Your logo on badges, bags and key cards, oh my! Do these sound like some of the standard sponsorship opportunities that your association is offering? You are not alone. Association after association offer “visibility sponsorships” with logos on signage, lanyards, and more. But the reality is, conference attendees quickly forget who sponsored what and companies receive diminishing returns. Sponsors become weary of this approach, question the ROI, and reduce their spend or cut their support entirely.

There is a better way.

Association sponsorship relationships need to skedaddle down the yellow brick road and evolve past these “traditional” sponsorship offerings that are commonly offered as a primary benefit.

Sponsors today are looking for more specific, business-relevant benefits. If you are intentional in how you work with your top sponsors with the flexibility to customize offerings and establish partnerships that meet their needs, then you are positioned to increase your revenue.

Elizabeth Engel and I have been writing a series of blog posts addressing partnership vs. membership. In a prior blog, the “STEP Up” process outlined how to evolve from one-off sponsorships to collaborative partnerships. (Cheat sheet: Assess Your Situation, Transform Your Assets, Engage Your Sponsors, and Plan Your Partnership Road Map).

Make your sponsorship offerings more targeted, valuable, & compelling

This post builds on the STEP Up process with tips to evolve your sponsorship offerings to be more relevant, valuable and specific to the business needs of sponsors today. Consider how these tips can benefit your association:

1) Understand sponsor motivations to develop benefits that will resonate

Most so-called ‘partnership’ programs consist of a string of disconnected benefits with no connection to the direct interests of the specific partner. Yet the reality is, companies are only interested in your high-dollar sponsorships when it directly connects to their business goals. A conversation with a senior executive – and not a junior level marketing staffer – is required to gain an understanding of their interests. Interview your corporate partners by taking off your ‘sales hat’ and genuinely seeking their insights. Instead of “selling” your association and conference, focus on learning about your sponsor’s current business plans and challenges. Ask probing questions that delve into its business and plans to target the market. When you identify the key motivators for the company, you are better positioned to create a partnership/sponsorship plan that will resonate and, as a result, secure a higher price point.

2) Establish partnerships around specific business interests or themes

Once you understand the interests, goals, and challenges of your sponsors, you can structure a partnership focused on what they are seeking. If the partner is interested in a specific policy, study or trend, make that a core element of the partnership. Develop benefits that connect the foundational topic across your association. This could include conference content/speakers, webinars, articles, or other programmatic initiatives tied to that issue. Headline the partnership based on the topic or theme of interest to the partner – with the benefits relevant to that issue. Rather than focusing on what you offer (conference, advertising, gala dinner), re-frame your offerings around their specific business interests. This provides a much stronger value proposition than standard one-off benefits that lack a connection to business goals.

3) Create distinct and different investment levels

If there is little differentiation of value across sponsorship levels, why should your sponsors buy up? To successfully structure partnerships for the greatest revenue potential, restrict the most valuable benefits to companies with the resources and ability to invest at the highest level. For example, if webinars or e-distributions offer the strongest value, then only permit companies that spend at a specific dollar amount the right to receive this benefit. This is similar to a hotel or airline loyalty program. If you reach a certain number of miles on an airline, you can sit in first class while others (including me!) are stuck in coach. This results in people striving to gain extra miles/points so they receive the strongest benefits (and get the upgrade!). The stronger the differentiation in benefits, the greater the ability to generate higher revenue. When creating these levels, it is important to be aware of which benefits your sponsors consider most valuable and then to determine the right price point.

How will you move forward?

Don’t let your association remain stuck in the old “badges, bags and key cards, oh my!” model of selling sponsorships. Instead, be strategic, specific, and creatively seek out win-win scenarios valuable to your sponsors, and with a higher price tag. Follow these steps and move your association from low dollar one-off sponsorships to high value collaborative partnerships.

Build stronger partnerships. Establish more relevant offerings. Generate additional dollars.

You have a choice to make. Will you STEP Up?

We want to hear from you! Please share how you have expanded beyond sponsorship and moved to a partnership model. In the next post, Elizabeth will address association membership ROI.

Flax Associates helps associations and nonprofits establish mutually beneficial partnerships that enhance the value offered and result in additional funding. We help develop the strategy, structure, and ability to STEP Up from sponsorship to partnership. If you’d like to discuss your current sponsorship strategy and plans to boost your revenue, please reach out by email (lewis[at] or phone (202.266.2655).