5 Tips for Boosting Corporate Sponsorship

Special Olympics Chicago engaged eight new corporate sponsors for its annual Polar Plunge. Here's a look at how planners pulled it off.

The Polar Plunge challenges guests to take a dip in Lake Michigan during the Chicago winter.
The Polar Plunge challenges guests to take a dip in Lake Michigan during the Chicago winter.
Photo: Chicago PhotoPress

Special Olympics Chicago hosted its Polar Plunge on March 6. The fund-raiser invites individuals and teams to plunge into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan to benefit the charity, and this year's event drew in a record-breaking $1.5 million. The event saw 35 percent more participation from "plungers" this year, with 6,000 participants including Lady Gaga and the Today show's Al Roker. Additionally, the event had eight new corporate sponsors: Peoples Gas, Yelp, Lyft, Sprint, Sports Authority, Redbox, Chicago Athletic Clubs, and Body Gears Physical Therapy.

"The Chicago Polar Plunge has become an iconic Chicago event with remarkable growth over the last two years, so we certainly did make sponsorship more of a priority than ever before," says Katie Hardiman, senior development manager for Special Olympics Chicago. Here are Hardiman's tips for attracting corporate sponsors.

1. Promote group participation.
"We were able to welcome eight new Chicago Polar Plunge sponsors, which more than quadrupled monetary support via sponsorship," Hardiman says. "Five of those new sponsors also had large employee teams that took the plunge, raising thousands of dollars."

2. Maximize sponsors' involvement in the cause.
Two Polar Plunge sponsors—Peoples Gas and Chicago Athletic Clubs—are also involved in other Special Olympics Chicago initiatives that will take place over the course of the year. "This is important, as it helps us create even more deeply rooted and mutually beneficial friendships" with corporate sponsors, Hardiman says.

3. Know your event's selling points.
When approaching sponsors, Hardiman and her team were careful to highlight the ways in which a partnership would be mutually beneficial. "We simply communicated that sponsoring Chicago Polar Plunge ticks all the boxes," Hardiman says. "It's a unique opportunity to connect with the local community, to build brand awareness, improve employee engagement and, of course, transform the lives of our 6,000 athletes."

4. Be discriminate.
The Polar Plunge team was careful to target sponsors that could truly benefit from a partnership. "Our team is very committed to shaping each sponsorship to suit each partner’s needs, and we pride ourselves on being adaptable and creative," Hardiman says. "That said, we were intent on ensuring that our sponsors were a good fit for the event. We wanted them to get as much out of the experience as possible, in terms of meaningful interaction with their target audience."

5. Communicate R.O.I.
Following the event, the Polar Plunge team compiles sponsorship fulfillment reports for each sponsor, with analytical details and anecdotes. "With long-term relationships in mind, we are completely transparent and share details regarding the exposure each sponsor received pre-event and onsite, as well as traditional and social media coverage for the overall event," Hardiman says.

More in Experiential, Activations & Sponsorships