So You Want to Plan an All-Female Hackathon? Article 3: Sponsorship

By Fiona Whittington and Sreeya Sai

Raising money for a hackathon is a daunting task. It requires marketing and negotiation skills that aren’t taught in school. After many failed sales calls, SheHacks was able to fundraise over 100k from 43 companies.

This past weekend I sat down with Sreeya Sai, Director of Partnerships at SheHacks to put together tips on how we went from negative 5k to 100k in 3 months.

1. Identify Your Target Fundraising Goal

To began fundraising, you must first identify how much money you need to raise. Start by creating a budget based on the number of participants you expect to attend. At SheHacks we budgeted about $130 per person based on 1,000 expected participants. We used this article written by a HackMIT organizer to predict the cost of food and other event necessities.

2. Create a Sponsorship Package

A sponsorship package should contain information about the hackathon like the date, venue, and mission. It should also incorporate a page with different levels of sponsorship. Below is a picture of our sponsorship packet.

On the first page we recommend giving stats that highlight your hackathon’s achievements thus far. If this is your first year hosting the event, we also recommend highlighting a unique aspect of your event.

On the second page, we recommend having 4 tiers that outline items offered in each tier or “sponsorship package”. It should be clear what companies get with each tier. Be flexible with your tiers, for sponsors who want custom packages.

While creating a sponsorship package, keep in mind that companies have two primary motivations for sponsoring hackathon: building their brand and recruiting talented students.

For more examples of sponsorship packages, visit: https://github.com/MLH/mlh-hackathon-organizer-guide/tree/master/Organizer-Resources/Previous-Sponsorship-Decks

3. Creating a Contact List

The most effective ways Sreeya got sponsor’s contact emails were at career fairs, hackathons, and friends. She also reached out to recruiters on LinkedIn and her school’s database to find emails.

In my experience, I found networking to be a powerful tool for connecting with potential sponsors. At events I wrote, “Ask me About SheHacks Boston!” on my name tag, which promoted sponsors to approach me rather than vice versa (tip credit: Lucas Watson).

We both agreed that campus recruiters were the best people to reach out to about sponsorship. If you can’t get a recruiters email, email the company. Hopefully, someone will direct you to the right person to talk to about sponsoring your event.

4. The Art of Cold Emailing

In your initial email to company representatives, keep it short and sweet. Only include the mission of your hackathon, and critical information about the event like the location, venue, and date.

Conclude the email by requesting a phone call to discuss their involvement in your event. Make sure not to attach the sponsorship package in the initial email, for it may scare off potential sponsors.

5. The Follow Up Call

If you were lucky enough to get a response from your cold email, start the meeting by asking why they were interested in sponsoring your event.

By identifying the individuals interests, it will allow you to adjust your sales pitch to make it more appealing to them. After the call is over, send them the sponsorship package and be sure to follow up.

6. After you Get the Sponsorship

Begin by congratulating yourself. Out of those 200 cold emails you sent, one company believed in you and your event.

After your done celebrating, shake the confetti out of your hair and follow up with information about payment methods and an invoice. There are free templates online that you can use to generate an invoice.

In regards to collecting payment, we recommend implementing systems that will allow you to track and collect payments. Halfway through fundraising for SheHacks, we switched to using Eventbrite as ways to collect payments. On Eventbrite, we created tickets that corresponded to our tiers. We also used discount codes for companies that purchased a custom package.

If your hackathon is operating as a student club, inquire about getting a W-3 form from your university. The W-3 will allow companies to get a tax deduction for their donations.

We recommend that 1–2 weeks before the event to send sponsors a guide with specific information about the event. For example, we included parking information, a map, and emergency contact numbers

There are a lot more concrete tips and tricks both Sreeya and I have for how to plan a hackathon. So, if you want more articles like this, be sure to leave a comment. Until then, Sreeya and I will continue to lust for roasted sweet potato sandwiches from Flour Bakery.

A marketer with a passion for startups, technology, and education.