Thursday, May 16, 2019
So you want some Sponsorship?
After our recent blog postings on the Trek and our blog about all we have done to get collaborators and sponsorship we received a number of requests on line asking how we have gone about approaching potential backers. Some people inquired politely and professionally, some messaged demanding “free stuff, free stuff!” As I stated before, applying for sponsorship, grants, and corporate support needs to be done respectfully, with the understanding that you have to be able to give them something back, and it requires a heck of a lot of effort, patience, and time.
Some of what follows sounds a little basic and likely obvious as advice (and it is), but some of the best suggestions are often the simplest. So we have compiled a list of some advice we would pass on to anyone interested in applying for sponsorship or drafting proposals.
(1) Research – Perhaps the most important part of any application is to do your research. Review how others have drafted their sponsorship requests and learn from their successes and failures.
(2) More Research – We studied and read thousands of webpages for organizations and corporations to figure out their corporate interests, mission, etc. When applying ensure that your message, your proposal, etc has ties into or fits into the ideals and interests of the organization.
(3) More Research again – Before applying look around at famous bloggers, vloggers, hikers, explorers and figure out what makes their treks and endeavours work. Build off the work of others. See what others are doing in similar areas, build off of them - emulate what works, revise what you think could be improved upon and give it your best shot!
(4) Hard Work, Effort, Sacrifice and Dedication – This is a key point, as applying for sponsorship is not a matter of demanding “free stuff”. Sponsorship comes from spending months and years developing contacts, establishing a reputation in particular communities which have similar interests, and it comes from seemingly endless nights of drafting and re-drafting proposals. It involves time spent refining your message - most of which comes after full days and weeks of working your job. We have had some people message us saying they wish people would just give them “free stuff”, but what they don’t see is that we have spent years hiking around the world to develop credibility, years employed saving up, that we regularly spend our nights after work researching, writing, and emailing people until 1 or 2 in the morning. We don’t go out, we don’t go to movies or have dress clothes, to save up we have eaten one meal a day for the past three years. So these types of endeavours do take hard work, they do take a lot of effort and require a ton of sacrifice. Most nights I spend at least 2 hours drafting a blog entry before checking and updating our social media sites, responding to emails, making new contacts, and writing proposals. To give interviews I have taken time off work which means that when I get sick, I still go to work. Before leaving on our hike we will have worked nightly on this venture for almost three years. When you decide to apply for organizational support or sponsorship remember what you are getting yourself into.
(5) It Takes Time – Remember this entire process takes time, more time, and then some. While we have had some prospective sponsors answer our requests within days or weeks, others have taken in excess of 6 months. Regardless, we learned from each proposal and each presentation and refined our message and approach. Remember organizations are busy institutions and receive lots of similar requests, which means they require a fair amount of time to consider the inquiries they get. They are going to take their time researching you and your proposed undertaking along with those of others before making their decisions. Be patient.
(6) Have a message – This is very important, know what you want to say, be clear, be consistent, ensure that it is both simple, and memorable. It sounds easy, but it isn’t.
(7) What do you offer them? – While organizations are willing to help out communities, and endeavours and do offer sponsorships, bursaries, and the like.....they also want to make sure that your ideals and theirs overlap. Since you have done your research, highlight how your ideals and message align with theirs.
(8) Be clear, be Specific – When you compose your message, be clear about what your endeavour offers each organization and what can they give you.
(9) Take advice but be true to your interests – When the idea to hike along Canada’s Great Trail began we had a number of things we were interested in talking about but we had yet to really refine our message. As a result, when we naively began talking with potential sponsors we sounded wishy washy and the conversations that did continue often resulted in companies trying to get us to walk for their particular interest, or issue, or product. While that would not necessarily be bad, it often wasn’t something that was true to our own interests and we quickly began to realize that while it was certainly ok to adjust our message as circumstances required or to get advice from the experts, if we were going to hike day in and day out for 3 years we had to do it for something we were passionate about or we weren’t going to have the energy or interest to keep going forward.
(10)Know what you want – Some organizations offer funding, some offer advice, some offer product. While there are a lot of great hiking and equipment companies out there, remember it takes time to write a strong proposal to each one. So there isn’t much point in investing your own time and using up the generosity of a company if there isn’t anything they can do for you, or anything you can do for them. In other words know what you want when an institution messages you a positive response to your proposal.
(11)Stand out – This one is tough, in a day and age when so many people are trekking the Appalachian Trail or the Camino De Santiago or Patagonia (all of which are totally worth it) it can be hard to have your proposal and idea stand out.....especially when applying to the traditional outdoors corporations who get huge volumes of requests each year. Find your niche, find out what makes your trek and ideas special and put that front and centre.
(12)Build something – Prior to applying ensure that you have a social media presence, have a following, show that you can complete what you propose to undertake – we had hiked the Camino de Santiago, GR65 / Via Podiensis, Camino Portuguese, the Bruce Trail, and the East Coast Trail – blogging, writing, photographing, etc as we went for years before applying for sponsorship. That online presence however showed our dedication and experience. This helps in a huge way...
(13)Proof read – Read, re read, have your friends and family read, and then proof read all of your applications and letters because there is nothing worse than submitting a sponsorship request with errors!
(14)Be patient – I have said it before and I’ll say it again, this process takes time. Time invested in building a reputation, time invested in figuring out what you want to do, time invested in research, time invested in building websites, drafting proposals, writing to people, developing connections.
(15)Learn – Learn. Learn from others, learn from early drafts, learn from your mistakes, learn from unexpected questions asked during presentations and interviews...then make sure to know that answer for the next time. Learn from your past mistakes and never repeat them. Learn and keep moving forward.
(16)Be professional – Being professional and taken seriously begins with looking and acting professional. At the outset we designed a logo, we included our logo, created a banner and sidebar for all of our letters, we had already established our photography company online, an early draft of the Come Walk With Us website was online, we had early donations, and we had blogs written from three of our previous hikes posted with a viable readership, and we had an established Facebook following. So we had a professional basis to start with and build on – which helped. It goes back to the old adage to be successful you need to look successful. When we presented in person to our sponsors, we wrote for weeks, we prepared, we showed up early, we prepared the room and ensured our media ran, we made ourselves available to any and all questions and we presented clearly and authoritatively. When we wrote to potential sponsors our letters were professionally designed, repeatedly proof read, clear, concise, and to the point. When we talked to potential sponsors on the phone we spoke in clear measured tones, we had answers to questions prepared, we were respectful and to the point, and we were thankful for their time and consideration. Professionalism is and will always be in vogue. Remember you are presenting to and talking with professionals, who deserve to be treated as such, and are accustomed to meeting with other professionals. Look, act, and sound the part, and you will be taken far more seriously.
(17)Be Courteous, be Thankful and be Respectful – Whether you receive a positive or negative response, be respectful, be thankful. This goes hand in hand with sounding professional, and being professional. In addition to sending a thank you note at the time of being offered support, we make sure to keep sponsors up to date on our endeavours, and thank them publically on social media. Everyone who helps deserves to be acknowledged and – to be blunt – you never know who people know. Some of our best connections have come through friends of friends, or colleagues of colleagues, who have passed along our information! If we had not been respectful and thankful I shudder to think of what opportunities we would have lost out on. Even if you receive a harsh response or very negative email about your proposal, respond respectfully and thankfully. Remember that just because you got turned down or disagree it does not mean you should be disrespectful.
(18)Support those who support you – We have made it a point to apply to those organizations whose resources and products we have used and enjoyed in the past. As such this means that we are supporting and purchasing from those businesses who are sponsoring and supporting us.
(19)Pay It Forward - Help others, give them advice, be patient. Remember someone (or lots of people) helped you and it is only right to help those who are starting out.
I hope some of these quick notes help those interested in setting their own course and looking for some help. I am sure there is a ton more advice I could pass along, but all of this serves as a good basis for those interested ...
See you on the trail...