Best Practices

12 Expert Tips to Help Associations Attract More Sponsors

Callie Hinman
July 3, 2019

When it comes to non-dues revenue, associations often find themselves facing a paradox: they need to offer programs and events that are attractive sponsorship opportunities, but they struggle to fund these programs and events without income from outside sources—like sponsorships.

Whether you’re building a sponsorship strategy from scratch or enhancing your existing approach, the tips below will make it a lot easier to bring sponsors in the door and encourage them to stick around.

Step 1: Pre-Pitch Preparation

The key difference between an association that can consistently obtain valuable sponsorships and an association that can’t is preparation. Before a single call is placed or email is sent, there are certain fundamentals about your sponsorship acquisition strategy you need to define.

Start with the “why.”

In other words, ask yourself: why are you looking for sponsors in the first place? Beyond financial assistance, what do you hope to accomplish by obtaining sponsorship contracts? Your motivations are what will shape the rest of your approach, so it’s crucial that you have clearly defined goals.

Be selective about your audience.

Some associations assume contacting as many companies as possible is the way to go. But casting too wide of a net can result in a lot of wasted time and effort. Your list of potential sponsors should only contain organizations whose values and actions align with the mission of your association and the needs of your members.

Know who to talk to.

Calling the number on a company’s website and leaving a message likely won’t yield positive results. You need to find the decision-makers. Do some research and locate the contact information for the person (or people) at each company who gives final approval on sponsorships. It may take a little digging but it helps ensure your proposal is seen by the right people and more quickly.

Take advantage of existing relationships.

Prior to reaching out to companies you’ve never contacted before, get in touch with your current sponsors. Ask them if they’d be interested in upgrading their sponsorship level or becoming your exclusive “XYZ industry” partner. It’s easier to amend an existing sponsorship agreement than build a new relationship from scratch.

  Pro Tip: Have a specific plan for the money you raise. Whether you expect to bring in $500 via sponsorships or $5,000, you should know how each dollar will be allocated. Most importantly, make sure you have a Plan B in case you’re unable to raise enough funds.

Step 2: Proving the Value of Sponsorship

Every company that agrees to discuss sponsorship has a reason why. They may be interested in using a sponsorship to build brand awareness, enhance their reputation, support their lead generation efforts, or simply sell their product or service. Whatever their objective is, your responsibility is to explain exactly how becoming a sponsor will help them achieve it.

Differentiate your association from your competitors.

Bigger companies will receive sponsorship proposals from multiple associations, so highlight the unique benefits you can offer that others can’t. For smaller associations, this could be access to a niche audience the sponsor wants to network with and/or market to. Larger, more well-known associations can use their positive reputation as a selling point for companies interested in improving their corporate image.

Focus on the sponsor, not your association.

Sponsorship dollars aren’t a donation; companies expect to receive something worthwhile in return for being a sponsor. Potential sponsors are more interested in what your association can do for them than what your association does for others. Avoid general claims about the benefits of sponsorship. Instead, promote the benefits that best align with each sponsor’s specific goals.

Give an accurate assessment of what a company stands to gain through sponsorship.

If you undervalue your sponsorship, companies won’t give your association a chance. But if you overvalue the opportunity, companies won’t stay sponsors for long and may discourage others from working with your association. That’s why your proposal should be tailored to each sponsor; it ensures both parties have the same expectations.

Embrace flexibility with your sponsorship packages.

One option is to create a package with multiple levels of sponsorship as this appeals to companies with a broad range of budgets. You can also offer one standard package with additional à la carte upgrades companies can add for an additional fee.

Be open to compromise and creativity.

Part of proving the value of sponsorship is showing your willingness to work together with the sponsor to create the most mutually beneficial agreement. So if a potential sponsor wants items not in your regular package portfolio, see what you can do to accommodate their request.

Step 3: Managing the Relationship

Once you’ve secured a sponsorship agreement, your job now transitions to building and maintaining a relationship with the sponsor. Establishing a solid foundation from the get-go will make it easier to hold onto the sponsors you have. And retaining sponsors requires considerably less effort than seeking out and acquiring new sponsors every year.

Always confirm their branding before finalizing any content.

Using an outdated version of your sponsor’s logo in your marketing materials is irritating but forgivable. Using the wrong website URL or phone number is not. Before anything is printed or goes live on your site, send proofs to the sponsor and ask them to confirm everything is correct.

Keep the lines of communication open.

If a sponsor contacts you with a question, respond as promptly as possible. Don’t let emails from sponsors sit in your inbox unanswered for extended periods of time. And ensure you keep sponsors informed of events and other sponsorship opportunities.

Express your appreciation for their support.

If the sponsorship was for a single event, send a personalized note after the event thanking them for their contribution and letting them know about upcoming events. If the sponsorship is ongoing, reach out to the sponsor a month or two before their contract is set to expire and let them know what their sponsorship dollars helped the association accomplish. This is also a great opportunity to discuss renewals and upgrades.

Securing sponsorships is certainly challenging, but it’s not impossible. As long as you perform thorough research, adopt a flexible and customizable approach to proposals, and commit to nurturing long-term relationships with your sponsors, you’ll find it much easier to bring on new sponsors and hold onto the ones you have.