How Associations Can Generate New Forms of Corporate Sponsorship

As associations continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of non-dues revenue – specifically in the area of corporate sponsorships – a new source of sponsorship revenue is emerging.

Corporate Marketing Departments often manage and pay for sponsorships, however, this isn’t the only option anymore for associations. Over the past two years, many companies have increased their desire to gain visibility and credibility for their corporate social responsibility (CSR); diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and sustainability programs.

According to the Governance & Accountability Institute in a July 2020 annual flash report, 90% of S&P 500 Index companies publish sustainability reports. Additionally, based on a report from Business News Daily in March 2021, 82% of Fortune 1000 companies have specific budgets for areas like sustainability and diversity.

Fortune 500 companies spent over $20 billion a year on sustainability efforts and over $8 billion for diversity efforts, according to an Economic Review Berkeley report from March 2020. Smaller companies, as well, have programs – or are adding programs – in these areas.

Keep in mind that these initiatives and budgets grew during the pandemic, when other areas of corporations experienced negative impacts and cutbacks.

Companies are more eager than ever to learn about sponsorship and strategic partner opportunities from associations centered around these initiatives in order to assist in communicating the company’s commitment to a sustainable, diverse, and inclusive community.

You may be asking, “what does my association have to offer” that a potential corporate sponsor or partner would have interest in learning more about in relation to CSR, DEI, and sustainability? Here are a few examples:

  • Does your association and/or members have recycling programs?
  • Does your association and/or members use vendors that utilize good sustainability practices in their daily operations or within their supply chain?
  • Does your association and/or its members have outreach programs or initiatives to engage women, people of color, LGBTQ, persons with disabilities, etc.?
  • Does your association and/or members have hiring best practices that go above/beyond EEOC guidelines?
  • Does your association and/or members have an initiative around volunteering, pro bono work, or other types of community service?

So where do you begin? First, realize that it’s best to start conversations with corporations when you don’t necessarily need them for sponsorship support.

Start small to prevent feeling overwhelmed and pick one or two companies that you have interest in engaging. Take time to view each company’s website and annual reports or reports to the community on CSR, DEI, or sustainability programs.

Some of the larger Fortune 1000 companies have individual stand-alone reports for CSR, DEI, and sustainability. Do the research and find the connection that your association shares with each corporation’s initiatives and pillars of support. In most cases, the decision-makers in these areas are referenced in these reports and provide contact information.

You could also check the websites for your association’s sponsors to find out if they have CSR, DEI, and/or sustainability initiatives. If so, ask your sponsorship contact if she/he manages these initiatives or a different department manages the initiative. If it’s a different department, your contact could provide a referral to the right person.

If your organization’s sponsor has a CSR, DEI, and/or sustainability initiative, you might be able to combine the company’s current sponsorship support with CSR/DEI/sustainability support to position the company as a top-tier supporter. An added benefit for your association is more relevant content from the company for your members.

When you track down a contact person you don’t already know, send a brief email message or leave a brief voice mail message mentioning the company program that attracted your interest. Explain how that program has a connection with your association and/or your members. Ask for a brief phone conversation to discuss your mutual interest and commitment.

At this point, you are not selling sponsorships or partnerships. You are seeking a conversation that might lead to a sponsorship or partnership relationship if mutual interests and goals can be confirmed.

Most importantly, keep email communication brief and with no attachments. Many companies have email protections in place that prohibit attachments from outside senders and your recipient will appreciate the abbreviated yet impactful outreach.

Engaging with other areas besides a company’s Marketing Department may seem daunting at first however CSR, DEI, and sustainability executives are passionate thought leaders who want to talk about their good work. They’ve been charged to think differently and to seek new opportunities to partner and support other like-minded organizations.

Your association just might be the partner they’ve been looking for but didn’t know it.

Lori Zoss Kraska, MBA, CFRE, is Founder/Principal Growth Owl, LLC; works with purpose driven organizations and associations to help best position their value in order to receive sponsorship funding and other sources of non-dues revenue from corporations .

Bruce Rosenthal is Principal of Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC; he creates successful corporate partnership programs that increase revenue and add member/constituent value.