Sponsorship programs are tricky. Most associations have one (or have at least considered one), but are still fine-tuning the details. Is pricing too low? Too high? Do sponsors see the value in each sponsorship package? What do members think of the program?
And what about your association? Is your program effective at increasing non-dues revenue?
To create a great sponsorship program, you need to answer each of these questions and more, balancing the needs of your association, your sponsors, and your members. Below are five steps we recommend following to help create a sponsorship program that provides value to everyone involved.
How to Create an Effective Association Sponsorship Program
1. Define Broad Range of Sponsorship Opportunities
While conference and events tend to be the most common sponsorship opportunities, most associations have far more possibilities than they realize. Take a close look at your association’s products and services to see where you can offer additional options. As you diversify your offers, you’ll appeal to a wider audience and increase your chances of landing new partnerships.
A few common areas where associations accept sponsorships are:
- Conferences and other events
- E-newsletters and physical magazines
- Online communities
- Online educational courses and webinars, as well as in-person professional development classes
- Public websites
- Benchmarking surveys, reports, and other original research or publications
When considering these possibilities, make sure to consider how members will react to sponsors in each area. If a sponsor's involvement will only get in the way, such as an ad taking up too much space on your website and irritating members, then you may want to consider other opportunities. If you have unobtrusive ad space where you could highlight sponsor services that members find valuable, then you're on the right track.
2. Explain Inclusions and Responsibilities
For every sponsorship opportunity, lay out exactly what the sponsor will get and what they need to do to get the most out of your partnership. For instance, if someone sponsors your online community, they may get to add their name to a list of sponsors, be listed in a sponsor or vendor directory, and have blogging rights in the community.
If your sponsors get blogging or ad rights, give them guidelines on submitting material. Ad size and run time are helpful for people sponsoring your website, while the timeline for submitting blogs, as well as blog length, would be helpful for people posting in your community.
Make your sponsorship packages as clear as possible so prospects choose the right package for their needs and can build out their to-do list early on. It should be easy for your sponsors to take advantage of everything their package includes.
3. Highlight Benefits
Most organizations decide to sponsor associations to further business goals, like increasing brand awareness or boosting sales. That means to win sponsors you need to clearly explain the benefits of your association’s program and how it helps organizations achieve their goals.
Whenever possible, explain benefits by providing specific numbers. Organizations that sponsor your e-newsletter, for instance, may reach 5,000 people every week. For those with established sponsorship programs, consider sharing anonymous numbers from past sponsors. Click rates, referrals, and revenue generated by past sponsors can be compelling for those who are on the fence about working with you.
4. Set Prices Carefully
Price is often the number one question people have when buying a product or evaluating a sponsorship offer. Set your prices deliberately, based on the perceived value of each package. Packages with tangible results (such as an online community ad with view and click metrics) or a demonstrated return on investment will likely sell for more than sponsorships where ROI is more qualitative, for instance.
Offer a range of pricing and commitment choices to give sponsors choices. Sponsors could make a one-time commitment to support your annual conference or, alternatively, sponsor your event for three years. Your website and online community can also offer a range of monthly, quarterly, or yearly sponsorship package opportunities.
Once you've set your prices, make them easy to find on your website. If you don’t want to publish pricing, make it easy for interested parties to get in touch with you for more information. You can also gate sponsorship pricing, asking people who are interested to fill out a form to receive pricing in an email. This second option is popular because it helps you gather additional information about potential sponsors while making it easy for organizations to get the information they need without contacting you.
Expert Tip: Don’t just take a guess as to the best prices for each of your packages – research it. Look at what other organizations are offering and their price level to find a general market rate for your offers. Use that to guide your own prices.
5. Tailor Conversations
Each of your sponsors is unique and likely interested in achieving different outcomes. Have a detailed conversation with each organization or individual to learn about their goals and what they’re hoping to get from sponsoring your association.
When you understand what people are looking for in their sponsorship deal, help them choose the opportunity that is most likely to meet their needs. If they want to increase brand awareness, they may want to place an ad on your public website. If they want to reach a specific group of people who may be interested in their services, however, sponsoring a chapter community or special interest group will give them access to the more targeted audience they want.
It’s in your association’s best interest to match sponsors to the right opportunity, because that will help your sponsors get more value from your program. And if they get value, they’re also more likely to renew their contract, increasing your recurring non-dues revenue.
Measure Your Sponsorship Program’s Success and Make Improvements
The most successful sponsorship programs provide value to everyone involved – the association, sponsors, and members. Monitor the success of your own program by tracking sponsorship revenue, the ROI that sponsors are seeing (such as ad views, clicks, referrals, or revenue), and how members are responding to sponsors. Do they appreciate the added value?
Analyze the feedback with your team and make improvements where needed. When you strike the right balance, you’ll encourage recurring sponsorships that provide a steady stream of non-dues revenue that helps your association do even more for its members.