3 Ways to Forge Successful Partnership and Sponsorship Programs

Looking to launch or reboot your association’s corporate sponsorship or partnership programs? Two experts share three tips that will get you on your way.

Why should associations consider developing robust corporate partnership or sponsorship programs—or even taking another look at their existing programs, with an eye toward strengthening them?

Bruce Rosenthal, principal of Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC, has a few reasons. “I think any association would say they need more money to fulfill their mission. There are increasing member demands for more content and services,” he said. “The corporate partners are demanding more—they want to truly be partners and not just get their name on a sign or a logo, or just wave from the podium. And for associations seeking sponsors and partners, there’s a lot more competition.”

Although often used interchangeably, 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.

As Dan Kowitz, founder and CEO of JSB Partnership Consultants, explained: “If companies are going to spend six figures or even seven figures with an association, we want to make sure and they want to make sure they’re involved year-round with multiple elements and there’s a lot of stake in the ground for everybody and value for all the stakeholders.”

Rosenthal and Kowitz shared three ways associations can boost their sponsorship and partnership programs.

Start with mission and members. The foundation of a successful partnership or sponsorship program has to be alignment with the association’s mission and a value for members. Why?

“Anything that erodes the mission will devalue the association overall, so it’s all focus—and that’s whether it’s a sponsorship program or really any other program the association undertakes,” Rosenthal said. “If it’s really not in alignment with mission, it’s draining resources and focus—and I think it then becomes a slippery slope. The association will be of less value, and members or board members will ask, ‘Why are you doing that program? That’s not of value.’”

Inventory your assets. Associations need to take a hard look at their assets and consider not only what they have to offer partners or sponsors but also how they can package it up in a compelling way. “My experience is that associations tend to look at their assets in a very a la carte way, meaning, ‘Who can sponsor the webinar? Can we sell sponsorship to this website? Will corporations sponsor this new meeting we are adding?’” Kowitz said. “What we mean by inventory is catalog all the available assets, but then figure out how to bundle them into more holistic, year-round partnerships.”

Understand your partners’ needs. Associations tend to do what they’ve done for years, Rosenthal said, handing out a prospectus with gold, silver, and bronze levels that detail the 15 things you get as a gold-level sponsor, the 10 you get with silver, and the five you get with bronze. But, according to Rosenthal, that’s often not what companies are looking for. In addition, Kowitz said that associations tend to be afraid to ask their partners what they need, since they fear they won’t be able to deliver on it. “But until you start a conversation, you can’t find out what the common ground is,” he said.

And that goes back to mission and members. “It’s got to be a two-way conversation,” Rosenthal said. “It’s got to go back to aligning with the association’s mission and talking about what our goals are, our major initiatives, our strategic plan, and then asking sponsors and partners, ‘What are your goals and interests? And can we find a common thread here?’”

What have you found to be integral in the success of your sponsorship and partnership programs? Please leave your comments below.

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Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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