This is entirely meant to help others find sponsorships, strictly based upon "MY" experiences. What has worked for me may not work for everyone. I may not be in possession of all the correct information regarding "charitable donations", the amount of money donated to charities through IGRA and its Member Associations, etc I have worked off the information I had available to me or that I could find on the internet.
In regards to "how do you find sponsors?" The best place to look is at those businesses that you do most of your business with. You are their customer, you support them, and it's not necessarily asking too much of them to consider being your sponsor for a rodeo or rodeos. It gives them an opportunity to give something back to the community, get exposure to potential customers, and creates a feeling of goodwill in the community. These are the points you need to make. Obviously, it helps if the business is a gay or lesbian business, or if it is "gay friendly". I think you have a better shot with smaller businesses than larger businesses or corporations. That being said you shouldn't overlook those opportunities. Some of the places I have had as sponsors in the past are: Local Western Wear Store that was Gay Friendly; Levi, Leather, Cowboy bars; Travel Agency, Construction Company, Custom Costume Shop. Others that I have on a list that I am planning on working on, Gay B&B's, Gay Resorts, Gay Campgrounds, Leather Shops, etc I have a friend who was sponsored by an "Adult Super Store" at several rodeos.
In regards to "how much money?" and "what will they sponsor?" I think the first thing ya have to consider is the amount you are going to ask for, the size of the business and the benefits the business can receive. I think it's better to ask for a smaller amount than a large one. So you may consider asking a sponsor to cover your Entry Fees. This is the most common type of sponsorship. You also might ask a sponsor to cover some travel expenses, but then keep the amount you ask for reasonable and don't look to them to cover your entire travel expense. Again, smaller amounts are the key to gaining successful sponsorships. As time goes on and you develop a strong relationship with a sponsoring business, you may consider looking to them to make a larger commitment. You'll have to decide when that time is. Also, if you are considering seeking multiple sponsorships for a particular rodeo, let your potential sponsors know that when it comes to making a commitment with them. They may want to be an exclusive sponsor and they're going to have concerns about co-sponsoring you with a competing business, and perhaps other conflicts of interest.
In regards to "benefits to the sponsor?" You have to sell them on the fact that they will benefit from the sponsorship. Make it clear that their name will be announced at the rodeo for each event you compete in. As I said before, explain that it develops goodwill in the "GLBT Community" as well as the community as a whole. Customers are more likely to frequent those businesses that give something back. They may be eligible to claim the sponsorship as a "charitable donation", if the hosting association is 501(c). In order for them to claim the "charitable donation", they most likely have to make out the check to the Hosting Association, for your entry fees. If it's to cover Travel Expenses, they should consult with their accountant to make sure the transaction is done in such a manner that it can be counted as a "charitable donation".
Lastly, you need to offer something of yourself back to your sponsor(s). Offer to post their website on your homepage, offer to give back their sponsorship money, should you win enough money to cover the sponsorship amount (most won't take you up on it), offer to give any ribbons you win to the sponsor (but keep the buckles!), offer to make an appearance, offer to wear a shirt, hat, etc with their logo while you are at a rodeo and after and offer to donate some of your time to help them with an event. I truly believe you have to offer something back to them. They may or may not take you up on it, but it demonstrates goodwill on your part and it shows you are not just asking for "something for nothing".
There are plenty of sponsorship opportunities out there. It's going to take some work on your part to make it happen, but it's worth the effort. Also, I have a draft of a sponsorship letter I have presented to prospective sponsors, which is availalbe through Rodeo Resources memu page. It has not been successful 100% of the time, but it is a good tool to use. Obviously, it needs to be tailored to the individual business you are soliciting and your individual background, etc.. I'm not saying it's perfect, most likely it isn't but it's a place to start!
Based upon my own experience you can wear a shirt with their logo embroidered on it. It can be on the back, on the front pocket, or both. I have worn several shirts bearing my sponsors name and logo, etc.. If they supply a shirt make sure it meets the requirements of the IGRA rodeo rules. Also, if your sponsor has a T-shirt, you can wear that during "camp" events, as a western style shirt is not required for those events.
My sponsor asked me about distribution of advertising media at a rodeo. I thought one of the best ways to create extra exposure for a sponsor would be to have them inserted in contestant bags. I don't know if there currently is a rule concerning the matter. I've always thought that was left to the hosting association. If anyone has any information on the matter, please pass it on. I'd like some feedback on this.
As I see it, the reality is this, in order for many of us to sustain our participation in IGRA Rodeos; we need to develop relationships with sponsors who can help support the contestant(s). With the rising travel costs, etc.. If this doesn't happen we're going to start losing our contestant base. I'm of the opinion that we all want to work together, develop sponsorships, and grow our contestant base. It seems, IGRA is in a growth phase after a few years of little or no growth. We need to keep the momentum going, build a strong base, recruit new members, all in an effort to make IGRA stronger, more visible, a continued source of support for those charities that are our beneficiaries, and even more of a success than it has already been for the last 30 years.
I hope you find this information helpful. I think it would be very helpful for all of us that need to seek sponsorships to continue our participation in IGRA Rodeos to share ideas, information, etc. To me, that's one part of what being a part of this "rodeo family" is all about.