Use a business approach:
Finding sponsors for an event takes time, patience and a professional approach. Although there are many sources to find potential sponsors, the best and most efficient approach is to become "business matchmaker." Essentially, you will be matching businesses with customers and clients. Approach sponsors with a win-win scenario and focus on what you can provide them - access to their target market. When companies can clearly see a return on investment for their sponsorship, you will find they will be much more interested in sponsoring your event.
Identify what you have to offer organizations that might provide support for your event. Have a detailed description of the target market to which the event will provide access. Have an established amount or be willing to negotiate a number of "impressions" that sponsors will receive in exchange for their support. Prepare clean, professional looking handouts with your contact information, an overview of the target market qualities and the advantages that the event will offer the sponsor. Mail these out, or if possible distribute them in person. If this is an annual event, include newspaper coverage and statistics from previous years. Provide details on the event date, agenda, displays, other sponsors, and entertainment. Include details on when and how many opportunities the sponsor will have to get their name and/or products before the potential customer. Be prepared with specific types and or levels of sponsorship you will need.
Make plenty of calls, and whenever possible visit the decision makers in person. Follow up with companies that have not responded to your inquiries, until you get an answer. Contact potential sponsors well in advance, if possible, as much as a year ahead of time. Many large organizations will need a year to include your event in their business plan and budget. If you just held a successful event, take advantage of any good press or word of mouth and solicit sponsors for your next event.
Once you have clearly identified and described your target market, research and look for organizations that want to reach the same target market. Also identify the decision makers in the organizations to save time and make your efforts more efficient. Look at past events similar to the one you are planning. Find out what types of sponsors, and if possible, the specific sponsors that supported the event. Generate a list of these sponsors as a starting point.
Take advantage of any memberships and networking opportunities that are available. The Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau and the library also have lists of businesses, with information on business sectors and what types of businesses are located in every city in the United States. Use the web as a resource as well. There will be several websites with guides and directories for wide array of cities throughout the world.
As you plan your event, think in terms of what you want to accomplish. Who will attend? What type of experience will this be for your attendees? For example: if you are planning an event that is a intended to be an uplifting, relaxing and rejuvenating day for busy working mothers, there will be plenty of sponsors that can support this experience. Of course, salons, spas and beauty product manufacturers are excellent candidates for sponsors. However, additional sponsors can also be found among specialty food and beverage distributors. Think of all the products that have a relaxation, fantasy and/or escape theme. Hotel chains and bed and breakfasts owners may also be interested in offering a deeply discounted weekend get away package. Local restaurants and health food stores are good sources for food and snacks. Party stores can provide disposable tableware and decorations, but don't forget florists and garden shops for beautiful natural decor that can also double as door prizes for the attendees. Dry cleaners, pet services and home cleaning agencies could also be likely sponsor candidates for such an event. Think in terms of who is trying to reach your attendees.
In many cases, you will find sponsors will have a specific item or "in-kind" items they wish to donate. Think in terms of how an in-kind donation can work for the event and sponsor. For example: a restaurant that provides lunch at your event will want participants to know where they can get more of those delicious sandwiches! There will also be some sponsors that need ideas; make it easy for them by having suggestions and/or pre-defined levels of sponsorship. This is especially important when you are selling space on programs, banners and other areas where sponsor names will be displayed. Also keep in mind the small local business that can only afford one small donation. Single small donated gifts are often perfect for door prizes or drawings.
Once you have confirmed a sponsorship, keep your sponsors informed of updates and changes. Take good care of your business relationship to encourage their support and collaboration for future events.