Attracting Sponsors

It’s not your imagination; it is tough out there now days.

Those of us who do not have a household name have to find venues that are good for us, sell the event coordinator on including a speaker, sell that person on using a professional speaker, then sell him/her on using us, and THEN we have to go find the money for them to pay us in the form of a sponsor.  It can take 4-5 “sales closings” to land one full paid speech.

Like any kind of sales, there are probably dozens of ways to attract sponsors, but here are some of the ways I have obtained corporate sponsorships over the years.

We use six guidelines to help us.  


1.  Enjoy Making Other People Look Good And Share The Benefits Of An Event

It pays to get to know people and companies who sell services and products to the same target market(s) that you do.  If your speeches are about surviving breast cancer and you address audiences of middle-aged women, you might like to get to know people from pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, physician practices, or the manufacturers of prosthetics.  In our case, we help companies achieve accelerated growth, so we need to know bankers, accountants, lawyers, and venture capitalists to better serve our clients.  It’s great when an opportunity for a speech before an audience of entrepreneurs in technical fields comes up, and we know a banker who wants to attract more business from technology firms and also know which venture capitalist is looking for anything else but another technology-based client.

We contact the banker and let him/her know that I am being considered for a keynote slot at an upcoming conference and say that I would like to include a story that involves their bank and tell him/her that this audience would be a good place for them to have some positive visibility.  Recently, I had one of these conversations with the CEO of a 100-branch bank and asked that, if they do decide to sponsor the conference, they send George to cover their exhibit because he knows a great deal about acquiring technology firms. If the banker expresses an interest, then a three-way phone conference call is scheduled between the conference coordinator, the banker, and me to discuss the event, what they are trying to accomplish, etc. You have a far better chance of being selected as the keynote speaker if you are the person who has brought a new large corporate sponsor to the event who would otherwise not have participated.

In this example, I obtained sponsorship for the entire event and that helped land a speaking engagement for me.  It also works to request that a company (for which you have provided services in the past) offer to directly sponsor your actual speech.  In my case, the speech would be named the “XXX Bank Growth Strategy Lecture for 2012.”


2.  Be Willing to Help the Sponsor Achieve Return on Their Investment

It pays to be involved in the community. I am very involved in economic development and small business advocacy.  As the Chair, I attracted corporate sponsorship money for the NJ delegation for the White House Conference on Small Business. As the Vice- President of Chapter Development and later as the Vice-President of Corporate Relations, I attracted several corporate sponsors for individual chapters of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).  If you are like me, you’ll find that it is often easier to sell a corporate sponsorship for something other than yourself.  As a board member of a large Chamber of Commerce, it was relatively easy to attract sponsorship money for the annual conference on small business.

For a company to provide $ 5,000, $10,000, or $20,000 to an organization, they want to see tangible evidence that they will attract some new business as a result. It pays to hang onto the liaison role for a corporate sponsor you would like to know better.  I typically convene a meeting at the beginning of the year to encourage the representatives from the association and the sponsoring corporation to express their needs and clarify expectations.  Then I provide quarterly reports (tallies) for both the corporation and the association.  Often, the value of an exposure is set at $.50 each.  Whenever, the association newsletter is mailed to 1000 people and the corporation’s logo is on it, the running tally increases by $500.  The exposures on the association website are counted, as are the visibility of signs, media coverage, and verbal announcements at meetings.  Introducing representatives from the sponsoring organization to specific members is certainly worth more than $ .50, and those events are added to the tally.  A bank that is committing $ 5,000 wants to see at least $5,000 in value.  At $.50/exposure, it doesn’t take long to surpass their expectations.  Everyone is happy.

The association and the bank recognize who has taken care of them. Plus, you have the invaluable opportunity to get to know people. A few of the banks for which I have served as association liaisons have invited me to address their relationship managers (sales people) and/or executive team.  A few have asked me to speak at customer seminars. One sent me on the road for a multi-city tour doing customer seminars on growth and profitability.


3.  Help an Organization Save Face

When the conference chair for an association sounds angry when the topic of speaking fees comes up, it is important to remember that his/her anger is not directed at you personally.  In fact, it often means that the person would like to have more money to pay speakers and trainers, but has been placed in the untenable position of having to compromise, tell people “no,” etc.  When we hear that irritability, it is important to make sure the conversation is about their role, their needs, their frustrations, etc. instead of a discussion about our speech, our fees, etc.

I like to engage conference chairs in discussions about what they want to accomplish, what issues are facing their attendees, or what he/she would want to do if they had more money.  Nine times out of 10, they admit that they really do not want to use only “industry speakers” (another phrase for “free”).  Once I have a sense of what they would like to do, I ask their permission to make a few calls to see if I can drum up some sponsorship money for their conference.  It is important to make no promises at this point in the process. They are usually very appreciative that we would even try on their behalf especially with no commitment to invite me to speak at the event.

If we do have a clear sense of what the event coordinators want to do, chances are we do know a corporation that would benefit from helping to make that happen.  Again, a call is placed, followed by a three-way conversation and things flow from there.


4. Remember That a Sponsorship Relationship is About Much More Than a Single Speech

Some corporations seek an improved image in a target market but don’t seem to be making progress.  Maybe their products or services don’t reflect sufficient understanding of the market place; maybe their sales people don’t seem to “get it.”  Speakers are change agents.  Many of us provide coaching, consulting, planning, or other services beyond speaking.  We aren’t just looking for our next speech.  We are trying to make a difference.

It can pay off to contact an executive of a corporation and offer your observations about where their company may be missing the mark and offer your assistance to help them achieve their goal.  We were successful in attracting over 120 speeches from one telecommunication company from an initial conversation I had with an executive about how they were misreading the home based business market.


5. Keep in Mind That Sponsorship Implies Mutual Endorsement

We can position ourselves in the market place to attract corporations to contact us and offer to sponsor our seminars, but we need to be selective. A representative from AT&T approached me to do work for them when I was just a delegate and AT&T was a corporate sponsor for the 1986 White House Conference on Small Business.  They became a long-term client and a sponsor for me. Smith and Wesson may be a terrific company with fabulous people, but I just couldn’t be in a sponsorship relationship with a gun manufacturer.  Although the Richmond, Virginia, chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners valued Phillip Morris as a corporate sponsor, I wouldn’t be comfortable representing a tobacco company.

Some of my corporate sponsors have resulted from awards I have been fortunate enough to win.  When the New Jersey Business and Industry Association honored me with their statewide “Public Service Excellence” award, a business journal became more interested in sponsoring my seminars. Since I knew the publisher and valued the paper’s role in the state, I was interested.  However, when an entrepreneur who had a marginal reputation and was starting up a new community bank made a similar offer, it was important for me to politely decline.

When I was named the national “Woman Business Owner of the Year for 2000,” our firm sponsored a thank you reception for my best clients, past sponsors, and others, and we invited a few of our clients to co-sponsor the event.  We had platinum, gold, and silver sponsors that covered the cost of the reception, door prizes, and 60 tickets for the black tie dinner.


6. Be Open to a Variety of Relationships

Sponsors come in many forms.  An association, a university, a publication, a corporation, a community organization, a church or temple, etc. can all sponsor you.

It often pays to share the risks associated with public seminars.  If you enjoy working with other people, it’s fun to call complementary professionals. You can call a favorite attorney, an accountant, and a banker and say that you will be doing some public seminars and would love to do it with them.  Then you meet to agree on the content, divide the responsibilities, and co-sponsor a public seminar that benefits all of you.

Once you demonstrate the capacity to do a good job, take care of a sponsor, and care about the people around you, other sponsorship opportunities surface.

Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP helps rapidly growing midsized companies (typically $20 – 200 million/year) realize their goal of Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability® through opportunity/resource analysis, executive coaching, strategic working sessions, and her intermediary role regarding growth financing. Her clients are among the brightest, most ambitious business leaders whose names now appear on published lists of the fastest growing privately held corporations. The recipient of 23 prestigious awards for her success as an entrepreneur and industry leader, Ambler hosts a peer-to-peer Internet radio program, aptly called The Growth Strategist®, which features lively interviews with CEOs of midmarket companies who have successfully executed the growth strategy of the week. AMBLER Growth Strategy Consultants, Inc. is the official coaching partner for the Greater Philadelphia MSA for Gazelles International. She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna (253-6662), by e-mail at or online at

Growth Strategy Tip


Aldonna Ambler played a key role in driving the rapid growth of MarketingWorks, Inc. [In addition to having] a strategic growth plan in place, we obtained appropriate growth financing, have a much stronger management team; we have expanded our services and are already profiting from our new marketing department.

Gerry Bogatz, President and Founder
MarketingWorks, Inc.

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