With a new venue every year, and no constant source of financial support, the World Schools Debating Championships relies on hosts securing plenty of sponsorship for the tournament.
Once you have your budget you will be able to embark on the process of finding sponsors - in some ways the most wearing, frightening, nail-biting and time-consuming part of the whole operation. This should have begun at least 18 months before the planned competition, so that you know your bid to host is realistic.
You might find it helpful to set up a Sponsorship Sub-Committee, enabling the Convenor to concentrate on organisational matters such as debates, registration and accommodation. You might even be able to secure the assistance of a professional fund-raiser, on the basis that s/he takes a percentage of the sponsorship raised, rather than a flat fee.
- Download: Two example letters for seeking sponsorship (PDF, 21Kb)
Sources of sponsorship
There is no simple answer to the question "Who will sponsor us?" - the sources of support vary from country to country, and from year to year. This section aims to provide some helpful guidelines which might start an Organising Committee on its way. Potential sources of funding can be basically divided into six categories: governmental, institutional, foundations, companies and individuals.
On the face of it, this is the most obvious source. However, it is likely to be the most difficult unless you are fortunate or have good connections.
To extract money from a federal or provincial government might prove more difficult than getting blood out a stone. (There are exceptions - in 2006, the Welsh Assembly Government was the tournament's main sponsor.) It can also be a very time-consuming process, with endless forms, frustrations and bureaucracy to contend with. Nevertheless, you must try.
The Ministry of Education is the obvious first source. It will help enormously if you can conjure up some personal connection with the minister or other high official, especially in non-English speaking countries where the whole concept of debating is not necessarily understood or appreciated. There may also be a reluctance in such countries to support English debating rather than in the vernacular (which may not exist anyway). In these countries, try to get in the door through the Inspector of English Education (or similar); they are usually most supportive.
In addition to the Ministry of Education, you should also try the Ministry of Culture, if it exists. Another important source is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because of the international aspect of the competition. As time goes on, you will also find that a relationship with this ministry can be extremely helpful, e.g. if problems arise with such issues as granting visas and questions of protocol.
Much of the above is equally relevant to the larger municipalities, except that it is usually easier to recruit supporters within the municipal system. Don’t hesitate to try and use influential friends to help you get appointments. Try to get the mayor involved and suggest he extend his patronage to the competition. Every municipality has its own educational, cultural and youth departments. Each has a budget and needs to be approached separately. You may also want to use municipal premises, like the city council chamber or a city theatre or concert hall: if they give you free facilities, this is almost as good as cash!
This can be a major source of funding and is often less of a hassle than the government and the municipality. You are also likely to get a quicker reaction. An important first source is the British Council, which will probably have an office in your area, and a central task of which is the promotion of the English language – and debating inter alia. Check with the English-Speaking Union in London or New York to see if they can help (there may be a branch of the ESU in your area); if not, maybe they can at least suggest other suitable institutions. Check out other local cultural institutions, especially those promoting contact between nations, including the major youth movements.
Many convenors (e.g. Jerusalem 1998) have found this to be the most productive source of funding. Every country has hundreds, maybe thousands of foundations, and careful research needs to be done to locate those whose main concern is education, youth, democracy, or other related topics. Do not do blanket mailings (there is no point in sending an appeal to the Foundation for Retired Mariners), but send targeted tailor-made letters to carefully selected foundations. Again, personal contacts are essential, and the initial letter needs to be followed up with a request for a meeting. Don’t forget to take with you material on previous competitions, photographs and even a good video if you have one. There is no harm in trying some of the major worldwide foundations, although experience shows that the chances are almost non-existent. These include the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Open Society Institute (Soros), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Here the choice is huge. It ranges from major industrial concerns (many of whom operate cultural and charitable funds) to insurance companies, law firms, banks, telecommunications, transportation, educational suppliers, publishers, food and drink manufacturers (yes, McDonald's and Coca-Cola both support educational projects), and a host of others. Again, remember that services are as good as cash. For example, in Israel in 1998, there were free cellphones (just invented!) from a telecommunications company, pencils and writing pads from an educational publisher, bags from a bank, and so on. Because an inordinate number of debaters turn into lawyers, law firms are a promising source of funding. In general, the name of the game here is sponsorship. The obvious quid pro quo is publicity. In exchange for their financial support (in cash, services or kind,) you promise these companies maximum coverage in all your printed material, display banners, introductory remarks, etc. One example: the competition drinks a vast amount of water. You could try to get one of the mineral water companies to be a sponsor and provide free water.
This is not easy and requires some research to try to locate wealthy individuals for whom the topic of debating is especially appealing. Try to ascertain whether some prominent local citizen was a debater – an ex-president of the Oxford Union or Cambridge Union could well be inclined to extend his/her support. Even if such an individual cannot provide funding, s/he might be able to provide contacts – a word in the right ear in government, municipal or industrial circles could be worth its weight in gold. Look at your own debaters and ex-debaters – it might be that they or their parents are today prominent industrialists or politicians who would be glad to help even if only with a phone call or two.
Types of sponsorship
There is a whole range of ways that you might entice support, and it partly depends on what types of sponsorship you're selling. Think of the tournament as a shopping list of opportunities.
This is obviously the big one: the company or other institution that is going to get top billing, right next to the tournament logo. Headline sponsors expect their name to be mentioned at all major events during the Championships, in all press releases and publications, on programmes, on trophies/certificates, on banners and anywhere else possible. They will expect a company executive or similar to speak at least once during the tournament, probably at the Opening Ceremony or Grand Final. Some will even want to include their name in the tournament title, e.g. in 2005 we had the "ConocoPhillips World Schools Debating Championships".
Day sponsorship might be enticing to local/municipal authorities, if you can promise that all debates will take place in one area's local schools and colleges on that day. In Wales 2006, a third of the sponsorship was raised in this way. Another option is to offer an evening event or dinner to a particular company, sports venue or cultural concern: debaters enjoying themselves, plus plenty of mentions of a company's name, could be an attractive combination. They might give you a free venue, too.
There's no end to what you can offer for a price, as long as you can identify a suitable company or body. The Ministry of Culture might be interested in sponsoring all cultural activities during the tournament, such as music/dance evenings, city tours and visits to important sites. You could look at getting an organisation that promotes democracy to sponsor debates at schools, including floor debates.
Non-cash sponsorship should not be underestimated. Some Championships (e.g. Singapore 2002) have listed their hotel as a major sponsor in return for very favourable room rates. Others (e.g. Stuttgart 2004 and Seoul 2007) have struck deals with local authorities for free transport passes. You can look at getting free printing services, free use of minibuses for airport transfers, free office space, free food or free use of venues. If you can't get something gratis, why not ask for it at a reduced rate and list a company as a minor sponsor?