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    by Gail S. Bower
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Top 10 Skills and Characteristics of Successful Sponsorship Sellers

By Gail S. Bower

If you lead an organization as its executive director or CEO or as a board member, you may be charged with hiring a sponsorship staff member and not know how to evaluate candidates.  Or, perhaps you’re considering a career transition from the for-profit to the nonprofit sector, and sponsorship is an area you’re considering.

Here's a list of the top 10 skills and characteristics:

Comfort selling the intangible.

Many people can sell, but not everyone is comfortable selling what doesn't exist. I remember having a conversation with a friend, Ted, who sold steel lockers and related equipment when I was selling sponsorship. He said, "I can't understand how you can sell something that you can't touch. I need quotas and numbers and tangibles." We laughed when I confessed that I felt the same way about what he had to sell. 

Later in my career, after I launched my consulting practice, I began teaching a day-long course on sponsorship at Temple University. In my first class was a gentleman hoping to change careers from insurance sales to he-didn't-know- what. He was earning a certificate in executive event leadership hoping upon hope that he'd find his way and generate some spark of an idea. He seemed a little lost. At the first break of the day, he ran up to me, shaking with excitement. "Gail, this is it. Sponsorship sales is what I'd be good at." Made sense to me. If you can successfully sell something as intangible as insurance, you have the foundation for selling other types of intangible offerings. 

Strong ideation sense.

A career counselor once described ideation as a sixth sense in which a person is comfortable putting two or more disparate ideas together knowing the results will have impact. That's sponsorship at its heart. Those without this skill may look at you like you have 2 heads. You don't.


Sponsorship requires you to actively create constantly. You're always looking to the future to see what your sponsors' marketing and sales plans are in the next year and how that aligns with your organization or event's plans. You have to solve problems on the go, but not just solve problems, create something fantastic out of problems.

Strong writing, speaking, and conversational skills.

You must be able help prospects and clients see what you're seeing. Without strong verbal skills, you're at a loss. Those people I mentioned who think you have 2 heads for coming up with some crazy idea? They'll never see what you see without the verbal bridges you have to build. You know who else needs your help? Mr. or Ms. ROI. The guy or gal who only thinks in numbers, outcomes, results, quantitative data (which is just about everybody these days), for whom, as one corporate sponsorship buyer said to me of her boss' boss, "if you can't measure it, it doesn't happen."


It takes chutzpah to sell anything. You have to believe in yourself and in what you're selling. Your confidence contributes to a trusting relationship. It allows you to guide and educate the seller so they can see what you see and benefit from the value you have to offer. No one wants to buy anything from a wet noodle.


In an age when many of us are trying to slow down the pace of life, fed up with the torrent of information coming at us, suffering the toll of constant stimulation, multi-tasking might seem like an odd characteristic for me to champion. However, it's important. You must juggle the various schedules, needs, and realities of both your sponsors and your organization or event. You must be the scout ahead of your sponsors, leading the way for them, seeing opportunities, managing the project on time, on budget, with ease and grace.


Having experience in marketing, understanding how the tools of both traditional and social media marketing vehicles function for desired results, knowing the core impetus behind marketing leaders will help you empathize with your sponsors and prospects. You can stick your feet in their shoes and develop ideas and programs that will achieve marketing results that you understand.

Carpe diem!

Remember this bit of Latin? "Sieze the day." For sponsorship sellers we might change the ages-old phrase to: "Carpe oportunitas!" Sieze opportunities. You have to be quick on your feet. You have to understand the medium of sponsorship so well that when you see or hear an opportunity to enhance your sponsors' program, to engage your prospect, to make their eyes light up, you act. 

Interest in the business world.

You have to be curious about the marketplace. Follow trends. Seek trigger events. Know when a change in a company's situation might be an opportune time to partner with them to further their — and your organization's — goals. If you don't read the business press regularly, you are severely handicapped in your discussions.


The best sellers are enthusiastic people in general. I'm not talking Pollyanna happy. You're human; sure, sometimes you have a bad day. I am talking about genuine passion in the organization, cause, event, festival, team, performance, or whatever it is that you represent. Passion can be like a wave that carries a surfer. Your connection and enthusiasm about who or what you represent carries you through otherwise uncomfortable, challenging, and awkward moments. Your passion has the strength to convert these conversations into the kind of conversation you might have with a 4- or 5-year-old, for whom everything is a delight. 

This list is by no means comprehensive, but if your candidate — or you, if you’re searching — has these 10, pull that resume from the pile. 


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