Cynder Sinclair: Nonprofit Event Sponsors—Court ‘Em and Keep ‘Em

[Previously published in]

Santa Barbara is a big nonprofit event town. We thrive on fundraising affairs—with multiple events on the same night. The plethora of events is not surprising since Santa Barbara boasts the second highest number of nonprofits per capita in California. Of course, lots of events require plenty of sponsors. Sponsorships can be a positive or negative experience depending on how the nonprofit handles the relationship.

This article was inspired by my interview with Shelby Sim, Sales Manager for Bacara Resort and Spa. Sim has played both roles of the sponsorship dance—as Director of Business Development for the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and in his new role at the Bacara. Sim shares some tips responsible for his success at the Chamber and also guidance on how to better solicit donations.

Follow Through With Your Promises.
Sim says it’s easy to differentiate yourself from other nonprofits. Just follow up and do what you say you are going to do. He claims this simple act set him apart from other fundraisers. Genuine relationship building creates good energy for the nonprofit and the donor alike—it builds and multiplies benefiting everyone. Sim shares lessons learned from being the asker at the Chamber and the donor at the Bacara.

When I worked at the Goleta Chamber I would ask businesses to support our events. I always felt responsible to those people who were generous enough to donate to our cause. I knew it was important to show them my appreciation and the Chamber’s gratitude for their generosity. Now I’m on the other side—I’m at the Bacara Resort and I’ve been surprised by the number of requests Bacara receives; it is several hundred every month. It would be impossible for Bacara to donate to everyone (although we wish we could). This underscores the importance of standing out.

Base Your Event Benefits On The Sponsor’s Values.
Good fundraisers take time to get to know the business they are soliciting. For example, Bacara has a great program for pets. The resort recently partnered with DAWG to host an afternoon yappy hour for dog owners and their four-legged family members. Attendees were introduced to the wonderful services available for dogs at Bacara. DAWG received great exposure from the event as well as all event proceeds. It was a win-win-win for Bacara, DAWG and guests who enjoyed a delightful afternoon with their furry friend.

Focus on Building Relationships With Sponsors.
Relationship building is so important for nonprofit solicitations to be successful. Anytime someone gives something there is an opportunity to build a relationship. Any relationship should be mutually beneficial. A simple thank you card can go a long way. If a nonprofit wants to be successful the way to win is by caring about your donors. Care about the people who are giving to you. Put some time into it. Your cause will last a long time so take the long view of relationship building by appreciating people.

Three Ways To Court And Keep Sponsors.
Based on Sim’s insightful comments, I offer three keys to nonprofit success in soliciting sponsorships and retaining:

1. Set Clear Sponsorship Levels.
Base your sponsor levels on the benefits to the company rather than just what you have done in the past or on what you would like to give. Ask the potential sponsors what benefits they would like to receive in recognition of their donation. Then tailor your package accordingly.

Publicity is one important reason your sponsors sign on; so make sure they get it. This sounds obvious, but make sure your sponsors receive everything promised. And then follow up so they know you followed through with your promises. If you can give them added publicity, do so.

Below are some common benefits you might want to consider offering. However, be prepared to be flexible depending on special requests by the sponsor.
• Sponsor banner displayed at event;
• Sponsor name announced at event using a personal touch;
• Dinner table supported by sponsor (i.e., each person at the table receives a promotional item and literature from the sponsor and the sponsor’s logo is displayed at the table);
• Dinner tickets to the event depending on level of sponsorship
• Small sponsor banner or logo displayed on or near podium;
• Sponsor name or logo in organization’s newsletter with article of thanks;
• Sponsor name or logo in advertisements in newspapers and magazines;
• Sponsor ad in the event program or flyer;
• Link to sponsor’s logo on your organization’s website with a summary of their business service and gratitude for their support;
• Verbally promote each sponsor at board meetings and other appropriate gatherings of your organization’s supporters.

2. Cultivate Your Relationship With Sponsors
One of the worst messages to send to a sponsor is: “I just cared about getting your money. Now that I’ve got it, I’m going to disappear.” Make sure sponsors see that you value their support. Once a company has agreed to sponsor, send them a thank-you letter that recaps the benefits at the level they’ve chosen. After you receive their check, send another thank-you. If your organization has a newsletter, begin sending it to them. If you don’t have a newsletter, send them periodical updates on your organization and/or the event. Any time you think a sponsor has a concern about something, give them a call. If a sponsor calls you, make it a point to return their call as soon as possible and absolutely within 24 hours. If you’ll be out of the office for a few days, make sure your voice message directs sponsors to a live person.

3. Deepen Sponsor Relationships After The Event.
Don’t drop your sponsors after the event. Post event follow through presents an excellent way of deepening your relationship with sponsors. Check in with them to see if they were happy with the event and their benefits. Reiterate each benefit they received so they know you actually followed through and so they are reminded of the value of their transaction with your organizations.

Send thank-you letters to sponsors after the event. Let them know how successful the event was, how much money was raised, the final attendance count, and how the funds will be used. For sponsors at high levels, put together packets that showcase their publicity. Include copies of all the ads they appeared in, photos of their banners at the event, photos of people using their products at the event, etc. If some sponsors had any concerns at any point, give them a call to see how they think things worked out.

Even after the final tasks of the event have been taken care of, and that last thank-you has been sent, keep in touch with your sponsors. Continue sending them your newsletter or updates on your group. Send them your annual report. Invite them to other events at your organization. Send them quick notes if you see their company given a positive mention in the newspaper. You don’t want to only contact them once sponsorship solicitation starts up again. On the other hand, don’t go overboard.

Sim Gives The Inside Scoop On The Bacara.
Our General Manager, Kathleen Cochran, is an incredibly warm person who has received several awards in our community since she came in 2010. She has helped the community so much through her volunteer work and most recently, by serving on the board and next year’s chair of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce. Bacara wants everyone to feel this is their hotel. Bringing me on board was another piece of building a bridge to connect the Bacara to the community. They created this position for me because they are serious about building long-lasting relationships throughout our community.

One of my first focus areas will be inviting mid week travel. The business community is beginning to discover just how spectacular this property is. Sometimes a corporation will buy out the entire hotel for their event. We have lots of weddings here and there is room for growth for mid-week customers. I am the official face of Bacara in Santa Barbara County to let people know we are open for business travel and we welcome every person here. Spanning 78 acres, this is the only beach front hotel in Santa Barbara County. People are taken away as soon as they step onto the property even if they live across the street. We have the largest spa in the county and our members get so many benefits—from wine receptions, to gym and fitness classes, use of pools, and heavily discounted restaurant/bar and spa services.

We are committed to maintaining these world-class facilities. We will be renovating every one of our 352 rooms this fall. There are also plans to renovate our signature restaurant, Miro. Stay tuned for details on these exciting projects! We think of our local community as family. We have been honored to host everything from your special occasions to a day of pampering at our spa. Our doors are always open. Be sure to ask for me when you arrive!

Biographical Information For Shelby Sim
Shelby is local to our area and has worked with several area companies including Fidelity National Financial,, and most recently the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce as Director of Business Development. He served for 5 ½ years in the United States Navy in the 1980’s and is a founding board member of Contacts N Coffee, a networking group that has grown to over 20 locations across the state. While with the Chamber, Shelby doubled the membership and attendance at events nearly tripled. He moved to Bacara Resort and Spa in March as Sales Manager (with focus on mid-week stays).


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