Sustaining a dance company means always looking for new sources of funding. By partnering with a corporate sponsor, you can ensure your company’s financial stability. Read on to learn how to find one for your dance troupe.

Step 1: Understand the relationship. For your dance company, a sponsorship means long-term funding, but what does it mean for the sponsoring corporation? Getting a handle on what sponsors want, according to Alice Zimet, founder of New York City–based Arts + Business Partnerships, is the first step toward securing such relationships. For businesses, “it’s all about creating an image,” Zimet explains. They want to promote their corporate names and associate themselves with activities and organizations that their customers find appealing. Such an association means that your image becomes a means for the sponsor to enhance its bottom line.

Unlike philanthropy, sponsorship is more than an appreciation of your art. It is about who comes to see you and sharing your dance company’s image. Pinning down a sponsor whose marketing strategy would benefit from an association with your dance troupe—and with whom you want to be affiliated—requires research on your part, says Zimet. Consider retailers, banks and other companies with new branches in your community as prime candidates, because they may be eager to connect with new customers.

Step 2: Identify your audience. It can be difficult to figure out what image a corporation is promoting, says Carlota Santana, founder of Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, a dance troupe in NYC. She suggests taking note of companies who are trying to reach out to your particular community. Using this approach, FVCS was able to find a generous sponsor in Target Corporation. Santana had noticed that Target was trying to broaden its appeal to the Hispanic market, by running commercials in both English and Spanish. An affiliation with the company’s image and audience dovetailed nicely with this marketing strategy.

To follow in Santana’s footsteps, develop an awareness of marketing trends, but more importantly, find out who is in your audience. When Santana approached Target, she was able to point to the research she had conducted about her Spanish-speaking audience. Sponsors are looking to be introduced to a specific group of people in a positive light, and if those individuals can be regularly found at your performances then the partnership might be a perfect match. To find out who is in your audience, compile a mailing list and distribute questionnaires, by mail or in person during intermission. Age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, income and education levels are some of the facts that you should acquire from anonymous surveys.

Step 3: Know yourself. To attract sponsors who may not be dance savvy, you will need to pinpoint what attracts audiences to your company’s performances. You should be able to easily identify two or three qualities that set your troupe apart from the rest. It could be your innovative approach to combining spoken word with dance, or your choreographers’ penchant for addressing women’s rights in their works.

In Motion Dance Centers of Miami markets itself as a unique product. “We are a faith-based organization,” says Daryl Edwards, who owns and operates the studio with his wife Renee Rich. IMDC’s sponsor Radio Disney was attracted to the family-friendly appeal of its production and now provides valuable advertising and promotional help, in lieu of cash. This exposure, as well as the opportunity for IMDC dancers to participate in local Disney events, has helped to open up new funding avenues and increased dance class enrollment threefold.

Step 4: Engage the community. As the artistic director of a dance company, it’s easy to get lost in your many tasks, but Lisa Feingold, manager of corporate relations for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which recently secured JPMorgan Chase & Co’s sponsorship for its August 2005 engagement at the Joyce Theater in NYC, emphasizes the need to get out of the studio and meet people, rather than relying on written requests for sponsorship. Located in a city that is home to many corporate headquarters, HSDC is afforded many opportunities. Yet its approach to attracting corporate sponsorship still holds true for any company, regardless of location or size.

“You’ve got to put a face on your effort,” she explains. Face-to-face meetings have proven essential to HSDC’s success in long-term partnerships. You can get that face time by attending other community events, such as plays or flower shows, and by creating activities in your own studio, such as an open house or an invitation-only performance. “This offers great networking opportunities,” says Martin Grochala, director of development for HSDC, which also secured a sponsorship from LaSalle Bank for the Fall 2005 season. “You run into people you wouldn’t normally meet. And it provides opportunities for gaining access to and [getting] appointments with potential sponsors.”

Step 5: Mobilize your board of directors. “It begins with the board of directors,” says Feingold. “They are your best connection to potential corporate sponsors.” Hopefully, you have selected your board of directors in part based on their affiliations with the types of organizations that make good sponsors and their access to potential decision makers. Help board members see that they are valuable partners in a dance company’s development efforts and they will make seeking sponsorship a top priority, advises Feingold.

Step 6: Be at the ready. It is essential to be prepared to take advantage of any interest expressed in your company and its programs. Feingold suggests having a press kit ready to go with a list of your board members and affiliations, since potential sponsors will want to see whose attention you’ve already attracted.

The kit doesn’t need to be elaborate. Feingold recommends including, in a two-pocket folder, a brief company history, reviews or quotes, dancers’ photos and bios and anything else that casts your company in a flattering light. The key is having something up-to-date on hand at all times to capitalize on interest in your work.

But brevity is of the essence. Zimet warns that material should be kept to two pages. “If they are interested, they will ask for more,” she says. Corporations also appreciate direct proposals. “Always let them know what you are asking for upfront,” adds Feingold. And, of course, what you can offer in return.

Step 7: Be creative. Exactly what you propose depends on your creativity. HSDC provides sponsors association with a well-regarded, highly visible and innovative dance company and the media coverage that HSDC has earned. Throughout the year, it holds special events designed to strengthen sponsor relationships: There is recognition at events, and in programs. The company also provides tickets that sponsors can use to entertain their clients and reward employees.

To show its gratitude, HSDC recently treated sponsors to a cocktail hour and light supper (which was underwritten by another sponsor), followed by the final dress rehearsal of a new performance series before its public debut. The rehearsal encouraged guests to network and offered access to the choreographers, who provided background stories of each dance segment through Q&A sessions.

Patricia Martin, president and founder of LitLamp Communications Group in Chicago, a frequent speaker on attracting sponsorship and author of Made Possible By: Succeeding with Sponsorship, suggests a hypothetical scenario in which a dance company could offer special performances of romantic pas de deux during the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day and partner with a national flower company, which could underwrite a ticket/flower discount package. Jewelry and candy companies—both eager to have direct access to audiences of couples celebrating Valentine’s Day—may also be interested in getting involved.

Martin also recalls a dance company that promoted its Nutcracker performances through a sponsorship with Macy’s. The company sent dancers in full Nutcracker regalia to a store during the holiday season. Shoppers were given the choice between being photographed with Santa, or with the dancers. “It is a promotion nearly any company of any size, in any town, could duplicate,” says Martin.

Consider these other compelling opportunities: Offer the local dry cleaner a mention in the program in exchange for free costume cleaning, ask a department store for window space to promote an upcoming performance or provide your dancers as models for a local fashion show.

Step 8: Play ball. Another way to meet potential sponsors is by partnering with local sports teams, says Martin. According to the IEG Sponsorship Report, 57 percent of all sponsorship money goes to sports, while only six percent goes to the arts. “By finding ways to partner with sports organizations in their area,” Martin suggests, “dance companies can put themselves in front of sponsors [and potential audience members and donors] who wouldn’t necessarily know they exist.” Offering a stretching workshop to the local football team is just one way your dance company can get involved.

When creating partnerships with the private sector, your only limit is your creativity. “Dance companies in particular have an advantage over other community organizations,” says Martin. “They offer potential sponsors a high-quality product that is ‘media-genic’—visually arresting.” That quality and media-draw make dance companies appealing to sponsors. But it is up to you to let them know you are out there and just how valuable you would be to them. DT

Gayle B. Ronan is a Chicago-based freelance writer of financial, investment, business management and tax-related articles. Her work has appeared in Bloomberg WealthManager, TICKER Magazine and on www.CNBC.com.

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