How to ask for sponsorship money – and get it! (Part 3 of 3)

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Fundraising is an essential component of solar car racing and other not-for-profit organisations. A team may have the best technical design, an experienced team and a winning strategy, but without adequate funds these ideas can only ever remain on paper. Sponsorships are a key way of obtaining these funds, but how do you go about it?

This is part 3 in a series of 3 by Anthony Prior. To read the first post, click here.

You’ve got your foot in the door and done the hard yards. Time for the last step, close the deal!

CLOSING THE DEAL
As engineers, there is often the belief that a well written and logical argument will be sufficient to persuade a rational decision maker to give us what we require. However, in the real world, we are dealing with actual people and decisions are often made in the heart or gut based upon feelings and emotion, only using their brains and rational thought afterwards to justify the decision.

There is an entire blog post about the psychological approaches that can be utilised to persuade sponsors to agree to your deal. This can wait for another time. In the meantime I will defer to Cialdini1 who has covered some of my points already with his six methods of persuasion:

Principle #1: Reciprocation

Reciprocation recognizes that people feel indebted to those who do something for them or give them a gift. Give your potential sponsors something in advance. If you give a positive experience to people they will want to give you something in return. The gifts do not have to be expensive or even material; perhaps a free t-shirt or 3d print of your car to the correct person. Invite them to your workshop for a tour. Shout them a coffee or lunch.

Principle #2: Social Proof

When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look to those around them to guide their decisions and actions. They especially want to know what everyone else is doing; especially their peers. The key here is to get one or two respectable sponsors on board. University support is always a good start. Success breed success. Once you have obtained you first sponsor, others will follow.

Principle #3: Commitment and Consistency

People do not like to back out of deals. We’re more likely to do something after we’ve agreed to it verbally or in writing, Cialdini says. People strive for consistency in their commitments. They also prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions.

People want to be both consistent and true to their word. Getting sponsors to publicly commit to something makes them more likely to follow through with an action or a purchase. Ask your potential sponsor if they are interested in supporting your project and say why. Getting people to answer ‘yes’ makes them more powerfully committed to an action, Cialdini says. Also getting them to agree to something small will make them more likely to say yes to a larger request further down the line.

Principle #4: Liking

“People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they know and like,” Cialdini says. People are also more likely to favour those who are physically attractive, similar to themselves, or who give them compliments.

If a potential sponsor has seen your car in the media or in the local car show, they will already be familiar with you. Be active in media and your appearances.

It is important to identify how the potential sponsor’s values are aligned with yours and to know their challenges, preferences and so on.

You will need to align your pitch with companies that have a similar strategic direction. A number of companies have internal “values” such as innovation, excellence, teamwork etc. Research your target companies and align your pitch to what they are communicating both internally and externally.

Principle #5: Authority

People respect authority. They want to follow the lead of real experts. Business titles, impressive clothing, and even driving an expensive, high-performing automobile are proven factors in lending credibility to any individual. Giving the appearance of authority actually increases the likelihood that others will comply with requests.

You must at all times have a professional appearance in the media, both social media and traditional media, aligned with your story. A professional looking website with your own domain name and email accounts helps with building credibility. Have business cards printed and also use professional looking letterheads and email signatures.

When people are uncertain, they look outside themselves for information to guide their decisions. Given the incredible influence of authority figures, it would be wise to incorporate testimonials from legitimate, recognized authorities to help persuade prospects. Emphasise your connection with local universities, get academics, faculty staff or industry professionals to provide testimonials or references.

Principle #6: Scarcity

In fundamental economic theory, scarcity relates to supply and demand. Basically, the less there is of something, the more valuable it is. The more rare and uncommon a thing, the more people want it.

Says Cialdini: “The tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses than to possible gains is one of the best-supported findings in social science.” Therefore, it may be worthwhile to emphasize the potential for a wasted opportunity such as:

  • “Don’t miss this chance to support us”
  • “Here’s what you’ll miss out on if you don’t sign up now”

When structuring the offer, reinforce the limited number of Platinum Gold and Silver sponsorship spots to increase the perception of its scarcity.

You may also create a sense of urgency by highlighting an upcoming media event that they would not want to miss out on or setting a deadline that promotional materials need to be printed.

KEEPING SPONSORS

Once you have obtained your sponsors, treat them well, exceed their expectations and make sure that they obtain the value they expect from the agreement.

It is easier to keep a sponsor than to find a new one!

After the event, create a report to sponsors outlining the team’s performance not just on the race but outlining the media that was generated. It is possible to get reports created which can give an estimate of the overall value of the media generated. We estimate that up to $400,000 of media was generated with Clenergy TeamArrow following the 2015 World Solar Challenge.

Be sure to give your sponsors collateral they can use for their own publicity. It may be useful to provide a portal online where they can access hero shots of the team, logos etc. for their own internal and external communications.

Be sure to provide updates during events, not just via the standard media channels but via direct emails with exclusive images and other media for their own consumption or distribution.

Follow up with sponsors after key events to ensure they feel they are getting value for their dollar. If they do not feel they are getting value, they will not come back for the next race.

OTHER SOURCES OF FUNDS

There are obviously a large number of alternate and creative ways to raise funds which have not been mentioned here. Some of these include:

  • Government grants
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Sausage sizzles/BBQs
  • Sale of team collateral

Clenergy TeamArrow has not had much experience and/or success with these approaches, but have heard that some teams have found them to be successful and so would be very interested in hearing other team’s stories.

SUM IT UP

While fundraising is difficult, and often disheartening, it is also extremely satisfying when you close a deal on a large amount of cash or obtain a key component for free or reduced cost. Every sponsor that you obtain makes it easier to get the next one. As your network of contacts and sponsorships grows your team gets progressively closer to realising their dream of building a world-class car and competing with teams from around the world in the Solar Racing Community.

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References
⦁ Cialdini, R. B. (1984). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

How to ask for sponsorship money – and get it! (Part 2 of 3)

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Fundraising is an essential component of solar car racing and other not-for-profit organisations. A team may have the best technical design, an experienced team and a winning strategy, but without adequate funds these ideas can only ever remain on paper. Sponsorships are a key way of obtaining these funds, but how do you go about it?

This is part 2 in a series of 3 written by Anthony Prior. To read the first blog post click here.

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STRATEGY

So your team has a story and it has identified key organisations who align with your brand and who you believe will obtain benefits from a sponsorship agreement. It is vital that there be some structure behind:

Who gets what?

It is important to have a strategy and structure for fund raising. You will of course have identified the budget and/or parts that are required to build the car and ship it and your team to the challenge. You will need to break down this budget into a number of “buckets” that will be filled by sponsorships.

A common approach is to have a tiered system, say, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum sponsorship agreements with increasing benefits for increased support. Have a limited number spots for each tier which increase in number as you go down. This promotes a sense of scarcity and establishes the prestige and value of each of the levels.

Offer a single naming rights sponsorship which comes with very significant benefits and a matching very large contribution to the team. If someone want to do this, they get carte blanche. “A bright pink colour scheme with purple polka dots? Sure! Whatever you want!”

Remember, these levels are a starting point for talking to organisations, but should be flexible so be ready to adapt them according to the needs and capabilities of the organisations. As discussed above, all companies are different and will have different requirements that are of value to them. However, it is essential that all companies are treated fairly and that small contributors do not get offered higher tiers than deserved.

GET OUT THERE

You must have a presence in the media, both social and traditional, which communicates your story. This must be aligned with your brand and be professional in appearance and execution. And then repeated, again, and again, and again at every opportunity you get.

Not them AGAIN!

Be a media tart. At all times solicit publicity and seek out opportunities to be in TV, newspapers, radio, magazines, online media etc. If you have any opportunity to work with media – jump on it. People will see you online, on TV or in print and discuss this to their friends and co-workers. Potential sponsors will see you and the seed will be planted.

However, you must have a hook. Your story must be interesting, it must be unique and it should be topical and/or local.

Assign a team for media to develop this story and communicate it to the world. This is not something that necessarily happens naturally to engineers so reach out to university business/media schools for students who are passionate and want to get involved in a real marketing exercise. They can then create press releases, social media pieces and learn how to speak to cameras. When doing media, have a set of prepared “Bites” that you can repeat easily. These may be stats of the car, your team’s story or interesting anecdote about the team’s experience to date.

Appear in local green fairs, conferences, electric vehicle fairs, anything related to your brand. Then broadcast these on all your social and traditional media platforms. People will remember you and speak to their friends about you. These are a great opportunity to start talking in person to the general public or potential sponsors. Follow up on contacts made during these events. Send a personalised email shortly after the event referencing any particular subject that was discussed.

Work with your local solar car organising committees. They have an interest in generating media stories. Be ready and let them know you are available and willing. It helps them and it helps you.

Collateral

Collateral is the handouts, pictures, brochures and business cards that are handed out at events. It is essential to have professional-looking collateral generated and have ready to hand out.

As soon as possible, generate photo-realistic images of the car and put them on your collateral. It will make the whole exercise seem real and get people excited. Even if you do not have these images on your web/Facebook pages so your competitors do not see your brilliant design, have them available to show in private meetings and communications to potential sponsors.

Launch Events

Launch events are essential to grow your sponsor base and media profile. They make great content for media and allow the team to meet the sponsors in a less formal setting and for sponsors to network and make their own connections.

Arrange for interesting speakers to be present. Is a local politician or celebrity going to be there that the media may be interested in?

Sponsors often value the opportunity to network and grow their own networks. Identify if there are any connections that your sponsors would like to make and have someone available on the day to facilitate these introductions.

Be Active

It cannot be reinforced enough the need to be seen to be active. People may seek you out and offer you opportunities if they believe you are in a position to take advantage of it. Open yourself up to opportunities and be ready to take advantage of them opportunities. One of TeamArrow’s key sponsors actually approached us, not the other way around.

MAKING CONTACT

So now you have crafted your story, you have identified how you can add value to companies and developed your fundraising targets and strategy. Now you have to reach out and make your pitch.

Casting the Line

It is often very difficult to contact the appropriate person you need to speak to within a company and then convince them why they should support your team.

Cold-calling is ineffective. Sending emails or letters to individuals within companies rarely works and you should not waste your time. You must have a hook. Either a member of your team or network knows someone who works there, or a there should be a compelling reason why they must talk to you.

Networking is essential. You will need to work your existing networks to find a hook into a company. Ask parents, friends, lecturers, existing contacts, and alumni for contacts in their networks and relentlessly work to grow new ones at all opportunities.

You MUST identify the key person in the organisation to talk to. Send all communications directly to them by name. Do your research. Never, EVER, address a pitch to “To Whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”. It shows you are not trying and are not interested in the company.

Make sure you have a hook, a reason why they would talk to you? How do they fit into your team’s story, why are they a perfect fit and how can they benefit from working with you.

Finish the pitch with a call to action. What will the next step be? Always follow up with a phone call a few days later.

Be ready to respond to random opportunities to pitch your story. One of TeamArrow’s major sponsorship deals was initiated in a chance conversation in an elevator where an early image of the car was shown on a phone to the soon-to-be sponsor. Key members of the team should have business cards created and should hand them out at every opportunity.

So what’s next? You’ve got to close the deal!

How to ask for sponsorship money – and get it! (Part 1 of 3)

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Fundraising is an essential component of solar car racing and other not-for-profit organisations. A team may have the best technical design, an experienced team and a winning strategy, but without adequate funds these ideas can only ever remain on paper. Sponsorships are a key way of obtaining these funds, but how do you go about it?

This is a three part series by Anthony Prior, our team Treasurer. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

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Obtaining sponsorship is hard.

Identifying, reaching and persuading the right person in an organisation to support your team is a challenge faced by all teams. This article intends to provide fundraising strategies and approaches that, from Clenergy TeamArrow’s experience, were found to be successful when raising money from external sponsors.

Clenergy TeamArrow (CTA) is a fully independent solar car team and is entirely reliant upon external funds raised by its sponsorship arm. CTA is not a university team (although we have a close affiliation with Queensland University of Technology (QUT)) and so all money and resources needed to fund the development of the car and operation of the team are raised through sponsorship agreements.
Raising funds and resources consists of two main types:

  • Cash donations – actual currency deposited into the bank which may be used for general, or specific purposes, depending upon the sponsorship agreement, and
  • In-Kind donations – any type of consideration which a supporting company may provide which is not cash; such as components, parts, tools, material, technical support, space, or advice.

Both types are vitally important. When you can get the exact part/component from a sponsor, that is fantastic, but often there are elements for which you simply cannot get in-kind sponsorships and that is when raising cold-hard cash is vitally important.

YOUR STORY

Before your team can go out into the world asking for money, you must first figure out who you are as a team.

What is your brand?

Who are you? What is your team about? What makes you unique? What are your values? Why are you doing this? What is your story? Why can you be trusted with a sponsor’s money? Why should they support you?

The answers to these questions define your brand. Your brand is who you are, your teams identity, how you represent yourself to the world. It defines what makes you unique and why people should support you. Your brand will have a profound impact on what sponsors will find attractive in your team. It is important that the answers to these questions are consistent and self-reinforcing.

Your brand must be carefully defined, constructed, and defended at all costs. It is the one thing that makes you unique and that cannot be copied by other teams. A strong brand brings credibility – companies will trust you with their money, and will feel confident in associating their own brand with you.

Brands can and should change with time as your team grows. TeamArrow started out as a group of Queensland individuals and businesses who wanted to build a solar car and enter into the World Solar Challenge. We defined ourselves as a Queensland team, a bunch of battlers with grit and determination wanting to show to the world what Queenslanders could do. As such we targeted and landed iconic Queensland brands such as RACQ, QUT, Tritium, and Thiess.

Following our success in the 2013 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge and 2015 Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge, we rebranded ourselves as “Australia’s Premier Solar Car Racing Team” and expanded to key national and international sponsors, attracting a naming rights sponsor to become Clenergy TeamArrow for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in 2015.

WHAT IS IN FOR THEM?

The key consideration when seeking to obtain a sponsorship agreement from a potential sponsor is to not first ask what the sponsor can provide for you but:

“What is in it for them?”

It is very tempting to seek out organisations which provide the exact widget you require or who seem to be an easy target to obtain money, but it is essential to first ask what value the organisation can receive from supporting your team. Once it is clear there is value for them, benefits for your team will flow from this.

Each potential sponsor has unique requirements and so each approach must be tailored to suit. Boiler plate/form letters will be quickly identified and discarded.

Some of the benefits that a solar car team can offer to organisations may include:

  • The opportunity to showcase a company’s abilities and products
  • Exposure of their brand in the media
  • Alignment to internal initiatives and values, or external messaging (ie Excellence, Innovation, Teamwork)
  • Desire to be seen by the community as supporting green initiatives and innovation.
  • Access to contacts within other businesses in the industry
  • Access to the best students – the first opportunity at identifying and hiring the smartest students
  • Providing their products for use by the team, so students may become early adopters of technology and use and advocate the product through their professional career
  • Rights to create media or use of your images that can be used to promote their own brand and products.

Simply defining how big a sticker on the car will be for a set amount of money will not be enough (for most companies). They will require a tangible benefits that will flow from their investment. And it is an investment from which they will expect a return.

Organisations can be, and should be, acting in their own self-interest when entering into a sponsorship agreement. Keep this in mind and your approaches will be more successful.

Now you have a pitch, its time to form a Strategy!

On The Road and Settled in

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On Sunday we had a clear run out of Darwin with one of the best and smoothest challenge departures yet. We even managed to strategically overtake the overall pole position holder and maintain first place for a good half hour.

Since then, we have been overtaken by a number of strong international teams which have opted for an aggressive early strategy. Instead, we have decided to maintain our carefully planned and tested strategy which will hopefully give us a competitive advantage further down the track.

We had Jason our newest driver in the car on the afternoon of the first day. He tackled his first road train with ease and is well on his way to being a seasoned veteran.

By the end of the day, we finished in 8th place in our category and as the first Australian team in any of the classes. We are very happy with our progress, with the car handling better than 2013 and the team operating fantastically. Although we finished the first day in the same spot we stopped 2 years ago, we did so considerably earlier and in an overall better position.

Our second day started earlier than expected after a preventative service of the car late on the first night led to a last minute rush in the early hours of the morning to solve a number of small potential problems with which could have severely impacted our racing outcome. This included designing and 3D printing a critical part from scratch around 1:30 am in the morning. Thanks to some fantastic teamwork the new part was mounted on the car and tested by just over 2 am.

After a brief sleep for the Mechanical team, the car was charged and the fleet left at 8am on the dot. Thanks to the preventative work done by the Mechanical team, the car performed phenomenally well, even with high winds in several directions. Some members of the team say that the day was boring, but that’s exactly the way we want it. No panic, no drama… nice and smooth.

We are currently predicting some worsening of the weather as we head down towards Alice Springs. In anticipation of this, our strategy team is working strongly to determine the best way for Arrow1-GT to continue her southward journey.

We have currently setup camp just past the Barrow Creek control stop. This is roughly 2 hours ahead of our last attempt at the World Solar Challenge. Our team has eaten and the tents are up. With a quick tyre change underway to ensure we are in peak condition, we are looking forward to passing the halfway point of Alice Springs tomorrow morning.

The World Solar Challenge website has an online GPS tracker setup where you can follow us along our route.http://www.worldsolarchallenge.org/dashboard/map

A quick peak of this link tonight showed that we are only 2 hours behind the leaders, with two teams not that far in front, and two not far behind. We still believe we are in the mix despite the less than optimal conditions predicted over the next few days.

With work still to be done, it is best we get back to it. There’s still 1500 Kms to go!

We’ve Arrived in Darwin

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So we’re here. Finally setup in Darwin getting ready for the challenge. Most of the hardwork is done, with only a few little last minute things to finish off before we start the challenge on Sunday.

But, first things first – on Saturday we unpacked our trailer into our new pit bay at Hidden Valley race track. This is our home for the next week as we prepare for scrutineering and qualifications. Very quickly we marked our territory with Boxing Kangaroos and Aussie Flags.

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With our equipment from home all setup, we were able to work on the finishing touches for the car and setup our support vehicles. Some of the team members have also taken the opportunity to talk to the other teams – Australian and International alike. With three Aussie teams in a row at the pits, we’ve been able to make friends with the newest Australian Team – Adelaide University and catch up with our old friends Sunswift from UNSW. Across the paddock we have caught up with Western Sydney University and SA Tafe, the other Australian Competitors.

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Our race team this year has both experienced solar racers and those that are racing for the first team. The enthusiasm of the newer team members reminds those that have experienced this before what its all about. Tanya, our camp manager, has been out making friends with many other teams and can’t stop talking about the other cars and the ways other teams have tackled the same problems as us. Alex, from our mechanical team, has a plan to get a photo with every car whilst he’s here in Darwin.

On Sunday we were out on the track ensuring all the systems of Arrow1-GT are operating well. Jason, our newest driver, enjoyed driving around the Hidden Valley track and looks forward to an opportunity to beat Chris’s track record.

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With scrutineering starting today many of the other teams are hard at work on last minute tasks. We too have a few small things to fix with our indicators flashing too quickly and our brake lights not working as they should.

Over the next few days we will be testing on track, preparing our food supplies for the race and doing mock strategy drives out of Darwin. The first time racers in our team are looking forward to camping under the stars next week. Until then, we have scrutineering to pass, preparation for Saturday’s dynamic scruitineering, camping preparations to finish and finalisations for strategy.