Chapter fund-raising tips

Region 12 chapter leaders,

Here are some tips from Regions 4 & 5 on finding sponsors for a regional conference. They could also apply for major events where you’re trying to attract a broader audience.

To: Members of SPJ National board
From: Robyn Davis Sekula, fundraising chair, Regions 4&5 conference
Re: Funding for the Regions 4&5 conference
Date: April 12, 2011

The SPJ 4&5 Super Regional Conference is behind us, and we’re delighted to report that the conference had 230 attendees and netted a healthy profit of nearly $10,000, which will be split among three chapters (Cincinnati, Louisville and Bluegrass Pro). We thought it would be helpful to provide an outline of how we did it that could be used by other regions and also possibly be of help in planning the national conference.

Below you’ll find an outline of the steps we took, a listing of the sponsorship levels, a list of sponsors, a list of (nearly) everyone we asked and also a copy of the letter we used to ask for the funding. I hope all of this is helpful.

If you have questions about this, feel free to ask Region 4 Director James Pilcher, or Region 5 Director Liz Hansen. You can also contact me at or (502) 608-6125.

Here are the steps of how we did it:
1. We determined the cost for the conference at roughly $15,000.
2. We put someone in charge of securing sponsorship funding (me).
3. We created a list of who we wanted to ask for sponsorships. Those who had the closest relationships with the organization/principals within it made the ask. James Pilcher approached Scripps, Patti Newberry approached Miami University (her employer) and I did most of the rest of the asks.
4. We crafted a letter that outlined WHY the organization should sponsor the conference, emphasizing that it was a great marketing opportunity to pitch their products/services to professionals who were also consumers. We did not (of course) promise any sort of positive coverage as a result of the conference. The pitch has to be made in marketing way – not in a non-profit way. This is a marketing opportunity, not really a chance to do good. That approach seemed to resonate with our sponsors, and it allows those who are marketing-oriented to dip into marketing budgets to pay for it, rather than charitable budgets. Marketing budgets are usually more robust and there is less oversight of the funding. Charitable budgets (for larger companies anyway) are usually designated for specific causes, such as pet shelters, etc. Rarely will you find journalism as anyone’s charitable cause unless they are a journalism-related organization.
5. We created an outline of sponsorship funding levels, also adding in some sponsorship opportunities that fell outside of that but would meet a specific need. For example, we wanted an opening reception sponsor and an organization to buy the tote bags, both of which we secured.
6. We made asks. I contacted roughly 30 to 40 organizations/businesses/universities and asked them to sponsor us, and followed up as often as I could. In nearly every case, the pitch was made by e-mail, then followed up with a phone call. This method seemed to work, but if you want 10 or so sponsors, expect to contact somewhere around 40 organizations/people. Make the asks at least four months ahead of the conference. Also, consider hitting businesses/organizations before the end of a calendar year, as they may have leftover funding from the previous year they can spend.
7. For top-tier sponsors, we promised exclusivity. We promised Frost Brown Todd we would not take on any other law firms as sponsors. That’s part of the benefit of top-tier sponsorship, and something we didn’t offer at lower levels to encourage the sponsors to “level up.” That was really valuable to FBT.
8. I used Facebook and Twitter to advertise the fact that we were soliciting sponsors, and actually got one sponsor that way – Verizon. Their regional PR rep had rejected the idea, but a friend here in Louisville who works in PR and represents Verizon approached them again and got the funding.
9. We decided not to accept donations of less than $1,000. With the amount of work that has to be done to keep a sponsor happy, it’s not worth it. We discouraged organizations from giving us less than $1,000 unless they had a give-away item for us to put in the tote bags.
10. We offered the sponsors spots at the conference if they wished to attend. Some did, but some did not.
11. We are mailing our sponsors hand-written thank you notes as well as formal letters thanking them for attending and for their participation.

12. We ruled out anyone who was in the news in a negative way (for example, Duke Energy has huge ethics issues in Indiana, which is part of our region, so we skipped an ask there).

Our final sponsors were:

Title sponsors: Scripps and Frost Brown Todd (law firm)
Presenting sponsor: Toyota (they have a large manufacturing base in Erlanger, Ky., where the conference was held)
Corporate sponsors: Macy’s and Miami University of Ohio
Opening reception: Verizon and Maker’s Mark
Tote bag sponsor: Ivy Tech Community College

This raised a total of $16,800, plus $212.21 that Maker’s Mark will reimburse us for the “tasting” we had at the opening reception.

Here are new funding levels and what the funders would receive in exchange:

COST: $5,000
LARGEST logo on tote bags, top of tote bags (logo must be provided)
Announced from podium at start of each session as a sponsor
Opportunity for full-page ad in program (but must be submitted camera-ready)
Listed in program as sponsor

COST: $3,000
MEDIUM logo on tote bags, middle of bags (logo must be provided)
Announced from podium at start of two at-large sessions as a sponsor
Opportunity for half-page ad in program (but must be submitted camera-ready)
Listed in program as Presenting Sponsor

COST: $1,000
SMALLEST logo on tote bags, bottom of bags (logo must be provided)
Listed in program as Friend sponsor

COST: Provide tote bags for free
Can add their own logo onto the bag, will be thanked briefly in printed program

COST: $1800
EXPECTED: Heavy h’ordeuvres, open bar
LOCATION: Could be provided by sponsor if they have a nice location suitable for 200 people and wish to host. Seeking nice location in downtown Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky
BENEFITS: Opportunity to host journalists, short speech from podium, we thank them from podium and in program

Who we asked:
Scripps (James): successful
Frost Brown Todd: successful
Toyota: successful
Ivy Tech (Robyn): successful
Cision (Robyn): no
Kentucky Farm Bureau (Robyn): no
Frost Brown Todd (Robyn): successful
Gannett (James): no
Miami University (Robyn through Patti): successful
Google – Jake (Robyn): no
UC (Elissa): no
Bellarmine University (Robyn): no
PNC (Robyn): no
Humana (Robyn): no
Knight-Wallace Fellows: no
Asher and clients (Robyn’s client): no
Maker’s Mark (Robyn): successful
Guthrie Mays (Robyn): not the firm, but got Verizon this way
Cox (Robyn): no
Verizon (Robyn): successful
F+W Media (Robyn): no
The Eisen Agency (Robyn): no
Nielsen (Robyn): no
Macys (Robyn): successful
Cincy Tech (Robyn): no
Cincy Bell (Robyn): no
NKU (Robyn): no
Haile Foundation (robyn): no
Jewish Hospital (Robyn): no
AT&T (Robyn): no
Twitter (Robyn): no
UPS (Robyn): no
Stoll, Keenon, Ogden (Robyn): no
Western Southern (Robyn): No


October 25, 2010

Susan J. Porter
Vice President, Programs
Scripps Howard Foundation
P.O. Box 5380
Cincinnati, OH 45201-5380

Dear Sue,
In April 2011, journalists from seven states will gather in Northern Kentucky to hone their skills as part of the Society of Professional Journalists Regions 4 and 5 Conference. We anticipate attendance from several hundred writers, editors, bloggers, producers, photographers and broadcasters who will spend their time learning about the best techniques for improving their news gathering and distribution. They’ll hear from media thought leaders from around the Midwest who will help them continue their education and preparation for producing news in the 21st century.

For SPJ to provide this important educational opportunity, we are asking media companies and related foundations that serve our regions to sponsor the conference. We estimate expenses at about $15,000, which includes an opening reception on Friday night, a full day of sessions and Mark of Excellence awards lunch on Saturday and a Sunday half-day session on one in-depth reporting topic. We are discussing a partnership with the Radio Television Digital News Association that could increase our attendance and bring a more diverse audience.

Title sponsorship of the conference is set at $5,000. With three title sponsors, we can pay for the conference entirely and offer scholarships for more journalists to be able to attend, and allow some of the struggling Society of Professional Journalists chapters within our region to save their own funds for programs in their cities. Title sponsorship will entitle the Scripps Howard Foundation to be listed on all printed material as the Title Sponsor, and will include a thank you message from the podium of various events throughout the conference. Any other sponsors that give at the same level will be listed along with the Foundation; sponsorships of a lesser amount will be tiered accordingly.

As SPJ sees it, in times of staff cuts and new media, it’s critically important for journalists to take the time to improve their skills and refresh their energy for news gathering, and there’s no better place to do it than at an SPJ event. Your sponsorship will ensure that we can hold this conference to the highest standards, market the conference accordingly and draw in the largest crowd possible.

We welcome any questions you have about this opportunity, and we look forward to hearing from you.


James Pilcher
Business Reporter, The Cincinnati Enquirer
Region 4 Director, Society of Professional Journalists

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