Associations get just 3 percent of the $18 billion corporate sponsorship market. A big reason why the percentage is so low is because associations aren’t offering what sponsors are looking for, posits a new study by IEG, a Chicago-based sponsorship consulting and research firm. If association leaders would adopt a new approach to corporate partnerships, they could claim a much larger share of the North American sponsorship market, the study concludes.

“Given the highly targeted nature of association audiences, this sector is underperforming compared to sports, entertainment, festivals, arts, and causes,” states the paper, entitled Growing Up: The Evolution of Association Sponsorships. The landscape has changed for association sponsorships. Marketers have more options for reaching targeted audiences than they did even five years ago and higher expectations of what sponsorships can and should deliver.

“We have seen a dramatic shift in the past five years concerning why corporate partners choose to work with the association they sponsor,” the paper states. Five years ago, many said they sponsored the event because they “had to be there.” Now, it’s a rarity to hear that. Sponsors are looking beyond visibility and are seeking to build preference, loyalty, brand value, and sales. However, many associations are still pitching signage, logo recognition, and exhibit space. “Growth will not come when associations are selling awareness while sponsors are searching for benefits that change attitudes and behavior.”

The study outlines five key ways to transform sponsorship offerings to meet sponsors’ needs.

  • 1. Position your sponsorship opportunities as a business-to-business marketing platform. To offer a quality business-to-business platform you will need research on members’ businesses and their purchasing and marketing preferences.
  • 2. Become an extension of the sponsor’s marketing department. Act like an agency and focus on the sponsor’s success. Offer ways of accessing and communicating with members and help them track return on investment.
  • 3. Build community through social media. Give them more than just visibility. Provide sponsors with a role in the online communities that offers value, whether it’s content, programs, special offers, or other ideas.
  • 4. Build alliances that deliver critical mass. Find ways to augment national reach with reach to chapters and sub-groups for relevance on the local or specialty level.
  • 5. Enhance your audience engagement. Expand what you know about your audience and how they want to be engaged to ensure your sponsors are being relevant and respectful—and thus effective.

Associations offer unique value that other sponsorship vehicles don’t have, so it’s important to highlight those intangible values. One is member interest and loyalty. Few, if any, sponsorship opportunities provide access to an audience as invested, engaged, and committed as association membership. Another is access to “influentials.” Rather than a mass-market audience, associations can put sponsors in front of industry leaders. Also, associations offer multiple ways to reach the audience year-round, from meetings and events to social media and chapters. Associations should involve sponsors in projects that provide value to members, demonstrate expertise and commitment, and advance the association and industry.

For a free copy of the study, go to the IEG Web site.