The event was the brainchild of the new President and it was three weeks away. Then the event staff person quit. And suddenly, we found out we had no sponsors secured. Somehow I got stuck trying to make a sponsorship budget on an unproven event with a charity not known for doing events.
Here is what I learned about pulling sponsorship out of thin air.
Have a daily countdown meeting
When all hell breaks loose, it is important to check in every day with the whole team to get things quickly going in the right direction. Even a 15 minute meeting is enough. This is a perfect time to share ideas across areas of responsibility. When your event is in this much trouble, everyone needs to work together and everyone needs to know where things stand.
There are no stupid ideas
You are already in deep trouble. This is your chance to try a new idea. As long as you have time to implement the new idea, what have you got to lose by giving it a shot? Your event is already sinking so you might as well take some risks.
Friends and family first
If you have run this event before, check the list of last year's sponsors. And while you are at it, check the list of the people who sponsored the year previously but did not renew last year. Check the list of everyone who has sponsored any of your other events in the last two years. Double check to make sure that someone has contacted every single one of them.
Try, try again
Book an hour a day, every day, to make sponsor calls. In my last job, I found it took four calls to reach a sponsor and get a commitment. Sponsors may be willing to support you but may not be going out of their way to sponsor you.
You scratch my back
If you haven't already done so, ask your finance or account department to run a list of every company who gets more than $10,000 worth of business from your organization. Take a look at that list and see if there are any vendors you can approach for a sponsorship.
Out of many
You may be able to get some group sponsorships. For example, maybe each one of your 10 member Board can give $100 so that you can list the Board of Directors, as a group as a $1000 donor. The same thing may be possible for the senior staff of your organization. Or other groups like your volunteers, parents, or participants.
Be open and clear
Once the extent of the problem was clear in that event where we had no sponsors, I made sure to break that bad news quickly to the President along with an action plan. We clearly weren't going to make the $50,000 sponsorship goal, but with the steps above, we did make $11,000 which wasn't bad all things considered.
Sooner or later, any event can end up in trouble. The key is doing as much as you can, as quickly as you can, to minimize the damage.
Ann Rosenfield is Editor of Hilborn Charity eNews and has had to salvage more than one failing event that got dumped on her at the 11th hour. She has never lost money on an event. She also has a head full of grey hair.