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Making Sponsorship Work at Community Events & User Groups (My Wish List)

This topic came up during the speaker reception at the South Florida Code Camp and while I've posted here and there, it's probably worth writing down some thoughts about what events like Code Camp and SQLSaturday can do to make being a sponsor more attractive.

  • Treat me like a customer that is just as important as your attendees, your speakers, or your site host!
  • Give me plenty of advance notice. I need to budget for it and fit it into my schedule. Ideally talk to me 4-6 months prior to the event, at a minimum 3 months prior.
  • Give me some basic options, and be prepared to bargain some. Impress me by putting together a nice sponsor package that shows you have a plan and that you take sponsors seriously. I know you need hard dollars, not software valued at x dollars, but sometimes there is room to compromise - be open to the conversation. If it's a new event or the first time my company will be a sponsor, be prepared to spend some time with me at lunch or dinner. That's right, you've got to convince me that it's a good venue for me, that the cost vs return is likely to work out, and most importantly, convince me that you can make the event happen.
  • Accept checks and credit cards. It's your event, I don't have time to buy soda, cookies, etc in lieu of you collecting cash.
  • Guarantee that if the event cancels, I get a full refund
  • Give me a deadline and address for sending you collateral to be placed in event bags. It's critical that the items be placed in the bags, just laying out on the table greatly reduces the number of people that will take the time to look at it. By placing in the bag that will look through it while waiting on a session to start.
  • On the day of the event have someone at registration to specifically help sponsors. Tables should be set up and labeled in advance, and just having someone help carry all the stuff to the table is a great help. Have a hand truck or other cart available for sponsors to use.
  • Set up sponsor tables in a way that insures traffic flow. One method is to locate them immediately following registration, the other is to locate them immediately after the food. Either way, set things up so that people naturally flow directly by the sponsor tables. Also, it's fair that the biggest (paying the most) sponsors get the best locations.
  • Give attendees a name tag! Sponsors need to talk to attendees and making the name exchange easier makes it easier to start the conversation. It's also a good idea from just a pure networking perspective.
  • Make it easy for attendees to share their contact information with us. One way is to pre-print a set of 10 or so 'business cards' for each attendee and include in the bag, another is to barcode the info on their badge using PDF417 or similar format. The latter does require sponsors to acquire a more expensive barcode reader but it is worth while. The sad alternative is forcing attendees to write down their contact info over and over again, and it's common to lose 20% of those due to illegibility, plus it just annoys the attendee.
  • Make my logo very visible on your web site, proportional to my investment of course
  • Provide attendees with some type of printed event guide/schedule that also features sponsor logos
  • Ask if I'll be raffling or giving away an item that will probably be of interest to most attendees, then highlight that in pre-event email, then again at the key note - remember, these freebies help drive people to your event.
  • Provide access to internet and electricity, or let me know it will not be available.
  • Consider doing an event polo or tshirt for attendees and put sponsor logos on it as well. Polo's are the preferred choice, but realistically tshirts are the most cost effective for large crowds.
  • Sponsors attend events to either build their contact lists or to directly demo their products/services, so look for ways to help them achieve their goal. For example, offering a sponsor track or special lunch time sponsor sessions.
  • Try to provide someone to help with break down and clean up near the end of the day

I know that sounds like a lot. What do you get in return?

  • Cash. Most free events have very real hidden costs, ranging from lunch and tshirts to signage and coffee cups. If you can do without cash, you don't need sponsors, right? (Note: Most attendees actually enjoy access to sponsors and find it adds value to the event)
  • I'll be spreading the word about your event to everyone I know, to increase the attendance and my ROI, and to highlight involvement in the community - a good thing for any business to do
  • If you do a good job managing the event and your relationship with me, I'll be there as a reference and will most likely be an easy sell the next year

Put as much effort into your sponsors as you do the attendees, speakers, volunteers, and site host and things will go well.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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