10 essential steps to create a winning sponsorship proposal

One of the fundamental keys to getting sponsored is your ability to create a winning sponsorship proposal. It’s an important document in the process of going from sponsorship seeker to marketing partner. It can literally make or break the deal.

Creating an effective sponsorship proposal is probably one of the most asked for yet misunderstood facets of the whole sponsorship process.

Through personal experience, research and similarities to business proposals in general, I’ve come up with 10 essential steps to create a winning sponsorship proposal.

It’s easy to follow, methodical and will greatly improve your chances of getting sponsored. And to help organise your ideas I've included a Sponsorship Proposal Worksheet for you to download.

sponsorship proposal worksheet

So let’s get started…

Step 1 - Understand what you have to offer a sponsor

Before you can approach a potential sponsor with a proposal, you must understand what you have to offer. This will help you clarify what types of organisations to target.

Understanding what you have to offer can be broken down into four areas:

  1. Your personal attributes and skills - What can you bring to the table that will be of value to the sponsor? This could include social media skills, ability to talk in public, a knack for writing press releases, specific sales and marketing skills or a unique and marketable 'look'.
  2. Your target audience – Do you have a good grasp of who your target audience is and how they overlap with the sponsor's target audience? Take the time to get to know your audience and what it is about them that will appeal to a sponsor.
  3. Unique marketing initiatives – What can you offer that puts you ahead of alternative marketing channels a sponsor could use? To get some ideas have a look at the Generic Inventory [Word doc] developed by Kim Skildum-Reid of Power Sponsorship, and see how you can customise a few of these and create something unique.
  4. Outcomes and value for the sponsor – Given the above, how can you improve a sponsor's business by partnering with you? Increased sales, loyal fans and distributors, staff morale? You get the idea.

Step 2 – Research your potential sponsors

Once you understand what it is you have to offer it's time to research your potential sponsors.

This step is vital; so much so that I wrote an article that goes through the process in detail – 5 steps to finding that perfect sponsor.

The process:

  1. Create a wish list of sponsors
  2. Research each of the sponsors
  3. Record the details in the Sponsor Research Template
  4. Perform a reality check using the Sponsor Compatibility Matrix...how compatible are you really?

At the end of the process you'll have a list of say 20 to 30 sponsors who fit the bill.

Next, take action to contact the person who can say yes to your sponsorship proposal.

Have you listened to the Practical Sponsorship Ideas Podcast? Learn about the tips and techniques you need to get sponsored from some of the biggest names in the sponsorship business.

Step 3 – Contact the person who can say yes to your sponsorship proposal

With a list of compatible sponsors it's time to contact the person who can say yes to your sponsorship proposal.

Lots of people can say no and only a very few can say yes. It's in your best interests to go straight to the source and not waste your time with people who don't have the authority to approve your proposal.

Listed below are some of the techniques you can use to reach the right person, ordered by effectiveness and how well you already know the sponsor.

Cold calling

Cold calling is the least effective method to contact a sponsor but it also requires the least investment on your part.

If you don't know the sponsor at all this is one of the few options at your disposal. The aim is to develop some rapport with the sponsor so you can shift from the cold call to a position where they will discuss their objectives. Here's a great way to cold call a potential sponsor.

Lumpy mail and follow-up

During the research process, if you've highlighted a number sponsors who are a really good fit with what you have to offer, sending some lumpy mail first may be more effective than cold calling alone.

With electronic communications and email the norm these days, it's fun to receive a package in the mail that's not junk or a bill. And when it's lumpy, there's an extra incentive to open it and find out what's inside. It also demonstrates that you've been doing your research and have a knack for unique marketing initiatives.

So what clever lumpy mail ideas can you think of? Here are a couple of mine:

  • The whole box and dice – send one of those executive toys with a note that says "Looking for unique ways to market your business? We're the whole box and dice".
  • A t-shirt with "You've been KO'd" printed on the front including a note that says "Partner with KO Racing - a winning team". This idea is for my drag racing team.

(Disclaimer: my ideas may be neither clever nor effective.)

Obviously this option is more expensive than cold calling alone. Limit your lumpy mail to say your top 10 hot sponsorship prospects.

Make sure you follow-up with a call a few days later. If you've piqued their interest you'll have a much better chance of building a relationship with the person who can say yes to your sponsorship proposal.

Sponsorship websites

Next cab off the rank is sponsorship websites including Sponsorship Pitch. These websites facilitate the connection between sponsors and sponsorship seekers.

As a sponsorship seeker you add your "property" to the system which sponsors can then review and contact you to discuss the opportunity in more detail. You can also approach sponsors directly with a proposal suited to their documented marketing objectives.

These systems also double as research tools and effective ways to help build your brand online through social networking with sponsorship professionals and brand managers.

Networking with your potential sponsors

Good old fashioned networking. It's a great way to build your business and is equally effective when seeking sponsorship.

Networking in this instance is all about making direct connections with your prospective sponsors. If you've done the research it shouldn't be too difficult to find appropriate networking opportunities.

For example:

  • Local, national and international chambers of commerce
  • Peak industry bodies
  • Industry associations
  • Sporting associations
  • University alumni
  • Conferences
  • Trade shows
  • Networking groups
  • Online networking – specifically LinkedIn
  • Local government workshops

Word of mouth referrals

The holy grail of sponsorship proposal success; a sponsor's trusted advisor refers you directly as a sponsorship opportunity worth investigating.

First you've got to develop relationships with the facilitators and leaders within your field of endeavor or niche; people who have established connections with the upper management and marketing departments of your prospective sponsors.

This comes about from natural networking and building relationships based on trust and mutual interests. At the end of the day it's not all about business or a means to an end. It's about genuine interaction and real relationships.

Think about all the things you enjoy doing and the places where you can meet with these facilitators and leaders.

  • Do you enjoy golf for instance? Plenty of mutually beneficial relationships are built over a few rounds and a couple of beers.
  • What about becoming a member of your beloved football team? A shared passion with your fellow members builds instant rapport.
  • How about volunteering some of your time to help out a not-for-profit organisation? You can create some great connections with other volunteers.

Word of mouth referrals are by far the most effective but are also the most time consuming. Choose activities you enjoy and build natural relationships with people; and as a side-effect you may just get your foot in the door with a major sponsor.

Step 4 - Develop a trusting relationship with the sponsor

Having connected with the sponsorship decision maker it's your job to develop a relationship where they can trust you and minimise any perceived risks.

This process will be longer or shorter based on how you connected with the sponsor initially; longer from a cold call and shorter by a word of mouth referral.

Tips for developing trust:

  • Don't go the hard sell
  • Listen to what they have to say
  • Demonstrate you've done the research
  • Make good use of your established brand to reinforce your professionalism
  • Provide referrals and testimonials when asked (note: don't burn your bridges)
  • Prepare marketing material that emphasises benefits and value to the sponsor
  • Have a history that illustrates you'll be around for the long haul

Step 5 – Establish the sponsor's marketing objectives

Once you've developed the necessary trust and rapport with a sponsor you investigate and explore their marketing objectives. This is the point where a majority of sponsorship proposals fail.

Why? Too often sponsorship seekers prepare a proposal without ever working directly with the sponsor to determine their objectives. How can you possibly know what they want or need without ever asking?

Fundamentally, all marketing objectives are focused on generating more sales and protecting or improving the sponsor's bottom line.

By delivering a sponsorship proposal too early you're indicating that the process is about you, what you want and what you assume the sponsor wants.

If you take the time to establish the sponsor's marketing objectives, you're indicating that it's about them, what they want and how they can use your unique marketing initiatives to reach their objectives.

Example marketing objectives:

  • Increase revenue by 10% in South Eastern region through onsite sales
  • Increase customer loyalty and repeat sales through social media marketing
  • Increase brand awareness amongst 25 to 35 year old females

It's your responsibility to establish these marketing objectives with the sponsor. Once you know what these objectives are you can:

  1. Agree on how to measure success
  2. Define the value of the sponsorship
  3. Provide unique marketing initiatives the sponsor will leverage to meet the objectives

Step 6 – Agree on how you will measure sponsorship success

The success of any sponsorship can be measured in two ways:

  1. Quantitatively – tangible results you can count
  2. Qualitatively – less tangible results that improve the sponsor's position or circumstance

When you establish the marketing objectives you need to agree with the sponsor how success will be measured.

Note we're talking about degrees of success. Ultimately, it's the sponsor's responsibility to leverage your unique marketing initiatives effectively. For example, you can't be expected to help deliver 500 additional customers if head office just fired half the sales team.

In the previous example, we had an objective to "increase revenue by 10% in South Eastern region through onsite sales". This one's easy; we simply agree to count the total sales from the event and see if they have contributed to a 10% increase. Our role is to provide the unique marketing initiatives to help make this figure a reality.

Quantitative examples:

  • Facebook fan numbers increase by 2000 over a 6 month period
  • Subscriptions to the customer loyalty program increase by 25% to June
  • 5000 unique visits to the sponsor's website from an online competition

The more difficult marketing objectives to measure are qualitative or intangible. This includes customer satisfaction levels, customer loyalty and brand perception amongst women etc.

So how do we measure them? By measuring the side-effects and indirect outcomes. For example, did the number of complaints from customers decrease during the period? Has the % of customer referrals increased? Did more women attend the sponsor's events?

Qualitative examples:

  • Positive brand chatter on the various social media networks
  • Higher numbers of customers contributing to surveys
  • Lower churn rate of customer to the sponsor's main competitor

Step 7 – Ascertain the value to the sponsor

With the marketing objectives in place and the measures of success defined, we now have the two inputs required to ascertain the value to the sponsor and subsequently the cost of the sponsorship proposal.

The obvious way to ascertain value is to simply ask for a budget. However, this rarely works. Sponsors are unlikely to divulge their budget. If they do, more power to you. But remember, leveraging or activating the sponsorship usual costs between 2 and 3 times the sponsorship amount.

So if a sponsor says they have $200k to spend in total, you'll have to work within a budget of $50k to $66k. Is this investment amount sufficient to meet the sponsor's objectives?

If the sponsor expects to earn an additional $1million in sales per year for 5 years (representing repeat sales from the new customers), is $200k a realistic investment? Hardly.

Let's assume that 10% of sales revenue is set aside for marketing and sponsorship purposes. A more realistic budget would be $500,000. This values your sponsorship proposal between $125k and $166k.

But you won't know this if you don't ascertain the value to the sponsor.

So the more difficult approach, but ultimately more realistic and rewarding for both you and the sponsor is to demonstrate value and calculate the required investment based on that value.

Step 8 – Explore the available options

All the pieces of the sponsorship puzzle are now coming together. We've established:

  • The sponsor's marketing objectives
  • Agreed on the measures of success and;
  • Ascertained the value to the sponsor

Now it's time to get those creative juices flowing and workshop your unique marketing initiatives with the sponsor.

Go back to step 1 and review what you can offer the sponsor. In the context of all the new information what can you realistically do within the budget to meet the sponsor's marketing objectives? How can you customise your approach to provide the greatest value?

Now I'm not talking about logos or sign writing or hospitality etc. These are a given and will be documented in your sponsorship proposal. But they are not the focus.

Concentrate of those areas that are unique to you and the sponsorship opportunity you're providing.

What's unique about what you do? How can you and the sponsor leverage these to meet their marketing objectives and provide value?

Step 9 – Develop your sponsorship proposal

With all the ground work behind you, putting together a winning sponsorship proposal isn't that difficult.

In fact, if the process has gone smoothly and you've followed the steps, the sponsorship proposal is primarily about documenting what you've already discussed and agreed to.

As I found out with the failure of my first sponsorship proposal, don't write war and peace. Keep it short, sharp and to the point. Sponsorship managers don't have the time to review lengthy documents.

You can of course change the structure below to suit your needs and incorporate any requests from the sponsor. Like so many things, less is more.

What I would recommend however, is you include some custom imagery and branding to give the sponsor an idea of what things could look like. Sponsors just dig seeing their brand or logo adorning a race car or impressive banner over the entrance to an event. (Big thanks to Will Trumble of Will Design - freelance 3D artist and digital design for the redering below.)

car and trailer

7 key sections of your sponsorship proposal

1 - Sponsorship Opportunity

The sponsorship opportunity is an executive summary or synopsis if you like, focusing on the benefits and outcomes for the sponsor.

Limited to a few paragraphs and the liberal use of bullet points, senior managers should be able to read this section of your sponsorship proposal and come away with a good idea what you do, who you are and what's in it for them.

2 - Marketing Objectives

Next we outline the marketing objectives as discussed with and agreed by the sponsor. For example:

"As discussed, the marketing objectives for the sponsorship program are:

  • Increase gross sales by 5% in the eastern district directly related to vouchers distributed at events
  • Implement a social media strategy and develop a Facebook fan base of 5000 by the end of the financial year
  • Encourage distributors to stock the latest range of products
  • Etc..."

3 - Measures of Success

Document the quantitative and qualitative metrics you will use to measure the success of the sponsorship program, as discussed with and agreed to by the sponsor. For example:

"The measures will include:

  • Monthly analysis of direct sales figures and how they correlate with the objectives
  • Exit surveys of event attendees to ascertain brand awareness
  • Noticeable shift to positive feedback on social media channels
  • Etc..."

4 - Value to the Sponsor

One of the most important sections of the proposal is detailing the value to the sponsor. This is the sell, the "what's in it for me".

Through good management and thorough research you already have this information straight from the sponsor. You've discussed it and agreed on the details previously, so it's a matter of stating the facts.

"The value to 'the sponsor' will include:

  • Measurable increase in the profitability of the eastern district, directly attributed to the sponsorship program and implementation of the unique marketing initiatives
  • Stronger relationship with fans which leads to higher conversion rates and repeat sales
  • Additional sales which will allow you to invest more funds into research and development of new products
  • Etc..."

5 - Unique Marketing Initiatives

So far most of the information in the sponsorship proposal has been a re-iteration of the elements already discussed and agreed to with the sponsor.

Looking back through your information, propose a number of unique marketing initiatives designed to meet the sponsors objectives, can be measured and provide the required value.

Include information regarding the target audience that's relevant to the sponsor:

  • Total audience numbers
  • Demographics - statistical view of the target audience, including age, gender, income, schooling, occupation etc.
  • Psychographics - attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyle etc.

Detail a number of options that incorporate the unique marketing initiatives and fit with the sponsor's expected return on investment.

You could provide an option below the estimated budget, one right on budget and one over. You may find the sponsors will go for the higher option if the perceived value is there.

6 - Terms and Conditions

Up until this point we've not mentioned the investment amount; now's it time to get to the nitty-gritty.

In the terms and conditions section of the sponsorship proposal include:

  • The cost per sponsorship option as detailed in section 5 above
  • The time-frame of the sponsorship proposal
  • Your payment terms. If the proposal last a year then I like 50% up front, 30% after 6 months and 20% after 9 months
  • Details of any insurance you hold. You'll need public liability insurance (another cost you need to be aware of)
  • Any other conditions or special features the sponsor should be aware of

7 - Call to Action

Finally, place a call to action at the end of the proposal. Include:

  • All of your contact details including email, mobile phone, social media and website address
  • An opportunity to come and see you in action if appropriate e.g. a sporting team or regular event
  • A message thanking the sponsors for their time and consideration of your proposal
  • And so on...

Step 10 – Deliver the sponsorship proposal and follow-up

Almost there...

With the sponsorship proposal written up it's time to think about how to deliver it. You could use Word and send it by email. This isn't very sexy or exciting.

If you don't have the time to do it yourself but want to create your sponsorship proposal on a budget then here's what you need: 4 tools you need to create your own successful sponsorship proposal on a budget.

However, if you're up to doing it yourself then I suggest you mark-up you sponsorship proposal using a desktop publishing application like Serif Page Plus. I use this myself for proposals and other marketing material. It's fairly easy to use and doesn't cost very much.

If you're comfortable with Word then you'll be able to use Page Plus, no worries. The additional investment is well worth it and may be the extra polish that gets the sponsorship proposal over the line.

Once you're done marking-up your proposal all nice and pretty, don't wimp out and print it as a PDF and email it to the sponsor. Get it professionally printed and send 2 copies to the sponsor and keep 2 copies for yourself.

And you're done...exhale and relax. A few days later call the sponsor and get their feedback on the proposal. Hopefully you'll get the nod and you can get the lawyers involved figuring out the finer details.

If the sponsor requests changes, review then in context and adjust your pricing accordingly. At this point I think it's fine to send the revision in an email.

But if things don't go quite to plan and your sponsorship proposal is rejected, make sure you find out why, learn from the experience and endeavor to maintain contact with the sponsor. The situation may change in the future and the last thing you want to do is burn your bridges.


Well there you have it, my 10 essential steps to create a winning sponsorship proposal. Best of luck and I hope it serves you well.

Happy sponsorship seeking... Cheers, Kym.

sponsorship seekers toolkit

Want to get sponsored? Not sure where to start?

Check out my review of The Sponsorship Seeker's Toolkit. I found this book to be a really valuable resource.

It helped me clarify my thoughts and provided a structured approach to create a professional sponsorship proposal. It will help you get sponsored.

(This article includes affiliate links. If you buy a product after clicking an affiliate link I’ll make a small amount of money.)