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How do we get sponsors to support our tech event?

Floor Drees
Technical Program Manager at k6 - A Grafana Labs Company | prev Microsoft | tech events organizer | I knit | πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘¦πŸΆπŸ”πŸ‡
・5 min read

I was happy to find that people found my previous post, on how to make the best out of your tech event sponsoring tier, helpful. Today I wanted to talk about the other side of the equation. How to attract sponsors for your community event, and how to help them be successful (and sponsor again next year).

Start with figuring out your budget. How much money do you want to bring in through sponsoring (as opposed to ticket sales)? What do you need to cover? For in-person events that's likely location and tech production, catering, travel and accomodation for your speakers, swag (bags), lanyards, promotion and navigation material, photographer, ... For a virtual event that's platform and streaming (licenses), (post)production, and hardware for your hosts and speakers potentially. Now add a 10% margin so that unforeseen costs won't break the bank.

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Now, register a foundation, or if one of you has a business registered, check if you can run finances via their account. Sometimes a company will be the main organizer and monies are handled by their finance department. Or you enlist the help of an event organizing company. Note that the latter will cost you, and that having one "main sponsor" can be a turn-off for other potential supporters.

Benefits

Now, break the amount you need up in smaller packages. Let's say we need 20.000 dollar (considering "misc" and unforeseen costs) for our imaginary 1-day virtual event. Let's go with a standard tier system and say we have 2 Gold sponsor slots at 4k dollar, 4 Silver sponsor slots at 2k dollar, and 8 Bronze slots at 500 dollar.

Next consider what with the size of the organizer team, and the features/limitations of the streaming platform you'll use, you can offer sponsors in terms of benefits. You'll want to err on the side of underpromise - overdeliver.

Charging money for tickets? Include free tickets in your sponsorship package, as well as the option to buy more tickets at a discounted price. Make sure the amount of tickets are appropriate to the package. If I can send 5 team members to a conference and get sponsor benefits "for free" at roughly the same price as just those 5 tickets, guess what Imma go for?!

Logo placement is a no-brainer, your website, the event platform / the screens and banners at your location, all real estate you should use.

If you have (someone on your team handling the) social media channels, include sponsored posts / "XYZ is sponsoring" type announcements / thank-you's in the benefits.

Throw your mailing list / newsletter in the mix and offer sponsored sections. Try and keep control over your attendees' contact details with you though.

Are you sending get-ready packages to your speakers? Have Gold-level sponsors contribute something like a chocolate bar, custom key caps, a mug, branded tripod, or something silly like a mini karaoke mic for your smartphone if you're planning virtual karaoke.

I'm not a big fan of offering talk slots in exchange for money. Those often turn out to have very little ROI as technical audiences spot a potential vendor pitch from a mile away. A more creative solution is having Someone Charismatic on a podcast episode leading up to your event. That way you create some buzz at the same time.

Prospectus

Make sure your Sponsorship Prospectus is available for download on your website, along with the details of the organizer(s) who will be the sponsor contact(s) before, during and after (!!) the event.

Include demographics info in your Prospectus, if you have any. These numbers can come from previous years running the same event, or estimates based on similar events, newsletter signups, User Group members, etc.

Imma need screenshots πŸ“·

More benefits typically equals more work for the sponsor (and for you!!). When I was responsible for a budget at Microsoft I needed a POE (Proof of Execution) for every line item on the Sponsor agreement. That meant pictures, screenshots, recordings of every tweet, slide, poster, emcee mention. It's tedious work. I would instead opt for a smaller package, or create a custom deal with the organizers, so that I could focus on the event without the prospect of Finance scolding me over an incomplete POE.

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Alternatively, anticipate your sponsor contact needs and help them collect POE.

Who to approach and when?

Now to finding sponsors. Go on job portals and see who's hiring rn for the technology you're community event is all about. Scrape the hiring manager's contact, or find an email address (like for the marketing department) on their website. If you're aggressive assertive like me, you'll use LinkedIn (and maybe even Sales Navigator) to find the people likely responsible for a sponsorship budget (Developer Relations, Marketing, ...) and reach out to them directly.

Another great way to find potential sponsons is to research who's sponsoring similar events.

If a speaker made it through your CfP (Call for Papers), instead of paying for their travel and accomodation from your budget, talk to them to see if their employer might cover their expenses. Based on the costs add them to the appropriate sponsorship tier (or set the sponsorship level for any such opportunities) - this is a great way to open the door for future sponsorships.

Whatever you do though, document (the status of) your conversations with (prospective) sponsors. That can be in a spreadsheet, or beter yet in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. You want everyone in the team to have access to that overview / visibility of the status, so that work doesn't pile up when you're unavailable for whatever reason. That said, you will want to communicate only one or two contacts to your sponsors.

Timing is everything. With time you will learn when to best reach out to companies. But let me give away a bit of my own experience. Try and find out when their fiscal year starts - and more importantly: ends. For Microsoft and GitHub, the fiscal year starts July 1st. I know, it's weird. But that means that whoever is responsible for the budget will want to finish it all before the end of the 4 quarter ("Q4"). March/ April is typically a good time to send over your Prospectus.

Grafana Labs' fiscal year is 1 month off. That means their Q1 is February-March-April, and their Q4 is November-December-January.

Mariah Carey on timing

Deadlines

Sponsors need a lot of hand-holding and require chasing-after. I liked what we did with Devopsdays this year: send out a form with upload fields for all deliverables. Send a screenshots of the logo placement, and send copy examples for confirmation (before [DATE]). Chances are you won't get a reply, but that's not on you then. Communicate clear deadlines - better yet: just 1 date by which stuff needs to be submitted. Have that date be 2 weeks before you really-really need it.

And, of course, send them my blog so they too can make the best out of your event. I'm excited for the amazing event experiences you'll create!

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