Partnership vs. Sponsorship: Helping Your Association Achieve Long-Term Success
Cultivating and sustaining income for your association is essential to be able to help the people you serve and do your valuable work. We have been discussing the primary tactics for raising the revenue you need to help your association grow and thrive – membership and sponsorship acquisition. We have also touched on the importance of keeping members with you. Not only is membership retention crucial, but the same is true for building relationships with your sponsors. Once a business or organization becomes your sponsor, you can develop that connection further, even beyond them becoming a repeat sponsor. That evolution is the change between partnership vs. sponsorship.
Partnership vs. Sponsorship: Same Difference?
Sometimes it can be difficult to spot the difference between sponsorship and partnership, primarily because the terms are often used interchangeably. However, at their core, and more importantly in terms of what they truly mean to your association, there is a distinction.
The sponsorship model is one that you are probably more familiar with – two parties enter into an agreement where one provides something in return for something else, most commonly when one entity provides funding in exchange for promotion opportunities from an organization. There are other ways to solicit sponsorship support outside of the exchange of money. Support from sponsors can also work through donating products, services, media, or cross-promotion. Donor organizations, businesses, and other membership organizations all offer strategic sponsorship opportunities.
When thinking through what to say when asking for sponsors, it is beneficial to think of it as building a relationship with your sponsor, especially if you want them to return. No one likes to feel like you only reach out to them when you want their money. But even if you succeed in building a rapport with your sponsors, it is difficult to make the relationship a balanced one. Especially in the case of corporate partnership vs. sponsorship – even if you offer top quality sponsor benefits, your association is most often going to get a slightly better end of the bargain.
And therein lies the key difference in partnership vs. sponsorship. A partnership is an agreement with mutual benefit for both parties. Many partnerships start out as a sponsorship and are grown over time. Partnerships imply a close bond between entities, so they require a higher level of trust than a one-time sponsorship. As the benefits of a partnership are mutual, so should be the responsibility, with each party contributing equal effort on an initiative. Sometimes associations will refer to sponsors as partners to show deference and appreciation, but it is likely many do not rise to the level of partnership in a true sense.
At Paradigm, we host dozens of informational and networking virtual events every year. Some of our relationships have always been based on sponsorship, but some have grown to be an example of evolving from a sponsorship to a partnership, sharing the responsibility of managing logistics, helping to identify speakers and topics, and promotion.
Best Practices for Developing Partnerships vs. Sponsorships
Know your sponsors. Knowing your audience is critical in identifying the best way to connect with them and entice them into sponsorship. It is also essential to ensure they are an organization you would be proud to have your name attached to. This is even more critical for partnerships vs. sponsorships. Do they “fit” with what you are trying to do? Will you be in competition with each other? Do you work well together? Do they share your core values? Do you share the same network? To move toward partnership vs. sponsorship, look for ways to approach your connection beyond a transactional one.
Take it one step at a time. Hopefully this goes without saying, but it is a bad idea to meet someone in the park and immediately ask them to marry you or co-sign a bank loan (maybe start with coffee?) That sounds ridiculous, but it’s also equally ridiculous to expect a sponsorship worth tens of thousands of dollars, or co-branding an event with a partner right away. Look for small-dollar ways for companies and organizations to contribute, and keep them engaged through building touch points with them. While there is a lot of reward that comes with partnerships vs. sponsorships, there is some risk involved as well, so taking your time is well worth the investment.
Be picky. With a true partnership, your association will be intricately tied to theirs, so you want to choose wisely. Do your offerings complement each other and have synergy? Do you fill in some operational gaps for them and vice versa? Can they help you achieve your goals? Is there anything in their history, business model, or your interactions with them that are giving you a red flag? Not every sponsor could be, or should be, a good candidate for a partnership, and that’s OK.
Transforming a sponsorship to a partnership or building either from the ground up is a nuanced process, one without a clearly defined roadmap to success. But the concept of partnership vs. sponsorship is one Paradigm has navigated many times. We can help you create a comprehensive strategy to propel you towards your association revenue and relationship building goals. We will partner with you to develop a sponsorship and/or partnership strategy that adds value to who you are and highlights your differentiators and value propositions. Then we will help you communicate it in such a way that will resonate with your audience, and clearly set you apart from your competition. Please contact us today to get started.