Pushing the Limits

Too often, we in the sponsorship marketing world become complacent. We see it at the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists™. It is critical to set new challenges and push the boundaries of our comfort zones. I began thinking about this and our clients when I read an article by renowned businessperson and innovative philanthropist Brett Wilson. I have quoted Brett many times in my presentations, relating his thought that, when he was at First Energy, he claimed, “We’ve used charity as our marketing budget since day one.” He added, “People would say ‘no, giving is supposed to be altruistic.’ But I have said bullshit from the start. There’s nothing wrong with the scratched back approach to giving.” In my mind, that is sponsorship. Everyone gets some business development out of it. It is a business transaction.

Then I read an article by Brett in Progress magazine entitled “Tough Love.” It was about philanthropy, but it got me thinking about pushing the envelope around setting bars in sponsorship. The premise of the article is how a hospital that is near and dear to Brett’s heart asked him to support its purchase of some new equipment. The cost Brett was asked to cover was $600,000. He replied that the hospital needed to raise $300,000 and he would match it. The hospital had never raised more than $100,000 in a single campaign, but it took on the challenge and told Mr. Wilson it would have the $300,000 raised in 12 months. Brett said, “The deal stands for a three-month period.” The hospital needed to raise that money in three months or the deal was off! They thought this was not possible, but took their expertise, passion, and community spirit and went to work. In three months, they raised $500,000. Brett matched it. That was one million dollars! Wow, what raising the bar can do for a project!

I look around at our clients and the often self-defeating attitude that so many have before they even start. When we worked for the host society for the Canada Games in Regina, we set the bar high. We told them that to achieve their goals they needed three sponsors at $750,000 or more, five between $500,000 and $750,000, and seven between $250,000 and $500,000. They nearly fired us! They said it was impossible in their community and we were “big city folk from Calgary who did not understand smaller markets.” They used the example of when the first Regina Grey Cup was hosted a few years earlier. The largest single sponsorship was $150,000. We said that was too bad and that they left money on the table. The campaign was successful. They obtained five sponsors at over $750,000 and generated more than $9 million!

The Saskatchewan Roughriders used to raise $1.2 million per year in sponsorship. When we finished evaluating their program, the bar was reset at between $2.8 million and $3 million. They felt it was unreachable. Today in their existing crib, they generate over $3 million in annual sponsorship revenue.

The much smaller Association of Canadian Mountain Guides was generating under $15,000 annually. We reset the bar and today they earn three or more times that for their bottom line annually.

The City of Toronto used to sell a presenting sponsorship for its Live Green Toronto Festival for $50,000 a year for a one-year term with no one returning for a second year. Its success was securing Canadian Tire for $250,000 a year for three years. The bar had been elevated.

So, what do these all have in common? Sure, they all raised more money. Sure, they all set new bar levels. But the success for each of them was in the fact that they knew what they had to sell. They had real market valuations done on their assets. They had the knowledge, support, and tools to succeed. Just as Brett provided the hospital with the passion and fire to raise money beyond its expectations though philanthropic giving, these four examples illustrate that, when you have the correct tools and mentoring support, you can be successful in sponsorship marketing beyond your expectations. Each had an inventory of assets and knew the value of what they were selling. Each had the direction and coaching to be successful… and they were successful.

If you want to reset your bar and generate more sponsorship revenue in your organization, you need more than passion. You need the tools to be successful. You need to know what you have to sell and what it is worth in order to take it to market. That is how the Regina Canada Games were able to sell $750,000 packages, how the City of Toronto was to grow revenue fivefold from a single sponsor, how the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides tripled its annual revenue, and how the Saskatchewan Roughriders set a new bar for their old stadium and programs, and will do the same for their new crib opening in the next few years.

Know what you have to sell and what it is worth before you start selling-or you will continue to generate less than you are entitled to. 

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well. Please add your thoughts or comments below. Thank you for reading and your feedback. 


  1. Hi Brent, This article is inspiring and reminds me to challenge my assumptions. I definitely fall into the category of not knowing what we are worth and therefore not knowing how to market the sponsorship as well as I could. Is there a tool to help learn how to assess the value of what we have to sell? I am speaking mainly about sponsorship for the annual Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life rather than sponsorship of our building for example.
    Cheers, Laura

  2. Laura,
    Thanks for reading and for the post. I am glad it has re-inspired you. You had a great product (as you saw last fall at AFP Edmonton breakfast)and we just have to know that we offer value. If you go to our web site, on the White Paper section of the site there is over 100 documents to assist you in everything from proposal development to valuation of assets to building asset inventories. That should give you a ton of tool. All the best, Brent


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