What's in it for me?

Harnessing support from local businesses can be easier than you think

Harnessing support from local businesses can be easier than you think – it’s all about selling the idea in a way that makes good business sense, as Howard Rose explains

As a business, the first thing we often think (whether we admit it or not) when asked to make a donation, offer sponsorship or give up time or services, is ‘what’s in it for me?’.

We might like the sound of the project or want to ‘give back’, but very few of us are completely selfless. In many instances it is simply a case of thinking more laterally and looking at what you’re already spending on sponsorship, PR, advertising and marketing.

Do you get value for money and are you getting the right number of hits or visits? Does it send the right message and create the feel-good factor that you’re seeking?

More importantly, what are your competitors doing? If you are both just doing the same thing, how can you be different? Are they doing more? Are you lagging behind?

Sponsors for specific projects

Our school had for many years been entering the F1 in Schools Challenge, but without much success. A few years ago, I went along to see it for myself and was sad to see the children feeling like the poor relations.

While our pupils looked very smart in their school uniform, it wasn’t in keeping with a motorsport pit crew. Some of the other schools’ children had T-shirts and caps branded with a team name and had printed posters on their displays. They looked – and clearly felt – the part. As an avid Formula 1 fan, my mind started whirring!

The following year, I started to get creative! The initiative is backed by the official F1 organisation and, as such, offered huge potential for any sponsors that came on board.

Firstly, I made a list of what we needed: T-shirts, jumpsuits, caps, banners. I really wanted the team to make a statement if we were going to compete and stand a chance.

I then worked out that we would need around £400-500. I spoke to the children to explain my plans and how sponsorship could help them. They then put together a letter to be sent to potential sponsors.

Breaking down the cost would give people a choice, from £150 to be the main sponsor of the team to £50 to have a smaller logo on the banners and the car. For this, sponsors would also go into the school newsletter and feature in press releases, as well as appearing on my LinkedIn page.

To test the water, I put together an email detailing the F1 in Schools Challenge, with links and a copy of the children’s sponsorship letter, spelling out what I wanted to achieve, the cost per team and what a sponsor would receive in return.

I started by targeting some of our existing sponsors, then contacted local companies that had a connection to cars – car showrooms, garages, insurance companies, etc. I also approached Solihull College as I had a connection there following a tour with the Chamber of Commerce.

The result was amazing! I had assumed I may get a few responses and would need to follow up in person or through networking, but I had people queuing up – it would seem that everyone wanted to sponsor a team at £150!

Involve your sponsors

You should always be prepared to adapt – it may be that you have to either scale down your plans or widen your net and involve more people. This was a dream scenario so it was time to think bigger!

I decided to have two main sponsors, thus doubling potential revenue, and then have four secondary sponsors that could provide services or support.

The offers kept coming in and we started to look and feel more like a real F1 team. A printer agreed to print all of our banners free of charge; a blogger offered to blog for us and live-tweet on the day.

Jaguar Land Rover released one of its employees, Ian Dunning, to help guide the teams, and Solihull College gave us a tour of their engineering centre’s aeronautical section, which included getting on an RAF plane and a flight simulator. Oh, and they also allowed us to test the cars in a wind tunnel – now how many eight-year-olds can say they’ve done that? If that wasn’t enough, they also offered to print some SD wheels featuring our logos.

The day of the first race came around quickly – I had been keeping sponsors updated as to the progress and invited them along on the day.

The effect of the input from sponsors was amazing and elevated the teams to new heights, with one winning the Regional Final and progressing to the National Final. Some of the sponsors were even there on the day to support their team and see first-hand what their money had helped achieve.

The whole project was a huge success, the learning and enjoyment the children experienced will stay with them forever and, as an aside, the school made over £1,000 profit.

Just to round the story off, another school sponsor came forward, having seen the blog, tweets and publicity, to say he had the keys for Silverstone! So, as a treat for the winners we had a money-can’t-buy tour of the home of British racing with access to all areas – they even met the Ferrari team!

Tip: If you do manage to set up projects like this, organise school trips to visit your sponsors and have the children and teachers complete feedback forms. By recording which parts were most relevant, you can make improvements and can show a sponsor how valuable their input is and what impact it has had. Feedback can also be used to show parents how your school goes the extra mile, and to demonstrate to Ofsted how you engage with the wider community.

Call to action

I know that it may not be possible for every school to replicate this experience but by asking the question of potential sponsors, using this as an example of what can been achieved, getting involved with your local college or university you just never know… you might even eclipse this!

I am now in my third year running this project and both the children and sponsors cannot wait for it to come around. It has grown and grown, the children’s confidence has flourished and this year they won £350 out of a potential £500, by presenting their F1 team as a business to some potential investors.

Think of a project you want to run. Then make a list of all the resources and money you need and start to look at who could help, including parents, sponsors, local businesses, a local college or university.

Use the following acronyms to help steer your proposal:

TED: Tell them, Explain to them, Describe your project.

FAB: Feature – it is a D&T project, so link the project to the company’s work. Advantage – it’s linked to F1 so is instantly recognisable. Benefit – you can be involved in an official F1 team for just £150!

Remember, you will know all about your project, so the hard part is getting your potential sponsor to understand it, and that includes the potential impact on children and how it fits with the curriculum. The better you can explain this, the more success you will have.

  • Howard Rose is Director of Funding and Publicity at Balsall Common Primary School. He secures grants, sponsorship and support from businesses to enhance teaching and learning. 

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