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.
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 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 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.
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.
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!