A visitor to my website recently asked whether I had any suggestions for finding choir sponsorship. Most of my choir marketing advice in previous posts has been targeted at choir members or audiences. But potential sponsors are another major target audience for your marketing.
Why do you want choir sponsorship?
Choirs cost money to run!
Even if you are in the very fortunate position (lucky you) of having the free services of a Musical Director and Accompanist you still need somewhere to rehearse, you need music, you probably need insurance. That’s before you count the costs of putting on actual performances.
You do usually get income from members subscriptions and from ticket sales. Indeed, many small choirs survive on those sources alone.
By targeting subscription fees to cover the cost of the choir just existing (rehearsals, music) and making concerts self-funding you can get by.
However, that does not help if you have ambitions to be much bigger and better, to take part in festivals and competitions. You may want to provide members with rehearsal tools or singing tuition, to change uniform, to re-brand, to produce CDs, etc etc. Now you are probably looking to external sources of funds or choir sponsorship.
Why should anyone sponsor you?
You need to ask yourselves this question right up front.
Despite the fact that many commercial organisations have a publicised policy of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ they don’t just give away cash out of the goodness of their hearts. Indeed, they cannot really do that anyway as they are legally required to act in the best interests of their shareholders. So, if they were to provide choir sponsorship they do need to be able to demonstrate how it benefits those shareholders.
Luckily there are ways that choir sponsorship can benefit companies. Just a few examples are:
- engaging with the local community to make their brand more visible and valued.
- advertising goods and services.
- providing entertainment or well-being benefits to employees (choral singing has been shown to benefit the health of participants).
In the same way as you defined you ‘value proposition' for the audience and choir members (Why should they come? Build your choir promotion value proposition) you need to carry out the identical exercise for potential sponsors.
What is your choir sponsorship ‘offer’?
In order to deliver the value proposition that you have identified for your sponsors, you need to be clear about what it is you are offering in return for choir sponsorship.
Here are just a few ideas that may be worth considering:
- Branding – choir name, logo or colours.
- Uniform to include sponsor’s logo or and/or colours.
- Choir performance items such as music stands and folders to be branded.
- Concert programmes to include features on sponsor.
- Concert signage to include sponsor’s name/logo.
- VIP and complimentary tickets for concerts.
- Website and social media platforms to include sponsor’s name/logo/branding.
- Include sponsor’s name/logo on posters and flyers and in adverts.
- Include sponsor’s name in press releases.
- Provide PR opportunities for sponsor.
- Special VIP social events for sponsor.
- Performances at sponsor company events.
- Include recognition of sponsor in choir emails and newsletters.
It is worth identifying what your offer would be for varying levels of sponsorship. Obviously changing your choir name to that of a sponsor should generate a lot more than just including their name on your website. Like many retail loyalty schemes, you may want to have a Gold/Silver/Bronze package approach.
Choir sponsorship for an identifiable reason
Sponsors are not usually attracted to funding the day-to-day running costs of an enterprise, including a choir.
They like to see and be able to demonstrate to employees, shareholders and customers, the concrete results of their magnanimous gesture.
It is best to use their money, or gift (see below), for a specific purpose that can be identified clearly to have had an incremental benefit.
So, for instance, that could be:
- To take part in an international choir festival.
- To provide a new uniform for the choir.
- To lease/buy choir transport.
- To provide mobile staging for concerts.
- To commission the composition of a new musical work.
- To replace a piano or keyboard.
- To replace ageing banners and signage.
- To provide branded music folders.
- To support outreach activities in the local community.
- To sponsor a programme of choir member recruitment activities.
- To sponsor a competition for young musicians.
- To sponsor the recording and production of a CD.
I am sure that there are many other ways in which incremental choir sponsorship would benefit your choir. Just recognise that the sponsor likes to see the result.
It doesn’t have to be cash
All the above comments could be read to mean that you are looking for hard cash from choir sponsorship. That is not the case!
The best sponsorship could well be that which delivers a greater benefit to the choir than the cost is to the sponsor. Taking a simple example, let’s say the cost to the choir of a new set of banners and concert signage is £500. If the sponsor is a printing company providing the banners and signage for free, it has undoubtedly cost them less than £500 – but the choir has still benefited by that sum. It also has an obvious value to the sponsor because the choir is promoting their products every time they perform.
Don’t limit your thoughts for choir sponsorship to money alone. Could a travel company sponsor your international festival trip? Could a vehicle hire company provide that mini-bus? Could a company provide their office facilities free of charge for rehearsals?
Don’t rely on just one benefactor
The above comments about the nature of choir sponsorship lead me onto another point. You don't need to look for just one sponsor to cover all your needs.
It is becoming more and more difficult to find sponsors with enough to donate as a single large sum. It is also very dangerous to rely on a single sponsor. You end up in an “all or nothing” situation that has the potential to mark the end of the choir if your sponsor pulls out.
The choir of the visitor to my website, who asked the question, had originally had a single sponsor, who withdrew. Luckily, they found two others to replace it, but now those are looking to stop funding at the same time.
As I mentioned at the start, I believe that you should structure your choir finances so that the day-to-day existence of the choir does not require funding above and beyond its own means. This is to protect you against the uncertainty of external choir sponsorship.
Then take a ‘multi-sponsor' approach combined with various benefits depending on the level and nature of choir sponsorship provided. It means you can often ask for smaller amounts and more "in kind" as I mentioned above – often this is simpler for a potential sponsor to agree to.
Lastly, try and look for ‘overlapping’ sponsorships so that everything is not lost at once. One word of warning, though. Make sure that you don’t give all the same benefits to every sponsor. Not only does it dilute the value to any one sponsor, but it might damage your brand. The last thing you want is the choir uniform to look like a Formula1 racing car covered in a multitude of logos!
How to go about getting choir sponsorship
Right up front, I said potential sponsors are a key marketing target audience.
So, just like with driving audiences to a concert or recruiting new members the search for choir sponsorship should be treated as a major marketing project.
Nominate a volunteer to lead and manage
As with any project you should try and identify someone to manage the choir sponsorship programme. They do not need to do all the work but provide a focal point to coordinate and monitor the overall programme.
Identify your target sponsor list
I would strongly recommend identifying a tightly focused short list of companies to approach. As with any sort of marketing, ‘spray & pray’ doesn’t tend to deliver great results.
In order to identify your target list, you need to specify the ideal type of companies to become sponsors. Just as with targeting concert audiences and choir members, where we define ‘customer personas’ (Understand your target audience) you should try and describe the ideal sponsor:
- Geography – local/national/international. Where is HQ based? Do they have local decision-making capability (e.g. local supermarket managers may have a charity budget for local good causes).
- Business type. What do they do? Is it relevant?
- Company maturity (start-up, growth, mature, decline). Their openness and need for sponsorship value will vary along their life cycle.
- Brand value/culture (fastmoving, innovative, establishment, bureaucratic etc). Whose brand would best benefit from association with your choir’s image?
- History of Corporate Social Responsibility/Giving. Do they need to have an established fund or scheme?
- Do you have contacts in the company? This could be through choir members personally or work relationships.
- The problem that choir sponsorship helps to solve. What value are they looking for?
Now create a target list of potential sponsors who would meet the profile that you have described.
Create a ‘sponsorship pack’
You should put together a sort of proposal for prospective sponsors. This doesn’t have to be a huge set of documents but should stress the value that that particular sponsor would get from supporting your choir. That does mean some personalisation for each recipient, but it would be minimal.
I would suggest contents include:
- A letter tailored to that sponsor. If at all possible make it addressed directly to a named individual. This should highlight the main request you have for them and the key values you see them getting. Some of this can be standard text, but a lot should be personalised, especially the introduction and closing remarks. Try and create a personal engagement. The letter should be shorter than a single side of A4, 2-4 paragraphs at most, and be clearly written in concise language.
- Information sheet(s) about the choir. Here you should describe a very brief history of the choir, what its ‘mission’ is, what it does (music styles, concerts, outreach/education), audience sizes and demographics, profiles of the Musical Director and other key figures. Again, don’t make this “War and Peace”! Short paragraphs and some pictures. This is a document that it would be worth styling nicely as you may want to send it electronically and also printed out. You should be aiming to portray a professional image that the sponsor would benefit from being associated with.
- A description of your choir sponsorship programme. Make this a “selling” document. Include in it an outline of the benefits and what sort of sponsorship you are looking for. If you decide to have multiple levels of sponsor describe them here. Describe how funds or donations ‘in kind’ will be used.
Now you should take your sponsorship pack to your target sponsor list.
Before you send things out “cold” establish whether anyone you know has existing contacts within those companies. It can be choir members or their friends and relatives. Other contacts may also be useful. If your choir has had local dignitaries attend a concert, such as the mayor or MP, why not ask them to make introductions for you?
Using any of these contacts will be more successful than sending off an email or physical letter to someone who has never heard of your choir.
While on that subject – I am also a fan of using both physical and digital methods of communication. Sometimes getting a personal letter in the post has more impact than yet another email.
While I do advocate direct approaches to potential sponsors as more likely to generate the contacts you want, there may also be a place for publicity around your hunt for sponsors.
It is worth having your sponsorship pack available via your website (with a generalised cover letter) and promoted through your social media channels.
Press releases about your search will support any approaches you make to likely sponsors. You can also use them to promote the planned activity of the choir (such as entering an international competition) and attract new audience and choir members.
Follow up, follow up, follow up
In business, it is said that you need at least 9 ‘touches' to lead to a sale. Don't expect your initial approach to elicit an immediate flow of choir sponsorship.
You will need to chase and follow up continuously. That is another reason why getting press attention for your sponsorship search can help – that is a ‘touch'.
Use as many individuals associated with the choir as you can to make the contacts. The last thing you want to become is that "annoying person who keeps pestering me". It can also be soul-destroying for one person to be getting all the rejection, so share the load. There is a balance to be had between irritation and successful follow-up.
Formalise the agreement
When you have found a willing sponsor, you should put in place a formal sponsorship agreement. This way both parties have an agreed set of expectations for cost and return. It is not meant to be something you have to use threateningly, but something that guarantees transparency.
As an old colleague of mine used to say “if you have to take the contract out of the drawer then the relationship has already failed, but having it there should help prolong it”.
Choir sponsorship should be an ongoing relationship
Once you have found one or more sponsors the work does not stop there.
Despite the discussion about visible results from a sponsor's donations, I would recommend that you try and avoid making the relationship with them a single transactional one. In business, it is often quoted that it is far easier to generate more revenue from an existing customer than finding a brand new one.
You should try and build an ongoing relationship with your sponsors so that even when one sponsorship donation has been and gone others may follow.
Perhaps using such things as VIP social days, personal involvement and complimentary tickets you can help generate a feeling of joint ownership in the success of the choir.
Alternative funding sources
This post has been all about choir sponsorship. But of course, there are other sources of finance you may want to consider in conjunction or as an alternative:
- Grants from public and private organisations or trusts.
- Fund-raising events.
- Increasing your ticket price and/or venue size.
- Offering suitable services for weddings and parties.
- Friends’ schemes.
Those are just a few of my thoughts – I’d love to hear of any you have had, especially if they have proved to be successful.