A high-performing sponsorship program benefits everyone involved: your sponsors, your association, and most important, your members. To market sponsorships effectively, your team needs to focus on connecting members with sponsors who can help them solve their problems.
Just about every association executive director or CEO says that increasing nondues revenue is important for the organization’s long-term success—and that usually means more sponsors and sponsorship revenue. Yet, many associations find it difficult to meet and sign new sponsors.
Why do associations struggle with sponsorship marketing?
Our research shows that less than 2 percent of associations use professional contractors or full-time dedicated staff for sponsorship marketing and sales. The other 98 percent rely on in-house employees or volunteers to sell sponsorships. We found that virtually none of these in-house employees or volunteers has received any sales training. Moreover, these people are usually charged with other tasks as well, such as event planning, logistics, registration, communications, housing, speakers, and even answering the phone. This one-hat-among-many model for sponsorship marketing is practically an association industry standard.
We also found that most staff and volunteers do not like selling sponsorships. They prefer doing other tasks and think that “selling” should be somebody else’s job. Worse, many staff and volunteers think sponsorship selling is drudgework, or they see it as demeaning—as asking for charity or dialing for dollars. Finally, many staff and volunteers cannot explain the business value of sponsoring. They often think the main objective of sponsorship marketing is to get “free stuff” for attendees’ bags.
Talk about access, ROI, and value, not just costs. When businesses buy a sponsorship, they are making an investment; they want a return on that investment.
So why do associations struggle with sponsorship marketing? In short, using untrained, unfocused people to carry out tasks that they dislike and consider a low priority, who do not understand the value of what they are selling, and who cannot communicate that value to potential sponsors is not a recipe for success.
But with some new thinking and approaches, you can make “selling” more comfortable and create a cost-effective, repeatable process for sponsorship marketing. Follow these tips to change the “selling conversation” and shift the power dynamics in your association’s favor.
Define the business value of association membership and event attendance to your members. Collect and analyze audience demographics. Define the core audience and understand why membership in your association and attendance at your events benefit them. Make sure everybody on your staff can recite the core mission and membership value. Drill this into the team.
Understand your members’ problems, challenges, and unfilled desires. Your members join your association and attend your events to achieve certain goals. Many businesses make their living and exist solely to help association members resolve those problems or fulfill those desires. These businesses are your natural allies and your ideal sponsors.
Learn—and teach others—to speak the language of business when talking with sponsors. Talk about access, ROI, and value, not just costs. When businesses buy a sponsorship, they are making an investment; they want a return on that investment.
Understand and embrace the “benefit triangle.” The right sponsorships help members solve problems, benefit the sponsors through increased sales, and benefit the association through revenues that drive profit. If one or more of these groups does not gain from the sponsorship, the sponsorship is failing. The sponsorship relationship is much more than just cashing sponsor checks.
Focus on helping members solve problems by introducing them to sponsors’ solutions. Helping does not feel like selling. For most people, helping is much easier and more positive. Think of sponsorship marketing as a matchmaking exercise—members have problems and desires; sponsors have solutions. The association is doing everyone a favor by setting the stage for introductions. The right sponsors are willing to pay a price for the right access and introductions. The result is a profitable sponsorship program for your organization.