Corporate partnership: The term tends to invoke images of budgeting, sponsorship agreements and maintaining effective and productive partner benefits. But as a concept, partnership is more than that. It is about cooperation, shared connection and mutual interests.

We can use this original meaning to direct and develop our partnership programs, and make sure we are asking the right questions – while looking in the right place for answers.

Take, for example, setting up corporate partnership agreements for your upcoming year. As you look to creating, maintaining or advancing your corporate partner relationships, consider how those companies will be doing just the same thing. You are not the only one poring over draft budgets and making decisions about expenditures. Your current, and potential, partners will also be embroiled in drawing up fiscal plans.

The question to ask, therefore, is “when do companies decide on marketing and sponsorship budgets?”

You might be tempted to make the question “when does the company’s fiscal year end? But this can be misleading. The month in which a company might decide its marketing budget could be at many different points before the end of a fiscal year.

Rather than creating your own answers by relying upon fiscal year cycles, the most effective and accommodating thing to do is talk with companies about their plans. Because almost all corporate sponsorship and partnership fees are paid from a company’s marketing budget, I advise my clients to ask each of their current and prospective corporate partners when the company makes expenditure decisions for the coming year – and, more importantly, when they want to have a conversation about partnership that best aligns with their budget decision-making process.

Asking these questions is a way of demonstrating your association is concerned with the company’s needs and best interests. This is important on more than one level: Not only does it show respect and consideration for your professional relationship, but it can have a real impact on the decision-making itself.

An anecdote by way of example: I was interviewing a corporate partner for one of my clients and asked whether it would be important for my client to set up a discussion about partnership in the upcoming year, before the company sets its budget. The corporate partner’s response was enthusiastic and enlightening. They described their process, explaining they allocate the same amount of money for the association as they did for the current year because they don’t know what the association will offer corporate partners for the coming year. If they could talk with the organization beforehand about opportunities for the coming year, they might well be inclined to increase their partnership support.

By including your partners in the conversation, adjusting to their needs and considering their requirements, your organization has the potential to not just strengthen relationships, but also to enjoy gains. Partnerships, after all, are about meeting the needs of both the company and your association.

Bruce Rosenthal is a strategic advisor and consultant to associations and not-for-profit organizations, creating successful corporate partnership programs that increase revenue and add member/constituent value.

Previously, he held senior-level positions with associations and not-for-profit organizations. He understands the “ins and outs” of association structures, governance, member services, advocacy, education, revenue streams, and conferences.

He directed a successful corporate partnership program for a national association, launching the program in 2009 and revamping it twice to keep pace with changes in the economy and the evolving needs of corporate partners. He demonstrates leadership in identifying and fostering corporate partnership and sponsorship best practices, opportunities, and solutions as convener of the DC-Area Partnership Professionals Network.

Bruce Rosenthal is a strategic advisor and consultant to associations and not-for-profit organizations, creating successful corporate partnership programs that increase revenue and add member/constituent value. Previously, he held senior-level positions with associations and not-for-profit organizations. He understands the “ins and outs” of association structures, governance, member services, advocacy, education, revenue streams, and conferences. He directed a successful corporate partnership program for a national association, launching the program in 2009 and revamping it twice to keep pace with changes in the economy and the evolving needs of corporate partners. He demonstrates leadership in identifying and fostering corporate partnership and sponsorship best practices, opportunities, and solutions as convener of the DC-Area Partnership Professionals Network.

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