Afterschool Funding Forum IV

Attracting business sponsors for Lights On Afterschool and beyond

This funding chat builds off the previous chat with Thomas Buckley of AT&T (see Funding Forum III) and responds to questions about attracting business sponsors for Lights On and beyond.

In previous years, a number of afterschool programs reported success in recruiting business sponsors of their program using Lights On Afterschool as the initial hook. Below are responses to the most frequently asked questions regarding recruiting business sponsors for Lights On Afterschool.

I don't have good business connections. How can I build them?

Try tapping into your social network to see what connections you already have that may not be on your radar. For example, possible business connections might exist through a third party such as members of your board, staff or parents. Contact these individuals to see if they would be willing to make an introduction. To increase your own business connections, take advantage of networking opportunities to connect with the business community by attending your town's Chamber of Commerce meetings or consider becoming a member of business groups like the Kiwanis, Rotary or other such groups.

2. Which businesses should I concentrate on reaching out to? Are there particular industries that are more sympathetic to afterschool causes?

While for-profits that are youth-related are usually more likely to consider sponsoring an event focused on youth, don't limit yourself. Companies are always looking for a direct connection to their consumers and the community. Lights On Afterschool provides that, and thus, is an ideal opportunity for any business, especially a local one, to interact with people from the communities they serve. We have found that the banking community and utilities (water and energy companies) have been especially receptive.

3. I've never done any fundraising before, how do you get started?

The primary reason that most businesses do not donate money is because they were not asked, so the first thing you need to do is to ASK! But before you approach a potential sponsor, create a plan to articulate what you need and why you need it. For example, will an additional grant allow your organization to serve more children or to provide more services? There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to successfully recruit a potential sponsor. For example, some sponsorships can be as simple as dropping by the local pizzeria that you frequent to ask for an in-kind donations of food or drink for your Lights On Event. Another sponsor might require you to create a formal proposal according to their organization's guidelines. You must do your homework and research each potential sponsor to customize the best fundraising approach.

4. What do you do when a sponsor turns you down?

Do not be discouraged by a "no" because sometimes "no" might mean "not now, but maybe later." There are many reasons why you might have gotten turned down by a potential sponsor, but you won't know until you ask. Use the opportunity to find out why you were turned down because that can help you refine your approach and lay the groundwork for a possible future "yes." Finally, remember that nine out of ten groups you approach may say "no" but it's that final "yes" that counts!

5. There are a lot of organizations competing for just a few business sponsors in our (rural) community. How can I compete?

Consider ways that your organization might team up with other groups in the community to collectively recruit sponsors for Lights On Afterschool. This is a great opportunity to build important community partnerships that can expand your organization's network. Additionally, these partnerships are attractive to sponsors because they can get maximum exposure through their contributions.

6. We already have a sponsor but we want them to increase the amount they that are giving to us. What is the best way to approach them to get the increase?

First, congratulations on maintaining a successful relationship with your sponsor! To grow that relationship, it is important to continually cultivate and recognize the sponsor's contribution. Before asking for an increase, thank the sponsor for their support and articulate how the sponsor's contribution has benefited your organization. Then, consider creating different sponsorship levels to give the sponsor greater benefits and recognition.

7. How can we get the parents involved in fundraising for our program?

Parents can be helpful allies to recruit sponsors and to explore creative opportunities to get in-kind donations. It is important to let them and other contacts in your organization know about your program's needs. Encourage parents to take advantage of their connections with the business community to help your organization's development plan. One organization asserts that the key to their success in securing resources for their Lights On Afterschool event is by capitalizing on the valuable contacts that their parents could tap into. For example, one parent who worked at a local Starbucks helped them get Starbucks to provide free coffee for their event.

8. Where can I get more information about business sponsorship of afterschool programs and especially sponsorship of Lights On Afterschool?

Check out the Funding and Sustainability section of our website. Under the heading, "Fundraising through Sponsorships," you'll find links to tip sheets for getting and keeping sponsors for Lights On and case studies for Lights On-related fundraising.

For more information about building better relationships with business, you may also want to check out the afterschool resources from Corporate Voices for Working Families at