When looking for sponsorship, it’s best to only approach companies that you have some kind of link with or who may have some sympathy toward your work and practice. Companies may prefer supporting organisations and individuals who are in their local area, thus proving more easily their support of good causes and allowing them to see more easily the fruits of their support.
What to ask for?
In order to make an effective request to a company, you should first of all think about why companies give; and more specifically, why they should give to you. Given that the point of a company is to make money, not give it away, why would they give any to you?
Some larger companies may receive hundreds of applications each week; check their websites first for how and what to send, and even if they accept applications or not. You should be able to demonstrate a good link with why the company should give to you; general pleas for ‘putting something back into the community’ won’t cut much ice.
It is worth remembering only a few companies have any criteria or policy for their giving, mostly evaluating each application on its individual merits. However, when there are clear guidelines it is important to respect them; too many unsolicited applications have caused some companies to wind up their funding practices for good.
Companies may give:
- materials that the company makes, for free or a reduced rate (sometimes cost price)
- sponsorship of events or promotional materials
- sponsorship in-kind (e.g. allowing the use of company facilities, products or staff)
- advertising in company promotional materials
- fundraising amongst staff
- cash donations – but this is very, very unlikely
If you are trying to secure sponsorship support for your exhibitions and projects, in general, it is easier to try getting goods and services for free or reduced prices than cash from businesses.
Businesses can be persuaded to provide catering or alcohol for private views, printing for invitations, distribution through their outlets or even paints and other materials used when installing exhibitions – try to meet people in the businesses who can help and talk to them about what you are trying to do and, crucially, the benefit to them. Your local council may also be of financial assistance, or might write letters of support on your behalf for funding or support in kind applications. You may agree with exhibiting artists that sales will attract a commission, but depending on the work you show this can be impossible. It is important to plan budgets very carefully to avoid financial difficulties for which you may be personally liable, depending on the kind of organisation you set up.
Who to ask?
You can begin your research by searching the following publications:
- The Guide to UK Company Giving (published by the Directory of Social Change)
- The Kompass Register of British Industry and Commerce
- Jordan’s Top Privately Owned Companies – search on Jordan’s website
- Individual websites of companies you are interested in
It is also best to approach individuals within a company directly, and to focus on their interests in your application. If you do not know any individuals in the company you are applying to, you can find out information from the following sources:
- The Directory of Directors – from Hemscott
- Who’s Who
- Corporate Register
- Your local chamber of commerce – for London, check the London Chamber of Commerce website)
- The Confederation of British Industries (CBI)
Finding out about the company’s track record for giving is important too. This information can be found in their annual report (available from the company directly or from Companies House)
Proper research is extremely important, not just into the company but also any personal links you have with it. Find out who you know who might have links there; with management staff, employees, suppliers, personal contacts etc. Try to find out what personal interests the decision-makers have, and pitch your appeal to them.
Ideally, initial contact should be made through a personal contact, but failing that you will have to come up with another link. The first step would be to find out who is responsible for giving at the company, their name and job title, what information they can send you about the company, timetables for application and whether they would be interested in coming to see your work (either in your studio or in an exhibition). This initial stage can take a long time, and it might be in your best interests to invite representatives to private views or exhibitions of your work before making your first appeal. Most will not consider circular appeals, and with good reason; they show no particular interest in the company or individual being approached, only the would-be recipient of the support. Letters should prove as much of a relationship as possible between you and the company; if there is no relationship, you might reconsider applying.
You must be clear as to why and when you need the support, especially your timetable, the benefits to you and others, how budgets will be spent and what the company will get in return – an artwork, report, photographs, exhibition, private event for staff, or just a general feeling of goodwill? Companies (and charities) like to fund projects, so avoid too much administration costs in your budget proposal, but do include a fee. Check any available criteria for funding and exclude what is not relevant; travel, expenses, fees etc.
Persistence, when handled correctly, can pay dividends; don’t assume that ‘no’ means ‘never’. Go back to them during the next financial year, and mention that you have approached them before, and that you are now presenting something of (hopefully) more interest. Consider previous, rejected applications as further research. Sometimes companies will say all their funds are committed, so apply at a better time next year; but this might be an excuse for them not wanting to fund you at all.
How to ask?
When writing to ask for cash, gifts, in-kind or other forms of support from a potential sponsor, consider the following carefully:
- Think of a project that you want to do that a company might want to support. Use the research you have done about what companies support what kinds of work.
- Your letter should be as short as possible, certainly no more than one side of A4. You can supply other information as attachment, but avoid large amounts of information in your first correspondence; it only pays to provide information when it is necessary and requested.
- State why you need the money or resources and exactly how it will be spent or used in your project. Include information on yourself and why you need support from that company specifically.
- Explain clearly why the company should want to support you.
- Try to communicate the urgency of the appeal without seeming to be raising money at the last minute. Look professional and organised. If it seems that you could do without the support until next year, they probably won’t give it to you this year.
- Ask for something specific. For example, if you need materials that only that company can provide, state your explicit need for gifts in kind rather than cash. Remember that you know how much or what you need, the company does not.
- If you can demonstrate some sort of leverage, this is an added advantage. Companies like to think they get a lot for their money, and if you can promise matching donations or an offer from their rivals, so much the better.
- Provide some background information with your short letter. This should also be short, crisp and to the point; a list of your past projects and achievements (with any funding or support received), a very short CV or artists statement or a specially produced proposal (very brief). Remember that you can follow up any of this information if required and companies will respond better to a longer relationship with you.
- Ensure the letter is addressed to the correct person at the correct address. Correspondence is unlikely to be passed on if incorrectly addressed.
How they respond
After all that work, it can be disheartening when you don’t even receive a response, but be prepared for this. Many companies do not have an official policy about giving, and may therefore be disinclined to respond. Some may acknowledge the letter; others may tell you that they will respond again only if you are successful.
Larger companies will have some kind of a system to reply, as this is good PR on their part, but it may only be for customer responses and a reply to you may take a long time or not cover the points you request. Smaller companies may not have that infrastructure, and many applications will end up in the bin. Try to read between the lines; no company will be openly rude about your request, but may be trying to tell you to apply later, or not at all.
- If you are successful, remember to acknowledge their response and thank them.
- If you are unsuccessful, try to find out why and go back later. Treat this experience as further research.