Sponsorship dollars for North American associations grew in 2011, but at a rate that’s below the national average, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report. Sponsorships will increase for associations again in 2012, but at a slightly lower rate than in 2011.

Corporate marketers spent $532 million on association sponsorships last year, up 3.5 percent from 2010, states IEG, a Chicago-based sponsorship research and consulting company. This year, IEG projects a 3 percent increase for associations to $548 million. Association and membership organizations get just 3 percent of all sponsorship dollars, the smallest category that IEG tracks.

Overall, corporations doled out $18.1 billion in sponsorships last year in North America, a 5.5 percent increase over 2010. This was down slightly from projections at the beginning of 2011 that sponsorships would rise 5.9 percent in 2011. The lingering effects of scattered economic crises throughout the world and a yet-to-stabilize recovery in the U.S. kept sponsorship spending from rising as much as projected last year, says IEG.

The largest category that IEG tracks, sports events, gets 69 percent of corporate sponsorships. Sports sponsorships increased 6.2 percent last year and will rise another 4.6 percent in 2012.

IEG estimates that North American sponsorship spending will grow by about 4.1 percent overall in 2012 to $18.9 billion. Corporate marketers appear to be holding off on larger outlays pending the outcome of solutions to national debt problems and the U.S. presidential election, states IEG. “Marketplace volatility will make 2012 a very interesting year for sponsorship—one likely to be full of contradictions,” says Jim Andrews, IEG senior vice president. Some organizations will see large increases while others will struggle to maintain the status quo.

Corporate partners will still find resources to align with sports, entertainment, associations, and other organizations that help them achieve bottom-line objectives, Andrews says. “Although economic conditions are a contributing factor, individual properties will still live or die based on their ability to deliver the marketing and business solutions sponsors need.”

Spending on sponsorships will grow slightly more than spending on advertising, which will increase 4 percent in North America in 2012.

Globally, sponsorships grew 5.1 percent to $48.6 billion in 2011, just below IEG’s projected growth rate of 5.2 percent. Global sponsorship spending should increase 4.9 percent to $51 billion this year, says IEG.