7 Proven Strategies for Retaining Sponsors: Keeping Your Partners Engaged and Invested

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DeLaine Bender CAE

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As association management professionals, we know building strong and lasting relationships with sponsors is essential for the association’s success. Sponsors are valuable partners, providing financial support, subject matter expertise, expanded reach, and enhanced opportunities for member engagement and professional development.

Sponsor retention is an absolute must. When existing sponsors pause or withdraw their participation in the association, the impact can be significant and extends far beyond the budget impact.

Sponsors may reduce or eliminate their participation for a variety of reasons, from changing business priorities and financial constraints to the perception of misalignment with the company’s marketing goals and insufficient return on investment (ROI). While the first two may be out of your control, there are methods to strengthen the bond with sponsors and prove your association’s ROI.

What can you do to ensure your association can retain sponsors as long-term partners?

1. Review and Diversify Sponsorship Opportunities

At least annually, evaluate your comprehensive (year-round) sponsorship packages and event sponsorship options to ensure they are attractive, competitively priced, and aligned with sponsor needs and expectations. A good starting point is to look at what options sell easily, and which options are less popular or do not sell at all. It is tempting to add an extensive list of benefits in a package to justify a higher price, but that does not enhance ROI if the listed benefits don’t create value for a particular sponsor. For instance, some sponsors are solely interested in speaking or providing opportunities for members to be hands-on with a product. In this case, throwing in other benefits may just muddy the water without increasing the ROI.

2. Communicate the Value Proposition

How much do your sponsors know about the association and how it can meet their marketing goals? Ensure you understand and communicate the value proposition of sponsoring the association, emphasizing the relevant demographics of the membership as well as benefits to sponsors, such as brand exposure, networking, thought leadership, and access to their target audiences. This requires your team to acquire and track data about your audience, as well as gaining an understanding of the sponsor’s interests.

3. Conduct Market Research

Researching the market will help you better understand whether opportunities are attractive and priced competitively. Who you are competing with for the sponsor’s dollars and attention, and what benefits and opportunities do these competitors offer? Find out where else your sponsors are spending their marketing dollars, speaking, exhibiting, or providing other types of thought leadership, so you can tailor offers, messaging and outreach methods accordingly.

4. Expand Your Target Audience

Working within the constraints of your association’s requirements, explore opportunities to expand the audience that sponsors can expect to reach through your association. New demographic categories or industries may increase the ROI for current sponsors and attract new sponsor companies you might not have previously targeted. Partnering with other associations may prove helpful to expanding your sponsors’ visibility.

5. Measure and Report ROI

Data is crucial for providing sponsors with tools to measure the effectiveness of their sponsorship. You can make it easy for your sponsor contacts to justify their spend by proactively sharing key performance indicators such as brand impressions, website traffic, lead generation, and attendee engagement to showcase the value of sponsorship. Many of our client-partners have sponsor committees, focus groups, or provide an annual report to top-level sponsors that serves as a thank you as well as reminding them of the ROI—just in time for next year’s budget determination.

6. Cultivate Relationships

Building personal relationships with your sponsors helps ensure they see you as a partner, which enhances their satisfaction and builds loyalty. If you lose a sponsor, call them to understand why, just as you would want to understand what attracted a new sponsor. This is valuable insight for your team. They may be looking for something new or unique. Seek feedback from sponsors to understand their needs and preferences, and proactively address any issues or concerns they may have.

7. Develop a Sponsorship Retention Strategy

A sales plan is a tried-and-true method for associations to build successful sponsorship programs, but most often focuses on acquiring new sponsors. Consider incorporating a section on sponsor retention strategies in your sales plan, so that you can document and track how you are solidifying and nurturing existing relationships. Prioritize sponsor retention efforts by providing ongoing value, engagement opportunities, and support to existing sponsors. Offer renewal incentives, exclusive benefits, and recognition opportunities to incentivize sponsors to continue their partnership with the association.

By implementing these recommendations, associations can effectively address the challenge of losing sponsors and create lasting relationships to support their mission and initiatives. Three essential keys for retaining sponsor support over the long term are building strong relationships, delivering tangible benefits, and continually demonstrating ROI.

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DeLaine Bender CAE
Vice President of Client Services

Degrees and Credentials:
Certified Association Executive (CAE), Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma

Association Management Professional Since:
1995

What inspires you about your work?
In my career, I have been blessed to work with some amazing, inspiring association leaders, who have become mentors and friends. I also enjoy the challenging, ever-changing environment of associations, and the sense of fulfillment in having made a difference in a profession or on an issue.

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