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How to attract non-aerospace sponsors

Post by Kerrie Dougherty of the Powerhouse Museum in Australia and a distinguished member of the WSWA Board of Directors:

The search for ‘non-traditional’ resources to support programmes is something that cultural institutions and other non-profit entities have had to learn a lot about in recent years, as government funding is reduced (or not increased to keep pace with inflation). Experience has shown that, given the right incentives, corporate sponsors from non-related areas can brought on board to support a variety of programmes (for example a car company supporting an exhibition on mediaeval arms and armour!). Many companies, particularly in the US, like to be seen as ‘good corporate citizens’ and may give support to programmes and events that can provide them with good PR opportunities. Companies keen to promote themselves with a ‘family’ image, are particularly good targets when seeking support for ‘youth’ events.

When approaching a ‘non-traditional’ company for funding, it is important to convince them that you are going to be able to give them some bang for their sponsorship buck, so it is advisable to have your ‘benefits’ package well thought out before you. What exposure and promotional opportunities can you offer your sponsor at your event? You need to be able to ‘sell’ your event to the potential sponsor, so they can see the advantage to their corporate image of supporting your event or programme. But one has to be careful to spell out the sponsorship relationship carefully: you don’t want the sponsor to dictate what can and can’t be done at the event or turn it into a tradeshow for themselves, just because they have given you funding!

Whether you approach companies for funding or ‘in-kind’ support, depends to some extent on the resources you need for your event. For example, if you want to have internet access terminals at your event, you might prefer to have a sponsor provide you with several PC’s, the software you need, complete installation of all the equipment and provision of the number of internet connections, rather than give you the cash which leaves you to source all the equipment yourself. Larger companies may prefer just to give cash sponsorship donations, smaller firms and local businesses are more likely to want to support you ‘in kind’ with products and services. Bear in mind also that there may be tax reasons (tax breaks or tax penalties) that will predispose a potential sponsor to supporting you in particular way: for example, it may be possible for a sponsor to claim a tax rebate, or a depreciation allowance or some other advantage, if they donate or loan equipment to an educational institution, community group or charity.

In this context, it is worth investigating the useful synergies you may be able to create in support of your event by linking with other groups in the community-especially those who may also be looking for a sponsor for some complementary purpose. For example: suppose you want to have a computer classroom available for your event, but there is no school in the area suitably equipped. By teaming with a school that wants to establish such a facility, it may be possible to develop a joint sponsorship package that results in the donation of the equipment the school needs to establish their computer classroom, in exchange for which the school permits you to make use of its classroom and other facilities free of charge for your event and provides other support (such as mailouts, administrative assistance etc) to the event. Of course, this takes time and advance-planning, but it can be done.

Local businesses can be good targets for support for locally focussed events. Generally they will prefer to provide ‘in kind’ support, and the value of this should not be overlooked. Take this example of a ‘space day’ at an underprivileged school in outer Sydney. The event had to be self funding, so assistance was sought from businesses in the local community. One store provided the gift bags which were given to each student attending (the bags were filled with free informational material provided by government agencies, space companies, etc); a supermarket provided the raw ingredients for the students to make their own freeze-dried ‘space food’, which was then sold to raise money for the event; a photography store provided the film, 110 cameras and photographic processing for the model rocket photography exhibition, with aerial photographs of the area taken from model rockets made by the students themselves, from supplies donated by the local hardware store! (Yes the motors had to be purchased, but that cost was covered by monies raised on the day). Prizes for fundraising raffles were also donated by local businesses; promotional posters and flyers were printed for free by a local printer.

This particular event, the ‘In Orbit’ Space Day, also raised funds by using all the standard school fundraising techniques such as novelty stalls, rides, food stalls and raffles-all operated by volunteer (or cost recovered) labour and generally space themed. Schools from around the district and the local community were invited and the event was so successful that it received considerable local media coverage, raised a modest amount of funds for the school to purchase laboratory equipment and was held again the following year, extended to a full two day event. For further details on this activity, contact Kerrie Dougherty on

For events at the local level, local community service groups such as the Lions Club, Rotary and Apex, can be approached for sponsorship in cash and kind. Never overlook the possibility that local media can be a source, not just of publicity, but also of cash sponsorship and giveaway merchandise that can be used as incentives for the young people attending the event. Local newspapers or printing firms can be approached to fund, or produce printed materials, in exchange for their logo appearing on them. A successful strategy used in conjunction with the 98 IAF Outreach program in Melbourne was to persuade a major city newspaper to print a space poster supplement in their Sunday edition, which was not only educational but also gave publicity to the outreach events occurring around the city at the time.

For events at the regional and national level it is often worthwhile investigating the availability of grants from government and philanthropic programmes aimed at encouraging science and technology awareness, education or even less obvious areas such as tourism, if the event can be presented as falling in some broad way within the mandate of these programmes.

Kerrie Dougherty, Curator, Space Technology, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

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