Sponsorship of Municipal Forestry Programs & Events

PartyForThePlanet - Rock Climbing
Rock climbing at Surrey’s Party for the Planet, a daylong celebration made possible by cultivating sponsorships.

For three years, the Council has been administering Arbor Day grants that provide funding to communities who wanted to have their first-ever Arbor Day celebrations and begin to build their urban forestry programs. These grants have benefited 37 New York communities whose inaugural Arbor Day celebrations you can read about here on the blog.

What about those municipalities or non-profits that have established programs and want to kick things up a notch (or many notches)? Here, colleagues to the Northwest advise on how to make sponsorship of programs and events a reality. With its current population of 472,000, Surrey, BC would rank as the 37th largest city in the U.S. Their successes as a large city with sponsorship came via strategies that are translatable to smaller communities. First, have a look at how Surrey, BC put this into practice with their annual Party for the Planet, a day-long celebration for their equivalent of Arbor Day in the U.S. 

This article is written by Owen Croy, Manager of Parks and Mary Rukavina, Special Events Manager, City of Surrey, British Columbia. Photos by R. Chapman.  

Party Planet logoParty for the Planet

Five years ago, the City of Surrey, BC was determined to rev up its annual Earth Day/Arbor Day event and planned an extravaganza that would attract a larger and broader demographic than its traditional audience.

The event was put in the hands of Surrey’s Special Events Team, who brainstormed with technical staff from the various environmentally-related departments about messaging and opportunities for public engagement in environmental activities. A day-long event was developed that included children’s entertainers, a rock concert, nature play components, subsidized tree sales, and many displays associated with trees, the environment, and sustainability. The budget for the now-annual event, called Party for the Planet: Earth Day Celebrations has averaged $250,000 since inception, well beyond the City’s available funds for putting on the event.

Surrey’s Special Events Manager put together sponsorship packages and made pitches to many organizations in the year preceding the first event. Since that time, staff have nurtured the sponsors, who have developed a strong liking for the event and many of whom attend personally to enjoy the festivities.

activities for kids
Nature-based activities for kids at Party for the Planet

Since the inception of the event, annual sponsorships have been:

In-kind services and supplies                                                  $20,000

Media in-kind advertising (10 media outlets)                      $175,000

Cash sponsorship                                                                        $75,000

Building on a successful five-year annual sponsorship partnership of Party for the Planet by TD Bank, Surrey staff were invited by TD to apply for a grant for the construction of an environmentally-related project in Surrey’s inner-city area. Staff designed an all-ages nature play area at Forsyth Park, which is intended to be a regional destination facility for families and children. TD was impressed with the proposal and announced in February 2017 that a $500,000 grant will be provided to the City of Surrey to build the TD Nature Play Centre.

Unlike philanthropic giving, sponsorship is a business arrangement between two parties. By partnering with sponsors, your City or non-profit could receive funding or in-kind resources for the event from the sponsor, while the sponsor will receive positive public exposure. Both parties benefit from high attendance.

Party for the Planet concert R Chapman
A rock concert is a popular feature of Surrey’s Party for the Planet.

As a starting point, you will need to put together a sharp package for potential corporate sponsors and devote time arranging to make pitches to corporate decision-makers. In general, you should make fewer but more comprehensive pitches after doing your homework to understand as much as you can about the companies that you are targeting.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of a sponsorship campaign, you must identify key decision-making individuals in the corporations so as to be speaking to the right people. To secure the sponsorship, you must have all the facts about the upcoming event and should have graphic and written materials to leave with the sponsors. You can also show videos of past events in order to help to convince the prospective sponsor of the validity of your claims related to the numbers of people that would attend the events.

Target only those companies whose values appear to be consistent with the values of your City or non-profit. Some cities have sponsorship policies that state who the City will NOT do business with. For instance, companies who are known to have poor business practices may not be eligible to sponsor City events.

Some companies will pay more than they otherwise might for advertising because they are trying to transform their image. An example might be a petroleum company who sponsors municipal forestry and other environmental events in an effort to “green” their image.

music and dance at Party R Chapman
Music and dance are part of the celebration at Party for the Planet.

The savvy potential business sponsor want to know how many people will be touched, how they will be touched, and how the sponsor’s image can be positively managed in advance of the event, during the event, and after the event. For instance, they need to know how often their logo/name/image will be used in advance advertising, how many people will be exposed to the ads, and what demographics the media is focussed on. They also want to know how many people are expected at the event and the anticipated demographics of attendees (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, and where the attendees come from).

A guideline that we keep in mind is that business sponsors are not likely to enter into a cash agreement unless they foresee a return of $3.00 for each $1.00 of sponsorship contribution for every attendee, and most want a higher return than that. Of course, the sponsor’s name could touch far more people with all of the advance advertising, even if the people who hear the advertising do not turn out for the event.

In addition to approaching general potential corporate sponsors such as financial institutions, local industries, and retail operations, you should work diligently on partnerships with potential media sponsors (online publications, print press, radio, and even television) who would be able to market the event for the City or non-profit as an in-kind service.

sponsors thank you R Chapman
The more visible the recognition of sponsors, the better.

The media partners provide valuable exposure for your event, and in turn the media partners would have their names and logo attached to a City website, brochures, posters, and other marketing materials. During the event, the media sponsor could have their name and logo attached to various aspects of the event, such as scrim on stages and fences or logos on the shirt-sleeves of the workers and volunteers. Key media sponsors can also get exclusives, such as inside stories, or opportunities to broadcast live from a key area of the special event site.

Once sponsors are signed to agreements, it is important to cultivate and nurture the relationship in order to maximize the potential for future sponsorship of City events. Knowledge of the sponsor’s staff, a keen understanding of their business, and a personal touch are all very important in preserving and growing the relationship with the sponsor. You should try to find ways to make the sponsor feel specially treated; this could involve allowing a sponsor to speak to those attending the event from a stage, podium or lectern, or to rub shoulders with invited dignitaries such as the mayor or other elected officials.

After the event, you should send out press announcements that might include a quote from a key presenting sponsor. After the event, the sponsors could also be invited to a thank-you reception party or some other similar gathering.

From time to time, former sponsors will change their business processes and marketing strategies and will no longer sponsor municipal forestry events. However, if the events have been successful, other business opportunities can be cultivated in order to secure new sponsorships.


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