Finding sponsors is hard. We know because we’ve been working to attract sponsors for nearly two decades. It’s especially difficult for associations and non-profits, because it can be far more difficult to identify the businesses and organizations who might be interested in sponsoring you.

If you’re just starting out, there are three simple steps you can take to improve your chances of landing a sponsor for your event.

1 | Attract sponsors by understanding what they want 

Sponsors want access to your members. This is especially true if your events attract attendees from a professional niche they want to target with their marketing. In this case, they’ll sponsor your event and get a booth at your trade show if they believe they can heighten brand awareness and get new business leads from among your attendees.

Unfortunately, many associations and non-profits think access is the only thing sponsors want. This tunnel vision can be particularly devastating for very small organizations. When talking to prospective sponsors, they position their events as an opportunity to access to a tiny group of attendees. If the sponsor concludes that the attendees already know about the product and there are no leads to be had, there’s no ROI and they simply won’t come.

Fortunately, sponsors want a great deal more than just access to your members. Companies can also be motivated by a desire to improve their corporate image and shape consumer attitudes about their product. They may be looking to generate positive publicity. Many modern companies are starting to practice corporate social responsibility, and they’re looking for opportunities to present themselves as good corporate citizens.

Prospective sponsors can achieve all of these things by aligning themselves with non-profits and associations. For example, Proctor & Gamble has aligned itself with Unicef, delivering hundreds of millions of tetanus shots to infants in 15 poor countries. On its face, the Pampers Vaccination Program won’t do much to sell diapers, because the people receiving the tetanus shots can’t afford them. But the purpose of the program is to improve perceptions of Pampers in the industrial world, and the goal is to persuade wealthier people that this corporate behemoth is conscientious and merits their business.

2 | Stop talking about your organization

Take this to heart: Prospective sponsors don’t care about your organization, they care about theirs. This is a critical paradigm shift. Once you understand this fact, you’ll see sponsorship rates soar.

When approaching sponsors, many associations and non-profits just copy and paste reams of content from their annual reports and program updates. Then they submit it to the prospect as proof of how wonderful their organizations are.

Unfortunately, this deluge of words and statistics does little to aid their cause. Sponsors are not interested in what you do for others, they’re interested in what you’ll do for them. In many cases, these two things are very different, and that’s what you need to rethink your value proposition.

3 | Rethink your value proposition

The value you provide to your members or to the world is fundamentally different than the value that you provide to your sponsors, and you can’t use the same value proposition for both. If you want to attract sponsors, you need to develop a unique, sponsor-facing value proposition.

The key thing to keep in mind when developing this new value proposition is that selling sponsorship isn’t about you. Selling sponsorship is about the sponsor, their strategic marketing priorities, and how your event fits into that strategy. The value proposition must go straight to the heart of what the event represents. Focus on the ways in which aligning with your organization can help them achieve their strategic goals. Once you have your foundational value proposition in-hand, remember that every prospective sponsor has a different strategy, so you’ll have to customize your sponsor-facing value proposition for each of your prospects.

Your value proposition is a very powerful tool, and it’s worth the investment required to get it right. You’ll use it to attract sponsors, of course, but there are other benefits too.

Firstly, once you understand the event from the sponsor’s perspective, you’ll immediately have a clearer idea of what kinds of companies would be most likely to sponsor you, and you won’t waste time chasing after companies whose values don’t align with yours. Secondly, once the prospect agrees to talk to you, your value proposition becomes a resource for your conversation, chock full of valid supporting arguments.

It takes time to do right, but it’s worth it.

We’ve used this simple, three-step process ourselves. We’ve been successful at persuading the biggest corporate giants to sponsor new or small events, simply by showing them how the event’s message aligns with their corporate values. They’re not promoting their products to the attendees, they want their brand associated with the conference because the conference stands for something they believe in.

It’s not rocket science, but it works.