What Do Onions, Icebergs and Columbo Have To Do With Sponsorship Funding?

What Do Onions, Icebergs and Columbo Have To Do With Sponsorship Funding?

While onions, icebergs, and Columbo don't appear to have any relevance with getting corporate sponsorship funding, they in fact do!

They represent three important concepts that impact relationship building, trust, and connection⁠—all essential ingredients for sponsorship agreements to move forward.

Onions: Peeling Back the Layers of What Matters to Sponsors

Think of relationships, conversations, and people much like onions. They have layers and, just like onions, the layers need to be pulled back a bit to create mutual understanding and achieve clarity on what matters most to a sponsor. 


Once you’re ready to connect with a sponsorship funder, it’s important to ask thoughtful, open-ended questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how questions). The right questions will help you peel the layers back and determine and connect with what really matters to sponsors.

Icebergs: Be Prepared to Dive Deep with Sponsors

Icebergs are famous for the bulk of their substance existing below the surface. The same can be true when it comes to people and dialogue. The obvious, or what we likely know to be true (what we see and hear), is the tip of the iceberg; however, there is much that people simply do not reveal. Behind sponsorship agreements are gate-keepers and decision-makers, people and brands with agendas, experiences, and expectations.

We get to that “below the surface” information through applying natural curiosity, using active listening skills, and asking great questions. Rather than focusing on your request or ask, focus your attention on uncovering a sponsor’s underlying interests and motivators such as their values, needs, perceptions, priorities, fears, and beliefs. 

When you get a deeper understanding of these, you can better explore if the sponsor is a fit for your project, build trust with that person and brand, find alignment and common ground, and further the conversation in a meaningful way.

Columbo: Do Your Sponsor Research, Find Clues, and Ask Questions

Columbo was a popular 1970s TV detective. One of the character’s traits was being relentless in his investigations and approach. 

A great detective uses evidence to arrive at decisions. It’s important when dealing with sponsors to avoid making assumptions about what a sponsor thinks, needs, or feels. Assumptions are mostly inaccurate, off-base, and can be very off-putting in the relationship and trust-building process. If and when you assume wrong, you need to then fix the situation and the sense of hesitation that sponsors usually feel following inaccurate assumption making.

Before solving his cases, Columbo famously always asked a final question by saying, "Just one more thing..." The reminder here is the power of asking good questions and how evidence and answers can take you to the desired outcome, next step, or future action.

So, the next time you are preparing for a relationship-building call with a brand or sponsor, think of these three things: onions, icebergs, and Columbo. You might just surprise yourself on how well the call goes (and how much easier it is).

Leave a Reply 2 comments

Joan McLeod - July 29, 2020 Reply

Love this way of remembering the need to be curious and questioning in looking for sponsorship and SO many other scenarios! It's so easy when I remember to ask if they can think of a way (or someone else) to help...very close to always they offer something pretty wonderful!


    Stacey Terry - July 30, 2020 Reply

    Thanks so much, Joan! It's very true that these suggestions are great for relationship building in business in general. I'll pass your lovely comment on to Charmaine. All the best - Dream Team

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