Getting Sponsorships

Photo by Jim Carpenter

Everything in this world comes with a cost—marching band included. Many ensembles look to local businesses to find their funding and discover that sponsorships can mean more than just getting a check.

Common knowledge states that “the best things in life are free,” but performers and directors in the marching arts world know that this phrase isn’t necessarily true. Somebody has to pay for trips to the game, new instruments and replacement uniforms, and educational funding doesn’t always cut it. More traditional forms of fundraising, like carwashes, bake sales or raffles, are not always enough to cover all the expenses a band might need. So how can a band program pick up the slack?

Corporate sponsorships are one of the most popular ways to get funding for band-related costs. From local shops to big business, the corporate sphere sees the potential in funding the marching arts. Some companies have money set aside for philanthropy, but others could help by trading goods and services. The more creative a band is with its sell, the more money it stands to gain. See what some bands suggest about funding your dreams.

Direct Exposure

Marching bands are meant to be seen, whether at a football game, a parade or a concert. Sponsors, in turn, are seen almost as much as the band. For its trip to the 2014 Rose Parade, the Westfield High School Marching Band from Chantilly, Va., decided to use the parade’s rules to its advantage. Each band is allowed to have a patch on the left sleeve of its uniforms, and Westfield gave this spot to its largest donor—Inova Health Systems, a medical network located in the Washington, D.C., area. Inova’s donation helped push the band’s total donations to more than $125,000.

“We were able to pay for all of our expenses and lower the trip’s cost for our students,” says Stephen Panoff, director of bands at Westfield High School. “Inova really helped us get to our final goal.”

Using publicity wisely can reap large rewards for both sponsors and bands. “One group, ErgoSonic Percussion, provided us with a lot of our equipment,” says Panoff. “Because we would be out at the Rose Parade using [the company’s drums], they basically got free advertising on TV.”

The Robert McQueen High School Band from Reno, Nev., received a lot of publicity when it was chosen to appear in the 2014 Rose Parade as well. The band director, Rick Moffit, noticed that this publicity helped in its search for sponsorships. “Because we had radio, TV and newspaper interviews regarding our trip, when word got out that we needed to get to Pasadena, we received donations that we normally wouldn’t receive,” he says.

Types of Sponsorships

Sponsorships can take many forms. Some companies may be able to give your band program a monetary donation, and others may be able to provide discounted goods and services. Westfield High School tried to accept any offer when funding its trip to the Rose Parade.

Frequently, bands will post a sponsorship form on their websites. These forms usually have information about the levels of exposure offered for various monetary amounts.

For example, at the base level, the company could be featured on the band’s website, a banner or in programs, but at a higher level the company might also receive free tickets to concerts and other band events.

The Westfield Band used a variation of this technique when preparing for the Rose Parade. Corporations could participate in its “specific item sponsorships” and pay for the cost of specific equipment needed by the band.

Items included a single new uniform or a new bass drum, with the price of these items ranging from $100 to $500. By parsing out its costs into smaller donations, the band was able to get the equipment it needed, and the sponsors could see exactly what their donations were buying.

Due to sequestration (automatic spending cuts) and the government shutdown, it was incredibly hard for Westfield to find corporations in the Washington, D.C., area willing to part with larger sums of money. Instead, several companies offered up their services, like dry-cleaning or moving, instead of giving the band a straight donation.

“[Sponsorships are] not just about writing a check,” Panoff says. “Maybe a dry-cleaning guy gets a spot on a marquee because he cleaned your uniforms. It will save you money in your budget. Be creative and open-minded. Don’t turn away any idea until you’re sure it can’t be a benefit.”

For example, Carmack Moving and Storage couldn’t afford to give the Westfield Band a monetary donation, so the company offered its moving services. For the price of fuel alone, Carmack moved the band’s equipment to California.

“We’re doing this for the kids,” said Rob Carmack, the company’s president, in a press release. “They have an opportunity to experience something exciting— the reward of what they’ve been working so hard to accomplish—so this is something I really wanted to help them out with.”

Give a Boost

Although travel opportunities seem to present a better climate for attaining sponsorships, many companies are willing to give annually.

However, seeking out these businesses can mean a lot of work for your organization. Enlisting the help of your band boosters can alleviate the pressure associated with such a large task.

The William Mason (Ohio) High School Marching Band is one of many bands looking to expand its current donations by attracting corporate sponsors. As its band program becomes larger and its opportunities for travel and competition expand, it needs more funding. Mason created a specific committee within its booster program dedicated to finding sponsors.

Bill Wilkinson, the corporate sponsorship chair for the Mason Band Boosters, has not found a sponsor yet, but he is hopeful that the group will find its perfect match. “The toughest challenge is to find the one or two companies that have the best alignment with us,” he says. “Some will have some money set aside for giving or philanthropy, and it’s about finding one in line with us in the way they want to give their money. They have to want to invest in the future of this program.”

The Westfield Band put in a lot of time to find its sponsors. “I can tell you that it takes a large amount of energy; we worked so hard,” Panoff says. “We went door to door to ask businesses, and students went in and gave presentations. If you don’t have a parent or student base willing to put in the work, you’re not going to make your goal.”

The Mason Band chooses to focus on the successes of its program rather than its specific goals. “If we keep it about the kids, we feel [our pitch is] more effective,” Wilkinson says. “Do we have financial goals? Yes. We are 100 percent willing to discuss the financial stuff with companies, but it’s not what we go in with.”

So how should parents approach potential companies? “My advice is to jump in with both feet and have a lot of passion when you talk to these corporations about your kids,” Wilkinson says. “You have to be organized and have a message. We’ve found if you have a mission for what you’re trying to solicit for—if you can be explicit about what you need—it really helps.”

Even if you have a strong boosters program, getting sponsors can be a lot of work. It might take several years before your methods show any true progress. However, if your program can remain diligent, your community and the companies within it will take notice.

The McQueen Band makes sure that in its “off” years—years in which it isn’t taking a large trip—it stays heavily involved throughout its city and gives thanks to those who have helped. When it came time to fund its Rose Parade trip, the local businesses stepped up to the plate.

“Make sure that you support the community … so when you do ask for money, people understand that you’re an organization that gives back,” Moffit says. “Lots of our sponsors saw that we were helping out other organizations or saw us in parades and then wanted to help us out.”

Sponsorships are all about teamwork. Ultimately, band programs that want sponsors need to create an environment where the companies feel as if they are playing active roles in the band’s successes. “We do many things to say thank you,” says Moffit. “We will provide framed pictures, thank-you cards, etc. We do many things to give back to the community and the businesses who have been so kind to our band.”

Successful sponsorship deals don’t happen overnight. It might take a whole season or several seasons to find your band’s perfect match, but when the right business comes along, the wait will have been well worth it. “I think it’s a wonderful way for businesses to get involved in the schools,” Panoff says. “There are lots of easy ways that a business can help. It doesn’t have to be just money.”

About the Author

Natalie Brdar is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is a senior majoring in English Literature at the University of Cincinnati (UC). She marched alto saxophone with the Olmsted Falls (Ohio) High School Bulldog Marching Band for four years and marched tenor saxophone during her three years with the UC Bearcat Bands.

Practice Perfect

Brass practice techniques from Chase Sanborn. From Halftime Magazine an print publication and online community about the marching arts.