Corporate Partnership Challenges and Solutions – Let me count the ways

Written by Bruce Rosenthal on August 21, 2018

My colleague Dan Kowitz and I have studied and advised hundreds of association corporate partnership programs over the past two decades, both as senior-level staff with associations and as consultants to associations.

A lot has changed – and continues to change – in the world of corporate sponsorships and partnerships: the role of associations continues to evolve; the growth of the Internet has made a wealth of information available to members; social media has created new ways to communicate; there have been dramatic changes in the economy, and transactional sponsorships are morphing into transformational partnerships.

Three key factors have remained constant over the years:

  • Associations need more revenue to fulfill their missions.
  • Members are asking for more content to meet their growing and complex needs.
  • Sponsors and partners are seeking more ROI as they compare the value of association sponsorships and partnerships with other marketing opportunities.

The majority of the associations Dan and I have examined are faced with many of the same challenges. Below is a snapshot of suggested solutions to those challenges.

  1. Align with your association’s mission: Priority One is that everything an association does to develop and implement a corporate partnership program must be in alignment with the association’s mission. To do otherwise devalues your association in the eyes of members, corporate partners, and other stakeholders.
  2. Maximize value for members: Your corporate partners are important, but members come first. Corporate partner programs should be structured based on member needs.
  3. Grow revenue: Associations need revenue, although that doesn’t mean treating your corporate partners like an ATM. (See #9.)
  4. Gain staff and board support: Corporate partnership programs must be understood as an overarching goal involving most staff members and all board members.
  5. Inventory assets and create sponsorship packages: Associations should “dig deep” to identify all possible benefits that can be offered to corporate partners in value-added packages.
  6. Set fees: Fees should be set in a way that aligns with the value proposition for corporate partners.
  7. Offer in-kind partnerships: In-kind makes sense if the in-kind services fulfill an association need, not when it’s merely an alternative to a company paying the corporate partner fee.
  8. Decide about à la carte vs. year-long partnerships: A plan and a strategy is needed to ensure that these two approaches don’t confuse corporate partners or compete with each other.
  9. Find out the business needs of corporate partners: Having a conversation with each corporate partner to better understand their company’s needs will position your association to create partnerships that have value.
  10. Leverage your association’s intellectual assets: Every association is a subject matter and policy expert about their industry, profession, cause, and/or issues. Leveraging this expertise can be an asset for corporate partners.
  11. Position your association as the “go-to” program: Understand your competition – other associations and other marketing opportunities for companies – so you can better position your association.
  12. Prepare fulfillment reports: Demonstrate that you have fulfilled each corporate partner’s business needs (see #9 above).
  13. Help partners activate benefits: By helping and guiding companies to take advantage of their corporate partner benefits, you will increase the likelihood they will renew.
  14. Respond if corporate partners don’t plan to renew: If you’ve accomplished #9, #10, #11, #12, and #13 above, be sure the company understands that you’ve “delivered”.
  15. Maintain relationships when contacts leave or companies merge: When your key contacts with corporate partners leave the company, keep in touch; they might move to a company that could become a corporate partner. When one of your corporate partners merges, request a meeting with the new leadership to maintain the relationship.