Business Essentials: Sponsor sought to keep budding Billy Elliots on their toes

National Youth Ballet has to raise new funds or the curtain will come down on school visits, writes Kate Hilpern

Founded nearly 17 years ago, the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain (NYB) is the country's foremost ballet company for young people. Its productions range from adaptations of well-loved children's stories to impressionistic snapshots of young lives, and many of its dancers go on to have careers with the Royal Ballet and on the West End stage.

Founded nearly 17 years ago, the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain (NYB) is the country's foremost ballet company for young people. Its productions range from adaptations of well-loved children's stories to impressionistic snapshots of young lives, and many of its dancers go on to have careers with the Royal Ballet and on the West End stage.

The curtain went up last week on the company's latest tour, with a performance of Wonderland: Scenes from Alice at the Sevenoaks Playhouse. The NYB will next be seen at the Birmingham Hippodrome (7 November) and the London Palladium (15 November).

"But there's another equally important side to the business," says the company's founder and director Jill Tookey. "Every year, we run an outreach programme, which involves taking ballet into schools. It's incredibly popular because it introduces primary school children to dance in a simple, fun and vibrant way and shows them that it's not elitist."

The problem is that while the outreach programme has been sponsored for the past few years by the HSBC bank, that money has now come to an end and the NYB is desperate to locate new funds. Like many small companies and charities, it cannot afford to employ an in-house marketing expert, but if it is to keep up its good work, it will need to find new sponsorship - and soon.

"We don't know which companies to target or how to approach them," admits Ms Tookey. "Should we go for firms connected with children or should we go for the really big companies we know are already involved in sponsorship - Waitrose or Orange, for example? And how can we get them interested? Is there a way of putting our offer across to them that is likely to make them sit up and listen?"

Based in Edenbridge in Kent, the NYB has for the past eight years been sending its outreach team - made up of a choreographer, a pianist, a co-ordinator and a make-up artist, all professionals paid at the going rate - to run workshops in schools around the UK. Workshops involve entire classes and every child is given the opportunity to wear a costume and be made up. No class is too much of a challenge; indeed, the NYB regularly works with children who have learning disabilities.

"We started off by getting tiny amounts of sponsorship from local bank branches - enough to do two or three workshops," says Ms Tookey. As the NYB grew, it attracted more funding and eventually, in 2000, the company hit gold when HSBC came on board.

"They'd agreed to sponsor a number of youth companies for a period of three years, and we received £25,000 for our outreach work alone," Ms Tookey continues. "It was wonderful because we could properly plan which areas we could go to, and these ranged from Manchester to Swansea to Birmingham to London. We covered a lot of ground."

With the end of HSBC's sponsorship, however, the NYB hit crisis point. Ms Tookey managed to raise some money from the W Garfield Weston Foundation, a private charity. "That meant we could do some workshops last year," she says. "But I wrote to 20 [potential sponsors] and it was the only one to respond positively."

It isn't just the children taking part who enjoy the workshops. Teachers are also enthusiastic supporters. In a letter that illustrates the value of its school visits, one music teacher recently wrote to the NYB: "It was so important to show other staff just how important the creative arts are in developing the children as whole people, and how this creative stimulus can be channelled into other subjects."

www.nyb.org.uk

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

John Greenhough, head of business development at the Chartered Institute of Marketing

"The NYB should contact Arts & Business, a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in forging creative partnerships between business and the arts. It can provide advice on how to approach sponsors, and may be able to suggest businesses looking for sponsorship in the arts sector.

"Next, the NYB needs to compile a clear proposal to present to potential sponsors. It should identify key goals of its outreach programme, and list a number of different sponsorship levels (regional, national, etc) to allow greater flexibility. Most importantly, it should spell out the value of its work to the sponsor. Let sponsors know that their participation can form a part of marketing campaigns, and that exposure through both the sponsorship itself and potential PR can provide an excellent return on investment.

"Look for sponsors with a natural connection to the outreach audience - perhaps those with a keen interest in the arts, as well as those who have an affinity with children."

Andrew Litchfield, head of social and environmental responsibility at the Nationwide building society

"First, the NYB should understand its strengths and what they mean to a sponsor. To me, the project offers utter professionalism, reassuring the sponsor of high quality and effective delivery, and a strong focus on social inclusion. This last point is an important consideration for businesses as they develop their corporate social responsibility programmes.

"When approaching a potential sponsor, remember this request will probably be one of a hundred received every week - it needs to stand out. These three things may help:

* Research your target. What is its sponsorship policy? What is the name and job title of the person deciding which projects to sponsor?

* Prepare a proposal that is relevant to the target sponsor, clearly stating benefits, costs and timescales.

* Be brief. Keep your proposal to a maximum of two pages. Illustrate it with a powerful photograph, and include a verbatim comment from a teacher or participant in the outreach project. Then make a polite request for a meeting.

"Finally, consider multiple sponsorship. While this would involve a little more work, it would obviate the risk of losing all of your funding at a stroke."

Barry Franklin, business adviser, Business Link for London

"If full-time in-house marketing expertise is too costly, the NYB could consider engaging a PR specialist or sponsorship consultant on a project-only basis. Many consultants have expertise in fundraising, corporate communications, public relations and marketing strategies. Seek someone with a track record - ask for and check their credentials. External expertise may also be helpful in developing staff fundraising and proposal-writing skills.

"Sponsorship is a mutually beneficial business partnership. A sponsor may be attracted by:

* Its logo appearing on charity materials.

* Mention of its products or services at events.

* Endorsement of its products using the charity's logo on packaging and promotion.

"Don't undervalue your good name by selling sponsorship too cheaply, and avoid sponsors whose reputation or activities could reflect badly on you.

"Target organisations with some affinity to your charity and customise your letter specifically to them. What must come through is your passion for the NYB, the worthiness of your cause and the need for funding. Also make it clear what you want from the sponsor."

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