How We Got Sponsorship for #WOCinTech Photo Shoots
How to find sponsorship and bring your vision to life!
In the months since we started #WOCinTech Chat, we’ve become best known for creating and disseminating high-quality stock photos that feature real women of color technologists in real work settings.
When we were first building the #WOCinTech website, we’d noticed a huge dearth of stock images that showcased women of color engaged in technical and professional tasks – further evidence of our lack of visibility in the industry and the world at large. Since creating #WOCinTech images, they’ve been viewed thousands of times on Flickr and have been featured in TechCrunch, Chicago Tribune, Black Enterprise, Quartz, Product Hunt, Slate, Re/code, and Upworthy; in blog posts from General Assembly, in email campaigns by InVision, and the occasional Model View Culture article. Now, if you search “women of color in tech” in Google Images, the photos from our shoots are the top results!
Since #WOCinTech images have taken off, the question we’ve been asked most from other entrepreneurs is, “How did you get sponsorship?” In this post, we’ll explore what we learned about sponsorship to help other groups get started.
Getting started: Leverage what you already have
When we first conceived of the photoshoot, we realized that a project with so many moving parts would require funding to cover venue and food expenses, securing a photographer, and creating promotional materials to market the project. We decided to focus on sponsorship as a funding option, because it allowed us to create a high-quality product that we could then share with the world for free.
The first step in the process was identifying what resources we had readily available (in other words: what we could get right now without asking anyone for additional funds). We needed to get the project off the ground, so we could begin to demonstrate the value and start a conversation with potential sponsors. It would’ve been easy to get overwhelmed by all of the details and how much money we thought we would need to make it happen, but in the beginning, we focused on three things: 1. Getting the right photographer; 2. Finding a location, and 3. Finding women willing to serve as models for the shoot. By focusing on these key questions — and mapping them to solutions that were within our reach — we were able to focus and make considerable progress.
Given that the shoot was about framing technologists in professional situations, we knew we needed a photographer that understood how technologists work and also how to set up shots. We chose to go with a photographer that Christina knew personally. He himself works in tech and understood how to make the shots look realistic. For the location of our first shoot, Stephanie reached out to her employer, who allowed us to use their space free of charge. Once we locked down the location, it was easy to coordinate with them to choose a date for the shoot.
Lastly, we put out an application using Google forms and shared it from our Twitter handle and through our email newsletter, calling for participants — specifically, women of color technologists — to serve as our models and event volunteers.
When you’re first getting started, it can be difficult to raise sponsorship without having anything to show for your work yet. By thinking through what resources and relationships we already had, we were able to put together an initial photoshoot, paving the way for us to raise sponsorship.
Create your sponsorship proposal
For our subsequent shoots, the results of our first shoot was, in fact, our proof of concept. We had what we needed to start reaching out more broadly. Here’s what you’ll need to create a proposal that communicates your mission, your project, what your needs are, and how it’ll create value for potential sponsors:
- Who we are (the mission statement). We provided potential sponsors with a summary of the history behind #WOCinTech Chat, who our target audience was, and what our values were. Your mission statement should clearly express your goals as an organization.
- Background summary. We included information about the project — how it came to be, what the need is, and how it related to our mission. If you don’t have a prototype or something that potential sponsors can look at, consider providing more detail about how you plan to realize your project. For example, we included details of the shoots themselves, like how many models we wanted to have in each shoot, how long we wanted the venue for, and how we were planning on getting news of the photos out there. Additionally, we created an FAQ section that provided more insight into the process.
- Metrics. We gave sponsors information on our metrics (site and email newsletter metrics, Twitter impressions, sign-ups over time, etc) to help them understand our reach.
- Sponsorship levels. When we began considering sponsorship levels, we wanted to strike a balance between what we could offer and our bandwidth, and what we needed with how sponsoring would align with a company’s goals. So we created a tiered-sponsorship model by breaking down everything we needed, and creating different categories — with different perks — for different levels of financial contribution. We also created two tiers that didn’t require direct, financial contribution: a media sponsor tier, and a food and venue tier. The media sponsor tier was aimed at similar organizations to us in size and reach, that wanted to partner with us to mutually spread each other’s work. The food and venue tier allowed us to quickly secure a venue (and a date) at a local-area company. Sponsors at higher tiers were given the chance to have women of color at their companies attend the photo shoot with company swag, and share company events and job listings with members of our email list. And all of our sponsors, regardless of level, had their logos placed on our website and our newsletter, and they all received shout outs in social media.
To create the proposal itself, we compiled all of this information into a simple, two-page PDF that included our logo and contact information at the top. We were ready to start reaching out!
Connecting with potential sponsors
We began by creating a list of tech companies behind products and services that we used ourselves, with brand recognition, and with diversity and inclusion initiatives at their companies. We reached out via Twitter DM, asking if we could discuss a potential partnership, or reached out to people we knew asking to make introductions. Many of them obliged and provided us with an email address for follow-up. Here’s an example of an email we would send out to a potential sponsor:
Hi [Person’s name],
Thank you so much for providing your email via Twitter DM. I am the co-founder of an initiative for women of color in tech called #WOCinTech Chat (@wocintechchat). You may have seen or heard about us because of the stock image photos we recently shared on a creative commons license.
We are currently planning a second stock image shoot here in New York City, and would really love your support.
If any of this piques your interest, I would love to get on a quick call to discuss. I have also attached our sponsorship proposal which outlines all of the specifics.
Looking forward to connecting with you!
Be sure to respond back quickly and set up a time to chat once they get in touch! In some cases, we also had companies reach out to us directly to let us know that they wanted to be part of future photo shoots. Some of them wanted to chat before we sent the proposal, which was great, and we always ensured our contact opted in to us sending them our proposal once our call was finished.
Dealing with rejection
Sometimes, you’ll find that a company might feel that the partnership is not the best match, or that it’s not the right time for the opportunity. Our approach made dealing with rejection very easy; before creating the sponsorship tiers and proposal, we had already determined what we absolutely needed to put the shoots together without additional sponsorship, and worked to get that first (i.e. food and venue sponsorship and funds for our photographer). It helps to know what you already have and what you absolutely need before going out to secure sponsorship; that way, your project doesn’t hinge on getting too many sponsors in order to get it off the ground.
Dealing with rejection can also be easier if you know up front that it will happen, and sometimes it’s valuable feedback on your approach: perhaps there are opportunities to improve the proposal, or find ways to make your project more appealing to sponsorships. Getting feedback from companies who decide not to move forward, is extremely helpful with this.
Even though there’s always some rejection along the way, our sponsorship strategy meant that we were able to secure enough sponsors to fully fund our second #WOCinTech photoshoot. Once our sponsor companies had received the background information, asked questions and ultimately selected their tier of participation, we accepted funds via PayPal or ACL transfer, and had the financial base we needed to move ahead. All the hard work paid off: over 231 new images from our photoshoot are now available online, featuring women of color technologists coding, working, collaborating and building.
For other projects trying to get started in this space, sponsorships can be a great way to get funding so you can get your projects up and running and achieve your goals. Sponsorships let you build relationships with companies and workers in your professional communities, and serve as another way to get the word out for the work you’re doing. They also give companies the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to communities and projects that are underserved.
It is possible to get the attention of tech companies, no matter the size of your initiative. As long as you communicate the value of what your project brings, and find ways to align that with a company’s goals, you can find sponsorship and bring your vision to life.