Meeting planners are taking note of this year’s Special Olympics Chicago’s Polar Plunge fund-raiser, which drew in a record-breaking $1.5 million, partly due to its heightened effort to obtain more corporate sponsors.

The annual Chicago event, in which participants go ankle-high, knee-deep or take the full plunge into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan, was held on March 6. It featured eight new sponsors this year—Peoples Gas, Yelp, Lyft, Sprint, Sports Authority, Redbox, Chicago Athletic Clubs and Body Gears Physical Therapy.

“The Chicago Polar Plunge has become an iconic Chicago event with remarkable growth over the last two years, so we certainly did make sponsorship more of a priority than ever before,” Katie Hardiman, senior development manager for Special Olympics Chicago told

Polar Plunge attracted 6,000 participants—including Lady Gaga and Al Roker of the Today television show—a 35 percent increase from 2015.

Based on the success of the event, Hardiman offered five tips to attract corporate sponsors.

  1. Promote group participation: By adding eight new sponsors, Polar Plunge quadrupled its monetary support. Five of the new sponsors had teams that participated, which brought in thousands of dollars.
  2. Maximize sponsors’ involvement in the cause: Two of the new sponsors—Peoples Gas and Chicago Athletic Clubs—have become involved in other Special Olympics Chicago initiatives, thereby providing it with additional support.
  3. Know your event’s selling points: Special Olympics Chicago staff emphasized to prospective sponsors that they would have an opportunity to not only transform the lives of 6,000 athletes, but also help their own company connect with the local community, build brand awareness and improve employee engagement.
  4. Be discriminate: The Polar Plunge team was careful to target potential sponsors who would benefit from participation and then tailored the company’s sponsorship to best suit its needs.
  5. Communicate ROI: After the event, the Polar Plunge team compiled sponsorship fulfillment reports for each sponsor, with analytical details and anecdotes. The reports show how much exposure each sponsor received and the type of media coverage for the event.

Special Olympics Chicago has partnered with the Chicago Park District since the first International Special Olympics Games were held on July 20, 1968 at Soldier Field. More than 5,000 athletes have participated in Special Olympics Chicago, which offers year-round sports training and competition in 22 sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics Chicago participants also build courage and establish friendships with other Special Olympics athletes and the community.