Many associations rely on events as a major source of revenue. With business events cancelled and postponed over the last 18 months due to COVID-19, this has significantly impacted association revenue.
While we are slowly returning to some form of normality, the future of events is still unpredictable to say the least. Snap lockdowns and border closures can put event planning into a tailspin with little more than a moment’s notice.
Until such time that the majority of the population is fully vaccinated, associations will continue to struggle to rely on events as a traditional revenue stream.
So then, what other revenue stream options are available to associations?
One of the key components of event revenue comes from sponsors. While it is possible to attract sponsors for online events, the income just isn’t as high. So, sponsors are looking to spend their marketing budget elsewhere.
Now is the time to replace the traditional event sponsorship model with long-term partnerships.
Partnerships offer some great opportunities for associations that are seeking new and exciting revenue streams. Associations can seek out partners looking to provide products or services to their members, or solicit partnerships from organisations that believe in the work the association is undertaking.
So then, the question becomes: how do associations build and develop these partnerships? We outline our tips to building successful long-term partnerships.
To begin with, it’s important to step back and assess how well your association’s brand is recognised in the industry and wider community. What sort of buying power do your members have? What role do your members play in their own companies? Are they decision makers responsible for budget allocation? Where are they located?
It’s vital to undertake this homework before you consider approaching any organisation to enter into a partnership. After all, this is what you are selling to potential partners. You can’t sell what you don’t know or understand.
Consider what type of organisations have supported your association in the past. Which sponsors have received the best response from your members? Can potential partners offer services that will benefit your members, like technology that improves their productivity and profitability? Do potential partners sell goods or services that are actually needed by your members?
Traditionally, when soliciting event sponsors, associations use a prospectus. This marketing document outlines all the reasons why an organisation should sponsor the event, and provides details on all the different levels of sponsorship available.
A partnership prospectus is similar—it just takes things step further. It highlights long-term opportunities available. These might include featuring the partner’s logo on the homepage of the association’s website, a story in each newsletter or magazine, or a three minute overview of the partners product and services before each of the association’s webinar.
When compiling your prospectus, it is important to keep in mind:
Look at who you really want to partner with. Who have you partnered with in the past? Did the relationship work? Make sure any potential partners have values that align with those of your association. Make sure the relationship will be mutually beneficial long-term. Consider which organisations would best help your members. Is it organisations that provide software, finance services, insurance services, transport, or equipment suppliers?
Once you’re armed with your prospectus and your potential partner wish list, it’s time to start approaching organisations. But, this is not just a matter of phoning the CEO and saying, “please sponsor us”. It’s all about building relationships.
Start by looking at the connections you might be able to access through your members, particularly members’ suppliers. You might want to survey your members, asking what the top five things are that they're buying for their business or profession?
If your members regularly buy products and services through account managers or sales managers, you might want to try to tap into these contacts. Ask your members for an introduction.
With any long-term relationship, there will likely be negotiations that take place. Both parties need to feel as though they will derive value and benefit from the relationship. At one stage, AES negotiated over $150,000 worth of sponsorship for one association for the period of three years. This contract was only signed after extensive negotiations.
If an organisation has sponsored your association, you need to ensure that you have the ability and capability to deliver on your promises. If you’ve promised your sponsor articles in every edition of your magazine, then make sure you print these. If you’ve promised them branding rights to every webinar, set up a process to make sure this happens.
If you’ve signed a multi-year partnership deal, make sure you check-in with your sponsors regularly. Make sure that they’re happy with how the relationship is travelling. Make sure they’re getting a positive return on investment. Compile a report for them, detailing member interactions and demonstrating just how effective the relationship is.
If your sponsor isn’t happy with the relationship, then discuss the problems. Work out how you can improve the relationship so that it is mutually beneficial.
The other side of the coin is to make sure that your members feel like they’re deriving benefit from the association’s partners. It's important to remember that you're there to deliver value to your members.
If you get it right, long-term partnerships can add real value to your association’s bottom line.
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