My colleague Dan Kowitz and I have studied and advised hundreds of association corporate partnership programs over the past two decades, both as senior-level staff with associations and as consultants to associations.
A lot has changed – and continues to change – in the world of corporate sponsorships and partnerships: the role of associations continues to evolve; the growth of the Internet has made a wealth of information available to members; social media has created new ways to communicate; there have been dramatic changes in the economy, and transactional sponsorships are morphing into transformational partnerships.
Three key factors have remained constant over the years:
- Associations need more revenue to fulfill their missions.
- Members are asking for more content to meet their growing and complex needs.
- Sponsors and partners are seeking more ROI as they compare the value of association sponsorships and partnerships with other marketing opportunities.
The majority of the associations Dan and I have examined are faced with many of the same challenges. Below is a snapshot of suggested solutions to those challenges.
- Align with your association’s mission: Priority One is that everything an association does to develop and implement a corporate partnership program must be in alignment with the association’s mission. To do otherwise devalues your association in the eyes of members, corporate partners, and other stakeholders.
- Maximize value for members: Your corporate partners are important, but members come first. Corporate partner programs should be structured based on member needs.
- Grow revenue: Associations need revenue, although that doesn’t mean treating your corporate partners like an ATM. (See #9.)
- Gain staff and board support: Corporate partnership programs must be understood as an overarching goal involving most staff members and all board members.
- Inventory assets and create sponsorship packages: Associations should “dig deep” to identify all possible benefits that can be offered to corporate partners in value-added packages.
- Set fees: Fees should be set in a way that aligns with the value proposition for corporate partners.
- Offer in-kind partnerships: In-kind makes sense if the in-kind services fulfill an association need, not when it’s merely an alternative to a company paying the corporate partner fee.
- Decide about à la carte vs. year-long partnerships: A plan and a strategy is needed to ensure that these two approaches don’t confuse corporate partners or compete with each other.
- Find out the business needs of corporate partners: Having a conversation with each corporate partner to better understand their company’s needs will position your association to create partnerships that have value.
- Leverage your association’s intellectual assets: Every association is a subject matter and policy expert about their industry, profession, cause, and/or issues. Leveraging this expertise can be an asset for corporate partners.
- Position your association as the “go-to” program: Understand your competition – other associations and other marketing opportunities for companies – so you can better position your association.
- Prepare fulfillment reports: Demonstrate that you have fulfilled each corporate partner’s business needs (see #9 above).
- Help partners activate benefits: By helping and guiding companies to take advantage of their corporate partner benefits, you will increase the likelihood they will renew.
- Respond if corporate partners don’t plan to renew: If you’ve accomplished #9, #10, #11, #12, and #13 above, be sure the company understands that you’ve “delivered”.
- Maintain relationships when contacts leave or companies merge: When your key contacts with corporate partners leave the company, keep in touch; they might move to a company that could become a corporate partner. When one of your corporate partners merges, request a meeting with the new leadership to maintain the relationship.