By focusing on education, associations can provide value to corporate sponsors and members, while also boosting nondues revenue.
Partnering with corporate sponsors to produce education is a great strategy to help your members, prove value to corporate sponsors, and boost nondues revenue, contends Bruce Rosenthal, strategic advisor at Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC.
Rosenthal, who specializes in developing corporate partnership programs, noted that the role of corporate sponsorship has changed in recent years. Whereas partners used to be happy with having their logo appear at events as a sponsor, now they want more.
“Most association programs are looking at affecting visibility. Most of the benefits have words like visibility and logo,” Rosenthal said. “The companies are looking to change behavior, and this is the real disconnect.”
Rosenthal recommended creating individualized programs for corporate sponsors that help both members and the sponsors. To this end, one area that associations looking to boost nondues revenue growth should explore is content sponsorship.
“The world is more complicated for members,” Rosenthal said. “There are more regulations, the economy is more complicated.”
Because associations are the places their members look to for answers, partnering with a corporate sponsor to produce content is a win-win, if done the right way. “There are two rules when you do these things,” Rosenthal said. “It has to be consistent with the association mission, and rule number two is it has to be based on a member need.”
Associations should not agree to sponsorships that are anathema to their mission or harmful to their members. With that in mind, look for corporate sponsors who are relevant to members.
“What is interesting is that association members and company customers are the same people. Those individuals have the same needs,” Rosenthal said. “I have talked to members over the years. They will say, ‘When I have a challenge, sometimes I’ll call the association, and sometimes I’ll call a company. There are some really smart companies that offer me really good advice.’”
Set Rules and Get Started
Companies often have staff on hand that can serve as experts, offering education, not sales pitches.
“Sit with the company and say, ‘Here are the rules. We want to recognize your company, and we will have a slide at the end. Every other slide can’t say buy our company. Members will tune out,’” Rosenthal said. “The real win-win is good, solid, problem-solving content. It’s a win for associations and a win for the company, who looks like a thought leader.”
The learning can be done as an online session, in-person meetings throughout the year, or adjuncts to conference programs. “Lunch and learn sessions at the conference,” Rosenthal offered as an example. “Top-level corporate partners will pay a fee and pay for lunch, and they will invite members to the lunch and learn.”
When developing programs, be sure to hit the most pressing problems for members. “It cannot just be about revenue, but about content,” Rosenthal said. “Sometimes, companies will ask, ’What is keeping your members up at night? What can we do to fill that gap?’”
If an association chooses to get a sponsor for an educational workshop they already run and collect registration fees for, the addition of the sponsor doesn’t mean the association needs to do a revenue share or change its pricing structure. “I think it can be the same,” Rosenthal said. “The association is doing what they normally do.”
Associations working with companies to fill in knowledge gaps for members, while increasing revenue is the best of both worlds. “Having a good strong program that brings in revenue and content is very much in alignment with mission,” Rosenthal said.
Have you tried using corporate partnerships for content? Share your stories in the comments section.