Some practical relationship advice for associations looking to build long-lasting relationships with their corporate sponsors.
One-sided relationships usually don’t work out.
For instance, in the 1997 film My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julia Roberts’ character goes to great lengths to sabotage the wedding preparations of her love interest—at one point, even chasing him on foot. In the end, however, he still chooses the other girl. And Jay Gatsby’s undying love for Daisy Buchanan eventually results in his death in The Great Gatsby.
The same is true for relationships between associations and corporate sponsors.
“Associations sometimes want corporate partners primarily for the revenue,” said Bruce Rosenthal, principal of Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC. “These associations treat corporate partners like an ATM. When drafting their annual budget, some associations project expenses, project revenues, and determine the gap. That gap figure becomes the ‘corporate partner revenue line item.’ It has little to do with the value of the benefits the association offers to corporate partners.”
Renee Shew, who manages corporate partnerships for Mutual of America, agrees, saying that associations aren’t always aware that corporate partners have their own return-on-investment concerns. Here are a few tips she offers associations which are looking to build healthy relationships with their corporate partners.
Consider what your corporate partners need out of the relationship. Most associations don’t tend to think about this, according to Shew, and some of that’s because in the past the corporate partner may have been seeking marketing exposure in very simple terms. However, corporate partners are now looking closer at sales over the past year, what revenue has been brought in to the company, or how many prospective clients are in the sales pipeline. “In order to justify the amount of financial support a corporate partner is giving to an association, we are looking very close at the numbers behind that financial support,” Shew said.
Engage in a real conversation. Instead of simply assigning your corporate partners to predetermined sponsorship levels, Shew recommend that associations and their corporate partners have a real conversation about their wants and expectations out of the potential partnership. “In order to create a win-win for all parties, everyone has to come to the table with an open mind and share what’s important,” Shew said. “That’s the only way progress toward everyone’s goals is going to be achieved. If one party is not being open and honest with needs and objectives, that’s a foundation for a lose-lose.”
Manage frustrations. If your goal is to create a healthy, long-lasting relationship with your corporate partner, it’s important to manage frustrations and problems as they arise. “Things are bound to go wrong in business as in life,” Shew said. “It’s not how problems occur but how all parties come to the table to resolve those issues and make the most out of the situation. I find that my most valued partnerships are the ones where we come together, share in an open, respectful way, and find ways to fulfill the needs of each party.”
How has your association fostered healthy relationships with its corporate sponsors? Please leave your comments below.