Asking for it


Please help

One day, you may seek sponsorship for your business, team, club, project, cause or event.

This can be tricky, especially in lean times.

In helping clients give it their best shot, I’ve learnt a few things.

I’m hoping you’ll add your two cents, so we all get more bucks for our bang.

Cold hard cash call

Some clients think the best way to tap cats for cash is to cold-call, introduce themselves and their cause, then send written information if they get a bite.

Yet none of the firms I’ve worked with phoned first.

Not only does this put prospects on the spot, it gives them a chance to say ‘no’ before you’ve made your case.

Folding stuff

Instead, I suggest a mail-out with a follow-up phone call 1-2 weeks later.

The mail-out is usually a one-page cover letter with a more detailed (but not encyclopaedic) enclosure/attachment.

Once you get a nibble, you can send more nitty-gritty stuff as requested.

Addressing the point

As with all communications, much depends on your audience (i.e. prospects).

If you define exactly who these people are, you can work out how best to address them.

For instance, sole traders respond differently to CEOs, and marketers have different ‘hot buttons’ to accountants.

The shorter your ‘hit list’, the more you can tailor each prospect’s letter.

Personalised communications work far better than generic.

Your mail-out must be clear and concise, so busy strangers grasp it fast.

It must also be flawless, or it’ll torpedo your credibility.

Fascinating facts

During my human resources career, I saw hundreds of ‘HELP!’ letters hit various corporate boxes.

Most were killed on sight by gate-keeping secretaries.

Some went up the command chain if they offered the organisation a benefit.

The benefit could be obvious, like a shirt logo, event banner or other shout-out (taking care not to overdo it).

The benefit could also be subtle, like donating a desirable charity auction item (which losing bidders would rush out and buy afterwards).

Children’s requests scrawled in crayon always made it to the top.

Going for gold

When I edited a components company newsletter, the most interesting bit was the progress of a young girl pursuing her Olympic martial-arts dream. (She could be in London as we speak.)

She was clearly popular with staff and management alike. She visited the factory, sent dispatches from overseas events and never failed to mention that without the company’s support, she’d still be knee-dropping her kid brother in Upper Combucta West.

Her initial sponsorship request was of the crayon variety, which goes to show that rules can be broken.

The take-out, then, is to use your head before showing your hand.

I now ask you to donate your tips, thoughts, stories, questions and wisdom for our mutual benefit.

Please …

give generously!



| Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire

  • Catherine Hassall

    Thanks Paul. We are raising capital to produce our new theatre company’s first major production – Arts Funding fell through so now we begin Plan B. This morning I was thinking to google ‘sponsorship for dummies’ or something like that! And as I started trawling for likely corporate/business sponsors, I did indeed wonder which out of a cold-call or an email or a letter was the best approach. Now I’m wondering what can be the equivalent of a crayon-scrawled request . . . .what kind of thing might get us to the top of the pile? What can a humble theatre troupe offer as benefits apart from the sponsor being featured on our publicity material? Hhm. Thanks for the starting point, Paul.

    • Thanks for joining us, Catherine. And with quite a poser to boot! :)

      Having worked with theatrical clients and tinkered on the edges of theatre myself, I have some sense of the daunting task confronting you.

      My first thought is

      I’ve been reading some amazing success stories; have you looked into this approach?

      My second thought is YouTube. Did you read our debate at ?

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your ‘crayon’ is your troupe’s ability to think, write, act and produce.

      If you film a killer 30-second business case and email it to your target audience, they’ll very likely watch it. It’s a classic case of ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’.

      You can also transmit your video via social media. If it’s good, it could go viral and take you to sponsors you never dreamed of reaching.

      You may recall that John Safran hit pay dirt by breaking the rules:

      These are just my ideas, so I’m quite happy for you or others to ditch ’em, modify ’em, or come up with something better. Either way, I do hope you’ll keep us posted.

      Best regards, P. :)

      PS. Finally, please remove the word ‘humble’ from all your communications. Forever. We act as we think, so you don’t want to be firing bullets into your feet before you take your first step. 😉

      • PPPS. Benefits? Cast the sponsor’s kid as a frog. Entertain at the company’s xmas party. (I seem to recall Deborah Conway used to play in your home if you bought 20 CDs or so. If ya got it, FLAUNT it! :) )

      • PPPPS. Put your pitch in a blog comment to US! This blog is promoted to 3000+ SMEs. We’re all watching from the wings. 😉

      • Paul’s words gave me an idea for you Catherine – given you have access to actors etc maybe do a You Tube piece about the company (do a mini performance for staff and film it or do a creative tour of their premises or act out what they do or soemthing…) – they get great promotions in return for sponsorship.

        Maybe totally impractical with your volunteers but i twould certainly stand out as an offer!

  • I like your thinking Tash! This forum reaches a sublime state when one reader seeks to help another. Thank you! :)

  • Sponsorship can be tricky – but many busiensses can be ver generous.

    As a small business I hate people calling and asking for money – mostly because I get the slick marketing company approaches so I don’t really trust it is for group xx (or at elast group x only gets a small piece of what I donate).

    I think you have to focus on what’s in it for them – a business with tight budgets or shareholders (or both!) has to justify their spending so make it easy for them to see potential benefits (eg an ad in the program or links from your website).

    And make it easy for them – don’t expct them to work around you.

    Clarity would also help – ‘we need cash’ or ‘we would like some help with (whatever)’ is better than ‘we ned some support’.

  • A friend of mine in the charitable gifts space says “If they say yes, you haven’t asked for enough”!

    It is about how you make people feel with your approach. Here are some quick tips:
    1. Ask for something small and then escalate. It was shown in research that people who did a small ‘commitment’ would be more likely to commit to a biger request later.
    2. Ask for something quirky. If everyone else is asking for cash, how can your smaller and larger request be a little different. Could the money you are asking for be for something specific?
    3. Check them out first. Do they mention any causes on their website? If your ’cause’ is aligned to theirs, then they can incorporate the giving to you as part of their CSR.
    4. WIIIFT: What is in it for them? Is it just cash or product down the drain, or is there something in it for them? Often it is not the practical things that get you over the line, but the emotional. What emotional kick is in it for the decision maker?
    5. Who can make the decision? Find this out and you are half way home.
    6. Build up trust. If possible, demonstrate examples of how you are not just a ‘flake with a cake’ but that you have plans, commitments and structures so they can have confidence that the moeny or items they donate are not wasted. Give them examples of what you have done before.
    7. Have your ‘pitch’ prepared beforehand, then wing it. Make sure you are authentic in your connection.
    8. Try a ‘chunky-mail’ approach- send them something related to what you are doing, rather than just a letter. Then follow up with the phone call and personal approach.

    I hope these help!

  • What a great line to start with, Phil! :)

    You’ve certainly tapped a rich seam there.

    Thanks for going to the effort of adding these ace ideas. :)

  • Malcolm Owens

    Hi Paul,

    Here’s my CEO perspective. We are always on the lookout for a good cause but it must be of significance and have some benefit to the organisation. For a national company our logo on a shirt of a local footy team or on the visor up an up and coming race driver doesn’t cut it at all.

    Community benefit causes will have a much better chance and you will multiply your chances if you ask (depending on the company) for product rather than cash. For us it may be product for a charity auction or cookware for a kitchen to enable meals to be served for underprivileged children.

    These are soft dollar options, we have perfectly good product that has been cooked in (for demonstrations) that we can’t sell so happy to provide to a good cause as long as they are a registered charity (so we can make a taxable offset on the product cost).

    If you really want to get the donations flowing tie up an industry charity and approach everyone to supply something different – for us in the electrical industry that could be oven, cooktops, small appliances, air conditioners, electric blankets and the like. If promoted the companies that contribute see the benefit of ‘community engagement’ and don’t want to be the one conspicuous by their absence.

    • This is priceless, Malcolm!

      Your view from the top is EXACTLY what we need here.

      Please accept this slightly soiled Cecil the Sheep stubbie holder as a token of my profound thanks.

      PS. Might you be able to conceive a role for a (not at all humble) theatre group in your state-of-the-art, cooking-with-gas appliance display centre? 😉

      • Malcolm Owens

        Ahhhh no thanks, but we do appreciate your interest. have a nice day.

      • Bugger!

        [Ulla! Who’s next on our damn hit list?!]

  • Gidday Paul,
    I’m with Phil on this one. The cause needs to align with them. As Chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters Melbourne I’m working on an initiative for my own clients to donate to BBBS as part of a VIP club. What I know about women is that they are naturally fabulous mentors. What better alignment! One of them told me recently, I’d give if you asked me, but you’ve never asked. AGGGGGGGGHHHHHH! How awesome is that? and what a fab lesson I learned! I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

    • This is becoming a VERY valuable debate.

      It’s grand to see you back, Helen. And with yet another perspective that money just can’t buy (or can it?! 😉 ).

      Thank you for your frank and fascinating share. Do please tell us how you go (and how you get there). I’m sure I’m not the only one clutching the bedclothes with excitement.

      Best regards, P. :)

  • G’Day Paul,
    I’ve never sought sponsorship of the nature you mention.So….. I’m clearly qualified to comment. But for almost 30 years I did run a business that used direct mail and telemarketing as its sole marketing/sales approach. And I’m still alive and ,so far, I’ve avoided the “funny farm.”

    The fundamentals still apply. Know exactly what it is you have to sell and exactly who you’re trying to sell it to. Second, personalize everything you send. Find out the name and title of the person you should be talking to. Send your material to that person with his/her name and title on both the envelope and the letter.

    Start with a letter introducing yourself and your cause. Enclose a brochure or flyer with background about the cause you’re espousing. Do not try to sell them anything. Let them know that you’ll call them to arrange a mutually suitable time to meet .Ensure that the letter represents you and your cause as professional and polite.

    Paul, I suspect that “causes” don’t spend enough time trying to match what they have to offer with the benefits that would seem attractive to the sponsor. This requires thorough investigation. In our direct mail/telemarketing days we only mailed a very narrow specific target market. We found out if the company matched our target profile when we called to find out the name of the correct contact. And we never, ever sent a letter unless we had a contact name and title.

    One final point. Remember that most people imagine that the cause they espouse is far more attractive to far more people than it genuinely is.

    Hope this helps. Feel free to speak to me direct if you feel that I can help more.

    Best Wishes

    • By gum, Leon. When it comes to wisdom, there ain’t no school like the Old School! :)

      Your tips resonate with the truth of ages and our readers would be well advised to heed your clarion call.

      Many thanks, as always! :)

  • Now THIS is what I call a killer pitch:

    Even though it breaks almost every rule in the book, it has raised $400,000 in 20 hours!

    Further reading:

    Way to go! :)