How to get sponsors for your group

I just received an email from member Pete asking how Nashville Hiking Meetup got its sponsors. This is one of the questions I hear most often.

To me, it’s a very simple set of answers:

  • Your audience (membership) has to be an audience the sponsor wants as customers.
  • You must have demographic data on your members.
  • You must track the value of the sponsorship.
  • You have to present a clear “ask” to a potential sponsor.

Those are the quick start answers for those of you don’t have time to read an entire blog post.

Let’s break it down…

Is your membership the audience a sponsor wants?

I feel there must be a like-mindedness between a meetup and its sponsors. What values does your meetup support? Is a member likely to shop at a sponsor’s store or eat at their restaurant?

Since my meetup has certain defined values at its core (protecting the environment, expanding shared green space, building trails, healthy lifestyle), I seek out sponsors with similar values.

First define your group’s values and then brainstorm with a small subset of your membership (a management team of sorts) to make a list of sponsors you’d love to land.

Collect demographic data on your membership

Furthermore, your membership should “look like” a desired customer for a potential sponsor, and this typically means demographics. The most basic list of demographics you should have are:

  • home zip code
  • gender
  • age range

The next level would be:

  • annual income
  • marital status
  • highest level of education

From there you can really blow it out with expanded data on your members such as:

  • children living at home
  • how often member shops at certain kind of store
  • how much annually member spends on certain types of products
  • how likely is member to purchase from a sponsor

Now, does not make it easy to collect any of this information. In fact,  a meetup organizer cannot see any demographics due to Meetup’s privacy policy, but that increases a potential member’s chances of joining. If you know your personal data isn’t shared with meetup organizers (even email address), I feel a member is more likely to join. I’ll take that trade-off.

So how do you collect this demographic data? The simplest way is a survey. Click here to see an example survey I launched a couple of years ago.

And what’s the incentive for a member to fill out a survey? A prize drawing. Pull together a few items of value to your members (t-shirts with your meetup’s logo, gift cards from local stores, donated items from your membership) and publicize that the survey participants will be entered into a drawing.

Once you have your raw survey data, you can create nice pie and bar charts and put all of these demographic snapshots into a packet you can share with potential sponsors.

Tracking the value of a sponsorship

You need to be able to present to a prospective sponsor how you’re going to track the value of the product or cash they are providing, and follow through with this tracking. Nothing is more frustrating to a sponsor than seeing no return on their investment.

Tracking value doesn’t necessarily mean sales dollars. It’s very unlikely you, as a meetup leader, will have access to a sponsor’s sales data. Instead, you count other metrics:

  • testimonials from members about sponsors
  • number of members who attended an event at a sponsor’s location
  • number of clicks from a sponsor’s logo on your site to that sponsor’s site (I’ll get into how to track that in a later post)

Present a clear ask to a prospective sponsor

Sales Training 101 always tells us to know what we’re going to ask a prospect before that first conversation or meeting with the company. I’ve been on several sales calls in the past where the prospect asks in the first five minutes “what is it exactly that you want from us?”

Having a clear “ask” ahead of time (donated product, a space to hold meetings, gift cards, cash) will will prevent you from looking like an idiot in this situation.

You should also develop a standard price list for advertising on your site, email newsletter, or social media page, even if you plan on discounting later. Have a PDF of your price list digitally near at hand so when you get an email asking “how much will it cost me to sponsor your group,” you’ll have a document to quickly send to the prospect. No, it won’t be perfect or even fit all sizes, but it’s something. Be sure to follow up with that prospect later. And remember you can always negotiate.

Philosophically speaking

These answers were part philosophical and part practical. I know this post doesn’t answer one of Pete’s original questions which was how I landed a specific sponsor. Since I treat my meetup like a business, I don’t divulge specifics of a sponsor’s deal.

Land those first couple of sponsors, and just like in business, it’s easier to get customers if you have customers.

See Kelly Stewart’s Google+ profile.

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Excellent overview of what’s required before approaching potential sponsors. I learned quite a bit from your post. Thanks!