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Add a Little “Soul” to Sponsorship Income

By Caitlin Hyatt, Account Executive

Sponsorships – in terms of importance, after membership dues, they’re the lifeblood of any non-profit association event.  Just one meeting without a full-fledged sponsorship roster can send an association’s bottom line south of the border.  In an age where most companies are already cash strapped, it can be hard to justify asking your members for more money.  Here are a few tips on how to add a little “soul” to your sponsorship income:

  1. Identify what your association can offer (“Tell me something good” – Rufus and Chaka Khan).  First and foremost, it is important that you have a list of benefits that is appropriately matched to the level of support you offer.  Even more so, be sure that what you have to offer your sponsors is something that actually appeals to them.  Unless the member is the top decision maker at their company, they may need to justify with upper management why their organization should sponsor.  Without a strong set of benefits, that will be hard to do.
  2. Honor thy past sponsors (“Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green).  Research shows that it’s much easier to keep a current customer than it is to attempt to get a new one.  The same holds true for associations.  Before your event, make a database of your past sponsors that contains what they’ve done in the past and at what level of support.  Then reach out to each of these company individually to offer them a “First Right of Refusal.”  This simply means that they are offered the opportunity to renew their sponsorship of whatever they’ve done in the past (i.e. networking event, refreshment break, etc.) before it is available to the general membership at large.  This time period is typically a finite window of time, such as two weeks.  It may not seem like much, but it in essence makes it appear as though the opportunity is exclusive.  In larger associations, this may help to make the company feel like they’re noticed.
  3. Think outside the box (“Just My Imagination” – The Temptations).  Run of the mill sponsorships such as Continental Breakfasts, Banquets, Transportation, are definitely vital.  However, try to think of new and different ways for sponsors to get their name out there in a way that’s mutually beneficial.  Do you work for an agrarian association?  Why not have one of your members sponsor a meal that’s made with one of their products?
  4. Get their name out there (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” – Stevie Wonder).  Make sure you’re doing as much promotion as possible for your sponsors.  Place their company names on newsletters, e-blasts, conference signage, hotel marquis, and anywhere else you can think of.  Offer an advertisement (with the size dependent upon the level of support) to your sponsors in the conference program, or in your next e-blast.  During the event, set time aside to specifically thank your supporters, and even have a representative come up and say a few words about their company.  This is their target audience, so why not allow them to address their market face-to-face?
  5. Give thanks (“R.E.S.P.E.C.T” – Aretha Franklin).  The event has ended and you’re already onto planning the next one.  Now that all is said and done, be sure to go out of your way to let your sponsors know how much they mean to your association.  A personal touch is always best.  Pick up the phone and give them a call.  Use this as an opportunity to solicit feedback on how they felt their sponsorship dollars were spent.  This will help you in planning for future events.  Also, if time permits, a hand written thank you note from you or the president of your Association can really go a long way.  In the era of electronic communication, there is something to be said about a hand written note.

There’s a reason why soul music continues to stand the test of time.  Follow these tips to make your sponsors continue to renew for decades to come!