We will address recruitment of sponsors and exhibitors together, since the process for both is pretty much the same.
One of the best ways to determine which sponsors and exhibitors to pursue is to look at the exhibitors from other similar events! When we worked on our first festival, we checked out many other festivals including other Veg Fests, Pride festivals, environmental festivals, etc. You can also brainstorm as a committee to think about local businesses and nonprofits you can reach out to.
For sponsors, you should start recruiting as soon as possible. Many potential sponsors have a fixed sponsorship budget each year, so it’s best to get in contact with them as soon as possible.
For most exhibitors, our experience suggests that there’s not much benefit to reaching out to them more than three months in advance. Most potential exhibitors do not set their schedules that far ahead. For our first festival, we started recruiting about seven months out but we received very few responses at that time. However, it’s useful to contact exhibitors that you are confident will be very excited about the festival as far in advance as possible so they can mark their calendars.
Sponsor and exhibitor recruitment is a sales process. You need to pitch the benefits of participating in your festival. For sponsors, the primary benefits are the sponsor benefits, which we discuss below. For exhibitors, the benefits depend on what type of business or organization they are.
For nonprofits, the benefit is having access to a self-selecting audience of people interested in animal issues. People interested in these issues are also likely to be interested in environmental and social justice issues. Nonprofits can use this as an opportunity to share information about their cause, collect contact info from interested people, solicit donations, and sell merchandise.
Most of the businesses you recruit will be offering products that appeal to the same audience. Obviously, vegan food, body care, and cosmetics vendors are a great set of potential exhibitors. Local co-ops and vegan-friendly groceries, clothing vendors, artists, and others may also be interested.
As we said before, recruitment is a sales process. We recommend creating a prospectus for exhibitors and sponsors. These should be one or two pages that outline the benefits of participating in the festival.
When it comes to projecting attendance, we strongly recommend that you underestimate. If you predict that 2,000 people will show up and only get 1,200, you may have some very angry exhibitors, even though 1,200 is a great first year! This is doubly true for food vendors, who could be left with a large amount of now unsaleable food! In general, always under-promise and over-deliver. Yes, attendees will complain if food runs out, but most of them will probably come back next year (just earlier).
For your first festival, you won’t have a track record of success or feedback from previous festivals to cite. However, if you’ve done any other sort of event, you can cite your success with those. You can also point to the growing number of festivals nationwide, as well as the growing popularity of vegan food in general.
Recruiting Food Vendors
Recruiting food vendors can be difficult, especially for your first year. Food vendors take the biggest risk by coming to the festival. As we mentioned before, if they end the event with a lot of unsold food they can easily lose money. Don’t overestimate the appeal of your event to local restaurants. Many of them have no experience with selling food at festivals. They may not have enough kitchen staff or capacity to prepare a large amount of food. They also may not have the equipment needed to transport food and sell it at the festival. Overall, running a restaurant is a tough business that requires a huge amount of time and work from the owners.
In other words, you will have to work quite hard to recruit your food vendors. If you know of vegan(-friendly) restaurants that have participated in other festivals, you can start with them.
We ultimately found that we need to talk to a lot of restaurants just to recruit three or four food vendors. This will require multiple contacts, and it may be better to visit the restaurant in person during a quiet between-meal time. Make sure to take a printed prospectus with you!
You can also try reaching out to vegan-friendly caterers as a possible food vendor. They are often more prepared for this sort of event. The big downside with a caterer is that their food is not as accessible for the general public outside the festival.
If you happen to live in an area with a number of vegan-friendly food trucks, this can work out very nicely. They are obviously able to move their equipment wherever it needs to go, and they’ve probably participated in festivals before. We’re not so lucky here in Minnesota, unfortunately.
Identifying Potential Sponsors
Your sponsors will probably all fall into one of the following categories:
Animal advocacy organizations – They will support your festival because it aligns well with their mission. It also gives them a chance to get their name out in front of many potential new donors. Twin Cities Veg Fest has been sponsored by a number of great animal advocacy groups including Action for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, and Vegan Outreach.
Your pitch to these organizations should be about how your festival aligns well with their mission.
Businesses with a product or services aimed at animal-friendly people or a product that happens to be vegan – They will sponsor in order to market their product to many potential new customers. Twin Cities Veg Fest has been sponsored by Way Better Snacks, Tofurky, and Upton’s Naturals, among others.
Your pitch to these businesses should be about how your festival is a great opportunity for them to showcase their product to a self-selecting group of potential consumers who are very likely to be interested in said product. Of course, some of these businesses are owned by people who support animal advocacy causes, with Tofurky being a great example. For these businesses, you should pitch both the marketing and advocacy aspects of sponsorship.
Businesses and organizations that like to sponsor community events – This includes local media, online businesses like Yelp, neighborhood/community promotion organizations, etc. The primary benefit for these businesses is advertising and cultivating a local community-friendly image or cultivating the community itself. Twin Cities Veg Fest has been sponsored by City Pages, a local weekly alternative newspaper, and Yelp.
Your pitch to these businesses should focus on the benefits of supporting a local community event and the good will that can bring.
Local businesses that happen to have an owner or high-level executive who supports your cause – These businesses are primarily motivated by personal interest from a single person and may not be as interested in the sponsorship benefits.
For example, Evolve Systems, a local software company, sponsored Twin Cities Veg Fest in 2013. The owners of the business strongly believe in contributing some of their profits back to the community, and they like the work that Compassionate Action for Animals does.
You might not actually know who these businesses are, but you could have existing donors or newsletter subscribers who like the work you’re doing and happen to have the power to make their business a sponsor. Just make sure you advertise your sponsorship opportunities to all your organization’s contacts.
It’s traditional to offer a number of sponsorship tiers with progressively more benefits for larger sponsorships. For Twin Cities Veg Fest, we had four levels: Platinum ($2,500+), Gold ($1,000-2,499), Silver ($500-999), and Bronze ($250-499).
We encourage you to make sure that all of the benefits you offer are something you can reasonably deliver on, and that they don’t add too much work to the festival planning process. We also suggest that you be careful in how you word the benefits. Don’t promise something that you can’t live up to. For example, we promise higher tier sponsors that they will be recognized on print materials, but with the following caveat:
Sponsor logos will only be included in print materials when size permits. Last year’s print materials included promotional posters, small bookmark-sized fliers, and various print ads. Sponsors were included in the poster and flier, but could not be included in most print ads.
Some common sponsorship benefits include:
- Recognition on the festival website, including name, logo, some promotional text provided by the sponsor, and links to their website.
- Recognition in your organization’s newsletter.
- Tables at the festival. For Twin Cities Veg Fest, the top two tiers got 2 tables, while the lower two got 1.
- An ad in the festival program. Note that this requires you to print a program big enough to accommodate all of the sponsor ads. For Twin Cities Veg Fest, different tiers receive different size ads, ranging from a full page to an eighth of a page.
- Recognition on printed advertising materials like fliers and posters.
- Items in swag bags given to festival attendees.
For Twin Cities Veg Fest 2013, we offered to repost Facebook posts on our page and retweet tweets on Twitter. Almost none of our sponsors took us up on this, despite multiple reminders.
We have surveyed sponsors at both our festivals. We’ve received only 8 responses across both years, but of those responses, the most commonly cited benefits that sponsors felt provided value was having an ad in the festival program (7), a listing on the festival website (6), recognition in the Compassionate Action for Animals newsletter (5), and an exhibitor table (5).
Note that this strongly suggests that it is worth the cost of printing nice multi-page programs!
VegFund is a nonprofit that exists to fund vegan activism around the world. They have funded a number of festivals around the country, including Twin Cities Veg Fest 2012. Check out their Merit Awards for more information. They also fund Pay Per View video screenings and food giveaways, both of which are great additions to a festival.
Some potential sponsors may offer some sort of in-kind trade in return for sponsorship. This is especially likely with media and local service businesses. For example, our sponsorship with Yelp was entirely in the form of advertising. We also had a photographer sponsor, Captured by Brooke, who took photos at the festival, and a videographer sponsor, Green Jeans Media, who made a short video about the festival.
Our rule for these sponsorships is as follows: If the item being offered for trade is something we would pay for, like advertising, we will treat them as a sponsor at a level commensurate with the dollar value of the services or goods being offered. If it’s a nice-to-have but not something we’re likely to pay for we will only offer a maximum of Silver level sponsorship in return.
Swag Bag Sponsorship
We have stuffed 1,000 swag bags for both years of the Twin Cities Veg Fest. These bags contained promotional items provided by sponsors as well as a program and event survey that we provided and are handed out to attendees as they enter.
We have also offered a $150 swag bag sponsor level for which the sponsor was allowed to have one item added to the swag bag, but no other benefits. We had several sponsors take us up on this in 2012, but none in 2013. If you plan to provide swag bags, you might as well offer this level of sponsorship.
Many food companies will offer you a donation of food instead of a cash sponsorship. Since a Veg Fest is all about food, we strongly suggest that you accept it. If the food is small enough and shelf-stable, you can include it in the swag bags. Otherwise you can give the food away in sample sizes at the festival.
We strongly suggest not asking food companies to pay $150 to be a swag bag sponsor, since more free food makes your festival more attractive to attendees, and you can advertise the contents of the bag.
We strongly recommend you keep exhibitor fees as low as possible. Exhibitor recruitment is hard enough as it is! You’re better off lowering the barrier to entry so you can get as many exhibitors as possible. This is doubly true for food vendors, who can be hard to recruit.
We also recommend you avoid the temptation to charge food vendors a very high rate or ask for a portion of their profits. While food vendors may potentially sell a few thousand dollars worth of food, their margins are typically low once you factor in the cost of ingredients, labor, and the lost value of unsold food. Of all your exhibitors, they are taking the biggest risk by coming to your festival.
By the same token, we strongly recommend against token-based payment systems. These are incredibly annoying for both attendees and exhibitors. Just don’t do it.
Our sample budget includes a fee charged to exhibitors who request electricity. This is there primarily to discourage exhibitors from asking for electricity if they don’t really need it. Providing electricity to every table can be a major logistical challenge in some venues!
You should also charge for extra tables since you’ll probably be paying a rental fee for these (and for the tablecloths if you provide them).
You should post clear exhibitor guidelines on your website. Make it clear to exhibitors that their payment as exhibitors constituted acceptance of the exhibitor guidelines as a contract.
The Twin Cities Veg Fest exhibitor guidelines are pretty long. We encourage you to read through them in full, but here are some highlights:
- Exhibitors must abide by the Twin Cities Veg Fest core values. This gives us something specific to point to if we have to ask an exhibitor to change their behavior or not sell a particular product. This has not been a big issue in the past but it’s worth including something along these lines.
- All products sold or sampled must be vegan. We also include a clear definition of vegan and tell exhibitors that we will ask them to remove inappropriate products.
- Exhibitors must use compostable plates, utensils, etc. This is tough to enforce without kicking someone out (which we don’t want to do), but we’ve been pretty successful at communicating this to exhibitors.
- Hours of operation – We ask exhibitors to be ready at 10:00am when the festival starts and to not leave before 4:00pm. If a food vendor sells out early we let them leave, of course.
- Exhibitors are responsible for making sure their stuff doesn’t get stolen.
- We can take photos and video of you and your exhibit table and use it for our promotions.
- Exhibitors are not allowed to display graphic imagery where, but it is okay to include it in materials that are handed out to people or which people otherwise opt-in to viewing.
- Exhibitors offering samples should bring at least 1,300 samples. Food court vendors should bring at least 400 servings. We have no good way of enforcing this, of course.
- Anyone offering food must fill out the food permit which the University of Minnesota (UMN) requires. They also must follow the rules outlined in the UMN Food Vendor Agreement. This is legalese that we pass on from the UMN to our exhibitors. You will probably have something similar at your venue.
- Any exhibitor may sell stuff, solicit contacts, distribute information, etc. Nonprofits may solicit donations.
- Don’t be a jerk and follow the Twin Cities Veg Fest Code of Conduct. In particular, we forbid the use of sexualized imagery and clothing (no “booth babes”).
- We reserve the right to kick you out if you act like a jerk.
- No refunds. In reality, we have given refunds for exhibitors who can’t make it, but we choose to do this on a case-by-case basis, and we usually only do it for nonprofits.
- A bunch of legalese about not doing stupid stuff.
- A bunch of legalese saying that you can’t sue us if you do something stupid or if you have an accident like dropping $500 worth of food and ruining it.
In addition to the guidelines, you’ll also want to provide exhibitors with instructions that detail load in and out times, where to park while unloading and loading, directions to the venue, and other such details. You’ll probably have several such communications.
When an exhibitor is first accepted, we send them an email like this:
Thank you for sponsoring the Twin Cities Veg Fest! We hope you’ll join us as an exhibitor at the event. The festival will take place at Coffman Memorial Union, University of Minnesota, 300 Washington Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455.
The exhibitor’s hall will be open to the public on October 26, 2013, 10am-4pm. Set up is day of, starting at 8am. Supplies can be brought in from the parking ramp located off of East River Parkway: https://www.google.com/maps/ms?msid=208684153369158570405.0004be21aa2050d166971&msa=0
Payment can be made via PayPal at http://2013.tcvegfest.com/exhibitor-payment-form/ or by sending a check to:
Compassionate Action for Animals 2100 First Ave S, Suite 200 Minneapolis, MN 55404
Your payment constitutes acceptance of the exhibitor guidelines: http://2013.tcvegfest.com/exhibitor-guidelines/
If you are selling or sampling food you must fill out a UMN food permit and send it to me no later than Saturday, September 30th, though earlier the better. The permit is online at http://2013.tcvegfest.com/files/2013/04/umn-food-vendor-permit.pdf.
I’ll be in touch as the date approaches with more information. Feel free to contact me with any questions and thanks again!
Name Goes Here Exhibitor Logistics Coordinator Twin Cities Veg Fest 612-555-1234
We send variations of this email multiple times, with the final email going out during the week before the festival.
Meeting with Food Vendors
We suggest meeting in person with your food vendors to go over details such as how much food you expect them to bring, making sure they will have enough staff on site, how much they will charge, the need for compostable plates/utensils, etc.
We also ask food vendors to offer small portions so that attendees can easily try food from multiple vendors.
We have found that food vendors can be particularly hard to get in touch with and many do not check their email regularly. An in-person meeting may be the best form of communication for them. We suggest having this meeting 1-2 weeks before the festival date.
Many sponsors are also exhibitors, so they should get all the emails that you send to exhibitors.
You should also give sponsors a clear timeline of when you expect materials from them such as their logo and text for your website, their ad for the program, items for the swag bag, etc. Also make sure to remind them that they need to fill out your exhibitor form if this is done separately, which we do for Twin Cities Veg Fest.