Sponsorship practices are changing in the association community. Many associations now arrange year-round revenue partnerships instead of finding sponsors for individual events. They also give sponsors the opportunity to share their expertise in education programs.
However, by only selling sponsorships to corporate marketing teams, associations are missing out on a larger piece of corporate budgets. During her workshop at the Non-Dues-A-Palooza conference, Lori Zoss Kraska, founder of Growth Owl, suggested a lucrative alternative. She encourages associations to pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments and corporate foundations as revenue partners.
Help corporate partners achieve CSR goals
CSR decision-makers often have a bigger budget than their marketing colleagues. They’re looking for ways to support sustainability, diversity and inclusion, accessibility, environmental consciousness, and communities of interest. They have money to invest in sponsorships, scholarships, employee volunteering, donations, and grants.
In an article Lori wrote with sponsorship consultant Bruce Rosenthal, they said, “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.”
Why would CSR leaders partner with associations? Because if you find out where your interests are aligned, you can help each other achieve your goals. For example, co-design education or leadership development programs that benefit your members and industry while also helping the corporation achieve its CSR goals.
Expand your revenue partnerships to non-endemic sponsors
Associations tend to look at the usual industry suspects for sponsorship. Lori describes these industry partner members as endemic sponsors: “companies or brands that have a direct connection or relevance to the event, industry, or audience they are sponsoring… typically related to the core focus of the sponsored entity.”
Widen the pool of your potential revenue partners by looking at non-endemic sponsors: “companies or brands that do not have a direct connection or relevance to the event, industry, or audience they are sponsoring… often from outside the core focus of the sponsored entity.”
Why would companies from outside your industry be interested in sponsoring your programs? These companies want to enhance their CSR efforts with specific audiences—people in your membership and market.
Non-endemic sponsors help associations diversify revenue streams, broaden the awareness and reach of association programs, and limit the need to compete against related organizations for the same set of sponsors.
Ideas for CSR-sponsored education programs
To identify possible revenue partners, Lori suggested reviewing company websites for pages or annual reports about their CSR, DEI, or sustainability programs. Look for companies whose CSR goals align with your association’s mission, membership, and goals.
Here are several ideas for education programs that might align with a company’s CSR initiatives and the needs of your membership and market.
Mental health education series
• Mental health awareness and stress management
• Wellness and healthy living
• Work-life balance
Leadership development series for women and other underrepresented groups
• Communication and negotiation
• Ethical leadership and governance
• Decision-making and critical thinking
• Conflict resolution and problem-solving
Entrepreneurship or solo practitioner bootcamps
• Business planning and strategy development
• Innovation and creative thinking
• Best practices for solopreneurs
Career development and employability skills training for students, recent high school graduates, young adults, and career changers
• Resume writing and interview preparation
• Networking and personal branding
• Industry awareness and professional ethics
Workforce development programs
• Early-career credentialing programs
• Education programs for employers on talent recruitment
Financial literacy and management training for students and young adults, solo practitioners, and small businesses
Take this opportunity to bring in non-endemic sponsors, such as banks and financial advisors.
• Budgeting and financial planning
• Investment principles and risk management
• Accounting basics and financial reporting
Digital literacy training
• Digital skills and e-literacy
• Cybersecurity and data privacy
Cross-cultural awareness training
• Cultural diversity and inclusion
• Language skills and cross-cultural communication
Environmental sustainability education series
• Sustainable business models and practices
• Climate change mitigation
• Ethical sourcing
CSR education series
Introduce the fundamentals of CSR and how it can improve members’ brands, hiring competitiveness, and ESG impact.
Resources to learn more about the CSR approach to sponsorships
At Growth Owl Academy, Lori offers an online, self-paced course that teaches you the building blocks and best practices to jumpstart your corporate sponsorship and corporate philanthropic efforts.
Keep an eye out for upcoming educational events from Non-Dues-A-Palooza, including their online expert series (with Lori and Bruce on October 26) and in-person pop-ups around the country.
Sponsored lanyards, coffee breaks, podium signs, and all the other typical bronze-silver-gold menu items are forgettable impressions. Instead, deliver programs that help you and your revenue partners both achieve your educational and CSR goals.