Forget the Bake Sale, Get a Sponsor!

by Lauren Brandeberry

Student Advisor
Chi Gamma Chapter
University of Central Oklahoma
Edmond, OK

Want to travel to the international convention? Want to undertake a major service project? Hoping to take your whole chapter to Mark Twain’s house this summer? We all know the one thing these goals have in common--they all cost money! When it comes to raising money, Sigma Tau Deltans are old hats. Chapters around the country are busy holding bake sales, book sales, and t-shirt sales. They participate in the Better World Books drive, they sell personalized poems at Valentine’s Day, and they scrimp and save their pennies to raise enough money to do the things we all wish our chapters could afford to do. While all of these activities are wonderful ways to raise funds, there is another avenue that some chapters have overlooked.

Some of Sigma Tau Delta’s most successful chapters get some or even all of their major undertakings paid for by their schools or other sponsoring institutions. I’m always envious when I hear about chapters that don’t have to worry about raising money for travel to convention because their schools just pick up the bill. But even if your travel office isn’t exactly beating down your door to cut you a check, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some or even all of your travel costs, service projects, and other big expenses covered by generous sponsors.

The first rule of finding sponsorships is not to get discouraged. Of course you are going to have to beat down a lot of doors, and you’re going to hear a lot of “No.” But even in these tough economic times, there is money to be found, if you know where to look and who to ask.

Second, don’t lose heart if no one funding source will pay for everything. My chapter manages to get our convention travel completely covered, including a per diem for food, each and every year, even when we have a dozen or more students who want to come. But we don’t get it all from one place. We get $50 here, $100 there, knocking on every door we can think of until we have collected enough small contributions to cover our costs.

So how do we do it? First, you need to raise your public profile at your school and in your community. Compose regular reports to your department chair, your dean, your president, your campus newspaper, your local newspaper, even local high schools (especially if they have an NEHS chapter). Tell them all about the incredible things your chapter has been up to, the wonderful opportunities Sigma Tau Delta provides, and anything else you have done to make your school proud. Start doing this now, before you need money, and do it every time you have something to brag about.

Next, compose a letter to any potential donors. Explain what you want the money for and why the undertaking is worthwhile. If you are trying to raise travel funds, explain what a great opportunity our international convention is. Explain that it’s more than just an academic conference, that it’s a chance for you to hear major authors speak and to interact with them in question and answer sessions, a chance to attend incredible workshops and panels, a chance to vote in our society elections or even run for office, and a chance to network with hundreds of undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and professionals from around the world, not to mention the hundreds of wonderful papers and panels on a huge range of topics. Make it clear what you hope to get out of convention and how you plan to represent your school. Be direct, but not pushy, and make it clear that, though your total costs may be high, every little bit helps. Sometimes it’s good to ask for specific items and amounts, like the registration fee for each student or the cost of renting a van, instead of just an open-ended appeal for money. Always outline the personal contributions of members and the fund-raising efforts of the chapter, to prove that your members are committed to this project or event.

Then, send this letter to anyone and everyone you can think of. Send it to your department chair, your college dean, your university president, your travel office, your student senate, any group within your school that might have funds to share. Every year we get $100 per student from our Alumni Relations Department in exchange for a report about our convention activities that goes out in the Alumni newsletter. Talk to the administrative assistants in your department or college; they are a wealth of information about who has funds available and how best to approach them. Be polite, but don’t be shy. You are asking for money for a worthy cause, and even people who can’t or won’t contribute will generally be encouraging and supportive.

Once you have exhausted your school funding options, consider looking outside the school. Contact local businesses, big and small. Contact churches, community groups, and other organizations that your members belong to. If you’re raising money for a service project, contact the local media and ask if they will do a story on what you want to do and how much money you still need to raise. Be sure to do this well in advance, as some organizations may need up to a month to process your request. Make it clear that while you would prefer donations of cash, you are happy to take anything you can get. Sometimes stores will give you products that you can sell or raffle off, or supplies for a project. Again, every little bit helps. Remind donors that their donations are tax deductible.

Finally, make sure to thank each and every person or organization that donated, and everyone who declined to donate this time around but who might be willing to donate next time. Thank them immediately with a note, and then after the project is completed or you have returned from your trip, write up a report explaining what you did, what you got out of it, and how their contribution helped. If possible, include personal statements from each member who benefited from the money. Pictures are good, too. If you won any awards or other recognition, make sure to brag a little. You earned it, and it will make your sponsors feel even better about parting with their cash. Make sure to keep a list of donors and their contact information, so that you know who to approach next year.

If you need help writing letters to donors or would like some facts about Sigma Tau Delta and our annual international convention, feel free to contact me or any of the Student Leadership team. Happy hunting!