01 Sponsorship

Commercial sponsorship offers the potential to attract significant financial and ‘in kind’ support but don’t underestimate the amount of time you will need to spend organising sponsorship deals.

Sponsorship is normally part of the general promotional expenditure of a business and although that can encompass a sense of corporate or social responsibility, it is not philanthropy or a gift. Some companies do make philanthropic donations but sums tend to be small, with access often restricted to community groups.

It’s important to think carefully about what you can offer each company you approach. Companies will be most interested in supporting projects aimed at the audience to whom they market their products. Companies should usually be approached via public relations or marketing departments, although it’s always worth playing on any direct contact with management you might be able to establish. It’s good practice to follow up an initial email with a telephone call, but don’t expect to receive a rapid response or necessarily any response at all – be aware that sponsorship is a game of delicate negotiation and you won’t get results overnight.

Think about it from the perspective of the potential partner company: what is the hook for them? What benefits will they get? Arm yourself with (relevant) statistics and figures: potential sponsors may be less interested with the cultural offer your venue or event represents, and more with the mass contact to audiences they can gain; so highlight this. Mindaugas Morkunas of Vilnius International Film Festival says you must compare yourself to other leisure activities, such as “sports, fashion, music events, creating professional reports and demonstrating prospective value in a broader context than merely cultural.”

As with any type of fundraising, it’s vital to do your research: nobody is going to take you seriously if you haven’t bothered to find out the name of the person you are writing to, or which products the company sells. Time spent planning or researching is never wasted; the more you know about an organisation, the better equipped you will be to design a package that appeals to them. Google searches can throw up potential major donors. Remember that company sponsorship is a payment for the promotion of goods and services, so at all costs avoid offering a sponsor something you are unable to deliver. Equally, don’t allow sponsors to feel they can influence the cultural integrity of your project: if you’re uncomfortable with the extent of involvement sought by a sponsor, it might be better to look elsewhere. A feasibility study can give you direction in your fundraising appeal, so that when you start communicating your fundraising message you are aware of your strategy, and can decide how much time to spend on each area.

Saffron Screen, a community cinema in Saffron Walden, Essex works hard to develop relationships with local suppliers and businesses, many of whom support the cinema in return. Local company Croucher Needham sponsored several screenings of Frozen (sing-along version) and gained new clients as a direct result.

Arts and Business (formerly ABSA), although not a funder in the first instance, does operate a pairing scheme which acts as an incentive scheme for business sponsors. The scheme helps both businesses and the arts get the most from their partnership by providing additional financial support in the form of awards. To qualify for an award you must have a sponsor already in place and the financial rewards are greater if this is a company which is new to arts sponsorship. The scheme will only match cash sponsorship.

Often companies may be more willing to provide support in kind in the form of goods and services. For example, you may be able to find a brewer to provide beer for your opening night launch party, or a printer who will print your publicity at cost. Clearly, you cannot enter the ‘in kind’ support into your accounts. However, it is worth totalling the value of in kind support as this can sometimes be used as partnership funding; in addition, it’s always useful to know the real costs of doing something. If you wish to pursue this source of funding, a particularly useful publication is the Guide to UK Company Givingpublished by the Directory of Social Change (available in most public libraries).

It is always good to practice what you preach, so to speak, and will help others have confidence in supporting you. Sarah Gee, Managing Partner of Indigo-Ltd, a fundraising and marketing consultancy that worked on fundraising to revelop mac birmingham felt this was very important to their campaign. “I really can’t emphasise enough how important it is for the most senior member of staff… to lead from the front, and for the Board of Trustees to be fully involved, including by donating money. All of mac’s trustees made a contribution, including two student members of the board, who jointly adopted a seat, paying by instalments each month… this impressed donors and potential sponsors alike: we know it clinched a deal on a number of occasions… It’s unfair to ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.”

Sometimes finance can arrive in the form of a mutually beneficial partnership and it’s always worth spreading the word and seeing if there are any other local businesses you can partner with. The venue for Saffron Screen was a newly built auditorium within a local school. The school already had funding for the build and developed the space for dual use to include film projection. The result was a 200 seat cinema with 35mm projection equipment, Dolby Digital surround sound system and a full-size screen.

Film festivals can make particular arguments in seeking sponsorship. In April 2016 we ran a symposium in partnership with Vilnius International Film Festival, exploring how festivals can gain new sponsors and/or build stronger relationships with existing ones.

In this video Brooke Duval, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Toronto International Film Festival (which receives over $14 million annually in sponsorship) explains ways festivals can be more strategic in reaching their sponsorship goals; with ideas including broadening target lists, outlining clearly what sponsors need to know, and key trends that will excite potential sponsors and make your festival an attractive partner.

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