? LISTENING”

  1. Hi there-

    We are an auction company out of Michigan and have recently started working with an organization that would like to be able to have an online bidding app available for their silent auction this December. I just have a couple of questions and asked that you give me a call at your convenience. One I would like to know what payment option is available…do they pay online when they bid or do they have an option to bid from their table at the event and pay after? Two I would like to know how we go about getting the results in to our system as the organization will need an amount that the silent auction grossed as soon as it is over. Thanks for your time and i look forward to hearing from you.

    Dawn Cherry

    • Dathan Montes

      Hi Dawn, thank you for reaching out! I am going to go ahead and get your inquiry out to the Area Marketing Manager for Michigan – expect a follow up shortly. If you should have any other further questions, please feel free to reach out directly through


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