Many associations rely on a strong financial outcome of their events…this is not rocket science. It’s cyclical: to keep membership dues low, you need non-dues revenue streams. To increase non-dues revenue, you need to keep event registrations high enough to attract (and keep) sponsors. So, this leaves us the proverbial chicken vs. egg question.
The fact is that sponsorship needs to be a mutually beneficial enterprise. As such, the association needs to do the pre-work in order to maximize their offerings to industry partners. And potential sponsors need to be honest about what their ROI looks like so that the association can ensure they are meeting those needs. In order to walk this tricky line successfully, I would suggest implementing a three-step approach:
Step 1: Do the research!
Talk to your partners. Don’t make your sponsorship program in a vacuum thinking that sponsorship is one size fits all. Why not ask them what they are hoping to achieve with their participation in your event? The likelihood is that they have participated in multiple events and can bring some new ideas to the table for you instead of you needing to do ALL the leg work. Make it a dialogue…and keep talking. Change it up as the industry changes. Change it up as your event or association’s needs change. And yes…sometimes change it up just because. This will keep them engaged and willing to come along for the ride over multiple years.
Step 2: Make it Fair!
Not everyone needs to be the Title Sponsor! So, offer as many levels as you can to attract a variety of sponsors with a variety of price points. But be consistent with the offerings for each of those levels. There is nothing worse or breaks credibility than side deals or not making exceptions. Being upfront and honest with your sponsors allows them to have clear expectations of your association and for you to create benchmarks to measure the program’s success.
Step 3: Say Thank You!
I have said in a previous blog how it important a simple thank you is. And I believe that it is even more important when dealing with sponsors. But in this instance, I think it should be big, bold and loud! What does Buddy the Elf say about Christmas Cheer?? The same for associations… “say it loud for all to hear!”. The more public you make your recognition, the more visibility your sponsors get and even more engaged in your program. Don’t separate them from your delegates, include them! Make them feel appreciated and a part of the overall experience.
Developing a strong sponsorship program is meant to pay off in dividends for your association. But don’t forget it is meant to pay off for the sponsor too. A true partnership is a two-way street and should be respected as such. Taking into account all three of these steps will ensure growth and stability in your program. And most importantly, your sponsors then stick with you at times of great change, which we all know a thing or two about right now.