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How to establish a strong working relationship between fellows and sponsors

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This article discusses some basic tips on how to go about establishing strong, successful working relationships with sponsors. As potential University Innovation Fellows, developing partnerships with sponsors will be key to your achievements as a UIF. Much of this article was inspired by Chris Ashley, a University Innovation Fellow from James Madison University. Chris has had both faculty and corporate sponsors, and he was able to share some tips and tricks for getting fellow-sponsor relationships to work!

First Steps… 

If you don’t already have a copy, please find a way to read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie — this book (or business bible, as some would say) is a great place to start in setting up a mutually beneficial partnership. Originally published in 1936, Carnegie’s points are still as relevant and valid as they were all that time ago. 

Next, while you’re still feeling excited about all your ideas and ways to impact the world, come up with a few goals with which you can start. Before a sponsor is involved, you (and your team) need to be on the same page about what the highest priorities are in the list of what you want to accomplish.

When you are ready, please read on! We hope to help you find and maintain strong relationships with your sponsors.

Faculty V. Outside Sponsor

Faculty and outside sponsors are great assets to have as University Innovation Fellows, and fellows are highly encouraged to develop both sets of resources to assist their campuses, but there are some main differences.


Think of faculty as a partner who will be around to guide you and enjoy the benefits of whatever you’re working on once it is completed. Most university faculty are committed not only to their jobs, but to their students and the university.

Outside sponsors:

Outside sponsors often have other more corporate goals in mind. It is likely that an outside sponsor will be of help financially; however, unlikely than they will take a personal interest or be a long-term partner in the project. That being said, do not devalue outside sponsors! They can be of great assistance when getting down to the implementation of an event or project.

What to Look for in a Sponsor

You want a sponsor who is forward-thinking and technology-inclined, but also someone who is willing to be realistic and results-driven. Chris Ashley shared that “vision” is what is most important to come from your team, and “practicality” is what is most important to come from your sponsor. When searching for your sponsor, it can be beneficial to seek those with great influence in your school's administration to provide knowledge, leverage, and resources to aid your quest. Sponsors who are “action-biased” and willing to push your team when things are beginning to stagnate are key to a project’s success, because there will undoubtably be obstacles (including days when it seems like nothing is working out.)

Tips for Approaching Sponsors

 Faculty sponsors are easy to find! Do you have a favorite past professor who seemed to just “get” the university climate and who connected with students? They may be a great resource in the future if only you reach out and ask for their help! Or, if you’re still looking for that faculty member you want to partner with, next time you have a class with a particularly engaging teacher, stop by office hours or after class to talk about the project you would like to start on campus. It is important to remember that faculty members are people too, as silly as that seems to point out, and they have a wide-range of interests, much like the students on campus do! Knowing your campus’ faculty on more than just a few-times-a-week basis will be invaluable when it comes time to look for a faculty sponsor!

Corporate sponsors, incredibly beneficial for getting the funds necessary to implement your project ideas, are slightly harder to come by than faculty sponsors. While the time commitment for a corporate sponsor does not come close to your faculty sponsor, they are donating something else of value: money. When approaching an outside sponsor it can be helpful to follow what Dale Carnegie suggests, not only should you promote what your campus will gain from this sponsor’s involvement, you should also list the many benefits an outside sponsor will receive: “free” marketing, brand recognition, and priceless good will from the student, parent, and faculty populations.

Once You Have a Sponsor

Communication, communication, communication. Communication. Seriously, the best thing Chris Ashley could recommend was that you keep your sponsor up-to-date with what is happening with your project or event, and that she or he does the same for you. Ideally, at least one member from your team should be seeing your sponsor each day to aid with communication, but at very least there should be some form of electronic communication daily. If talking to your sponsor feels like a chore more often than not, then the fellow-sponsor match probably isn’t a good one, and it may be time to look for another sponsor. Forming a friendly relationship with a sponsor is one of the most effective ways of making sure a working relationship stays strong and productive — a sponsor can’t help if they are out of the loop.

Final Advice

While we would recommend one core faculty sponsor, we highly suggest that you develop relationships with other faculty and share about your UIF projects. The more people you have rooting for you and willing to do what they can to help, the better! 

FOLLOW UP with all sponsors, whether you have a direct use for their assistance or not. If someone comes to you looking to help, they may have a brilliant solution to a problem you haven't yet figured out, or a connection to someone you have been wanting to get involved, or they may not have anything relevant to your project, but they are hoping you will succeed. No matter what the case may be, it is always worth it to follow up.

Written By:  Faith Voinovich