November 19, 2018
Sponsorships play a critical role in an association’s non-dues revenue mix. You count on generating non-dues revenue to help fund new and existing programs and to subsidize other expenses. But sponsorship “best practices” are stuck in a tradition-bound rut that isn’t delivering the best value to either associations or their sponsors.
Many association professionals say sponsorship revenue is decreasing. Because of this downward trend, sponsorship is becoming more professionalized. Consultants offer sponsorship and non-due revenue development services. Discussion groups and networking groups are dedicated to association sponsorship. Many associations are realizing it’s time to change their approach to sponsorship.
Companies use their marketing budget, not their charity budget, to pay for sponsorships so they expect results. Money spent on a sponsorship with your association is money they can’t spend on other marketing budget lines such as:
Sponsors want a return on their investment. Logos and signage alone can’t deliver the value they seek. They want to develop the reputation and the relationships that lead to referrals and sales.
As a result, associations are changing how they think and talk about these critical relationships. In many associations, sponsors are now called “revenue partners.” An Associations Now article described this new approach to sponsorship:
“A corporate sponsorship tends to be transactional, focusing on events or one-off sponsorships, while a corporate partnership refers to a higher-level holistic partnership between a company and an association.”
Revenue partners help you provide value to your members, attendees, and audiences. In exchange for that support, these partners expect a return on their investment that moves them closer to achieving business goals.
They’re no longer interested in paying to get their name on your conference lanyard. Although, at many associations, the lanyard is the best thing on offer. Revenue partners rather make a name for themselves by delivering value in meaningful ways. They want to be seen as thought leaders who have expertise to share with your community.
This new mindset requires a shift in how you work with revenue partners. Who’s dedicating time to these relationships? An overworked meeting planner trying to find someone to pay for a reception? Or, a corporate partnership professional who approaches sponsorship from a strategic and holistic perspective?
You can’t treat a company’s sponsorship separately from their other tangible and intangible investments in your association. Get the data you need to understand their entire engagement with your association:
Put an organization-wide strategy in place for developing and deepening relationships with your corporate partners. Find ways to exchange value and achieve goals together.
Schedule time to sit down (in person or virtually) with revenue partners to learn about their business goals. Make sure you’ve reviewed their engagement and investment history with your association.
Most importantly, find out what they want to accomplish in your market this year and in coming years. Get clear on their target audience. Talk about the value they can offer to members.
It’s time to retire your bronze/silver/gold/platinum-tier packages. Sponsorships should be customized, not commoditized. Sit down with prospective partners and brainstorm ideas together. Match their business needs with existing or new sponsorship opportunities.
Think bigger—beyond events. An event sponsorship lasts for a day and is then forgotten. How can you keep sponsors in front of members all year round? What value can they provide to members throughout the year? How can you help each other achieve goals?
Think beyond the usual sponsorship suspects. Who has value to share? Who wants to get in front of members? Start a conversation with them.
Companies are full of industry experts with knowledge to share. That knowledge isn’t limited to products and services. They have unique perspectives and expertise to share about the issues and concerns facing your members. Keep in mind, many people at these companies used to do the same work as your members, but now are on the other side.
Education. Sponsors can help develop and deliver educational content. An Associations Now article describes how one association involves sponsors in their webinars. They can participate in online learning programs as guest speakers or participants in discussion forums. They can share innovative developments and other emerging issues in conference sessions.
Scholarships. Sponsors can fund scholarships for conferences, online learning programs, certificate programs, and leadership development programs.
Memberships. Students and young professionals who can’t afford to join your association would appreciate a sponsored membership. Read how several associations reach underserved segments in this Associations Now article.
Content. There’s never enough staff time to write all the content on your wish list. Sponsors can help produce white papers, tip sheets, or research reports. Many associations, including ASAE, work with sponsors who write native ads (sponsored content).
Meet every year with your sponsors to review progress on their goals. Listen to their concerns and brainstorm new approaches to sponsorship. When you treat sponsors as partners, the relationship begins to feel different—it’s no longer a business transaction, but a productive collaboration.
For more great ideas, read our white paper about ten strategic ways your association can increase event revenue.