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Nondues Know-How

Why Your Sponsorship Program Needs a Refresh

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As sponsors place more value on content and thought leadership offerings, associations must retool their sponsorship programs to meet those needs and generate nondues revenue. Doing this will also require reframing the relationships they have with sponsors.

One change that Dan Kowitz, founder and CEO of JSB Partnership Consultants, has seen in the sponsorship space in recent years is the rise of learning content from for-profit companies. That shift not only creates more competition for associations but also new demands from sponsors.

“Large companies are creating their own communities and offering benefits that associations have historically been wary to provide [to sponsors], such as data, member lists, and thought-leadership projects,” he said.

In other words, signage, logos, and other traditional sponsorship offerings no longer cut it. “When Google works with us they focus on content,” said Samantha Walsh, operations and vendor coordinator at the Associations of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS). “A lot of companies are moving in the same direction.”

Since sponsorships have real implications for an association’s bottom line, it’s important for groups to consider new ways to work with their sponsors to diversify offerings and deliver on expectations.

Tools for Retooling

Rethinking your sponsorship program is a comprehensive process.

“You need to dive in and look at everything your association is doing right now,” Kowitz said. “How are you selling currently? How do you package and price? What do your staff and sponsors think of the program? Use that information to draw new goals.”

And those goals can’t be built around gold, silver, and bronze sponsorship levels that were relied on in the past, according to Kowitz.

“Associations reach members 365 days each year, and companies want to market and reach members 365 days a year as well,” he said. “Focusing on ways to partner year-round will really drive revenue.”

Walsh recommends talking with sponsors to get a better sense of their marketing needs and what they want to communicate to members.

“Be curious about what could be next because that’s how you come up with interesting solutions,” she said. “I ask my sponsors what they’re working on and how we can help accommodate those needs and meet our own goals.”

New Avenues of Revenue

According to Kowitz, content and thought leadership is really the heart of what sponsors and partners are looking for.

“Companies aren’t looking to sponsor your webinars,” he said. “They want to work with you on developing the webinar; they want to be collaborative partners around education and training.”

Content collaborations can take many forms, including webinars, white papers, or articles. Some sponsors may also be interested in paying for an association’s subject-matter experts to serve as panelists on their own webinars.

“Associations need to be up to flipping some of the traditional benefits on their head if they want to grow nondues revenue through sponsorships and partnerships,” Kowitz said.

Kowitz shared the example of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses forming a partnership with Medtronic, a medical device company, that centered around content and thought leadership. “Much of the content was more than AMSN staff could produce on their own for members, and it was extremely valuable,” he said.

Knowing that content opportunities also appeal to its sponsors, ATLIS has started selling content tracks at its annual conference that meeting sponsors can purchase to host their own content sessions in a private room. Before adding these sessions to the conference program, ATLIS meets with sponsors to discuss session topics that would interest attendees.

Better Profit Margins

Deepening its relationship with sponsors has also helped ATLIS meet its financial goals and boost nondues revenue. Since the association’s offerings are more content-focused, it has been able to increase its profit margins without overloading staff with additional work.

“We’re focusing more on partnership content,” Walsh said. “We’re hosting platforms for vendors, and they are bringing in the content or making the content in partnerships with us. It’s fewer physical deliverables, less social media posts, less signs, and less work on our end.”

Kowitz anticipates that collaboration and thought leadership will continue to be key elements of strong sponsorship programs.

“To move forward, associations need to be nimble enough to recognize what they are hearing from their sponsors and act on those changes,” he said.

Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now.

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