Liz Dupont / Membership, Recruiting / August 16th, 2017
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How to Increase Association Non-Dues Revenue: Corporate Sponsorships vs. Fundraisers

It’s the struggle professional associations know all too well – the constant challenge of bringing in revenue beyond traditional member dues. 

Every association has to make this a focus in order to run, yet constantly trying to formulate creative ways to keep funds going can be an overwhelming task. 

But thankfully we live in an age where information and connection are ever at our fingertips, and thus a world of opportunities opens up. For the association that is resourceful and willing to put in the time, raising revenue becomes a more achievable goal. That still leaves an open question, however – which non-dues revenue route should your association pursue?

In order to help you narrow down your options, we’ve developed this comparison of two common revenue-builders: the corporate sponsorship and the fundraiser. Most associations have some experience with one or both of these, yet sometimes knowing which is ideal for your association can be a challenge.

So read on to see pros and cons of both of these methods, along with a few tips for getting started. 

Corporate sponsorships

The corporate sponsorship may be one of the more difficult non-dues revenue methods, yet it can also be extremely rewarding when done correctly. Let’s start by looking at some of these advantages.

The pros:

Year-round funding: A huge pro in favor of the corporate sponsorship is the fact that it provides a source of consistent revenue. Rather than a “one-and-done” donation or fundraiser, with a sponsorship you have a partner that’s providing you regular income to assist with the day-in, day-out needs of the association.

Increased visibility: Often, a corporate sponsor will leverage their sponsorship in their marketing to help increase their credibility and establish a rapport with their community. This in turn translates to increased visibility for the association, who will be seen not only in their own network and audience, but within the broader audience of the corporation. And a wider audience means more individuals can be affected by your own marketing in the future.

Image boost: Members and non-members alike will see your link to your corporate sponsor. If you partner with an established and reliable entity, your association benefits from their brand identity and overall credibility. You are known by the friends you keep, and having a friend in a well-known corporation gives you an incredible image boost, and helps craft an empathetic image for the corporation as well.

Though these are some hefty benefits, there are a few drawbacks to consider before choosing to go the corporate sponsorship route.

The cons:

Less independence: When you’re linked to a corporate sponsor, there will naturally be increased accountability on your part. Generally corporations only want to partner with an association if they see some benefit from it (i.e., an image boost, marketing potential within your network, etc.). Thus, your association becomes in some ways accountable to the corporation, and they will want to see productivity on your end if you want to retain the sponsorship.

Possible conflicts of interest: Anything that could cause your association to experience a loss in credibility must be prevented. Unfortunately, if you do not choose your sponsorship wisely, a conflict of interest could arise which could lead the public and your members to question your motives. This could have a serious and lasting negative impact on the association as a whole, so caution must be exercised when selecting a corporation with whom to partner.

Time constraints: Developing a corporate sponsorship takes time. You have to build a relationship with the corporation, establish your own credibility and needs, and continue to foster the relationship in order to retain the sponsorship.This can be a time-consuming process, which leads some associations to abandon the prospect in favor of a large fundraiser with one-time sponsors.

It’s fairly apparent that corporate sponsorships require significant time and energy to both obtain and retain. But, for the association that has staff that can be dedicated to developing these types of relationships, this may be a viable and extremely valuable source of non-dues revenue.

Associations that intend to pursue a corporate sponsorship should keep these two points in mind:

Aim for a corporation with an interest in your success. When you’re unsure of where to look for a sponsor, start by looking at companies that have some connection to your industry and will want to see your association thrive. You stand to gain a longer and more fruitful partnership if your sponsor is invested in your success.

Leverage your existing connections. Sometimes it’s best to start even closer to home – with people you already know! Scour your LinkedIn connections, and have colleagues do the same. You may be surprised to find you already have a connection with a company that’s seeking to sponsor a good cause.

 

Want to learn more about increasing non-dues revenue? Check out Web Scribble’s free ebook. 

 

Fundraisers

Fundraisers are a common source of non-dues revenue for associations, but how do they stack up to the corporate sponsorship? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to see how the two compare.

The pros:

No long-term cultivation required: Though fundraisers do require some significant marketing effort before the event, there is no ongoing cultivation and attention involved. It is truly a one-and-done situation, especially where your fundraising sponsors are involved. You’re essentially contracting their support for this one event – and while you may ask them for support in the future, you don’t need to dedicate as much time and nurturing to these relationships.

Fosters community: One huge perk to fundraisers is that they foster a sense of community, both within your association members and among the community at large. In associations, where networking is such an important retention factor for members, hosting events solidifies relationships within and establishes rapport outside of your group. You end up not just raising non-dues revenue; you’re also fostering retention and possibly grooming new members.

Flexible options: Thank heaven for the internet. Now, when you host an event, no matter where it is, you can spread word of your event across social media and even set up ways for people to give online, so that attendees don’t necessarily have to be physically present to donate. Additionally, fundraisers are an opportunity to get creative. While you could go the traditional walk-a-thon route, you have endless options for fun and unique ways to engage people, from fancy wine-and-cheese events to down-to-earth outdoor concerts.

Yet, as with anything else, fundraising does have some downsides to consider.

The cons:

Promote, promote, promote: As mentioned above, fundraisers take a lot of marketing effort to pull off. You’ll need to spread the word far and wide, on a variety of platforms, both digitally and traditionally, in order to gain a decent attendance. This means some cost on the part of the association, which cuts into how much you actually gain from the fundraiser itself.A one-time gig: This is in itself both a pro and a con…on the one hand, you don’t have to cultivate an ongoing relationship with a corporate sponsor, but on the other hand, you have to keep hosting fundraisers in order to keep up with your revenue needs. Each association’s resources differ, so you have to weigh for yourself which works better with your time and budget.

Overhead expenses: You won’t just be paying marketing costs for fundraisers; you’ll also need to pay for event space, food, and anything else you provide at your event, which again cuts into how much you gain from your fundraiser.

Associations that pride themselves on unique events and energetic staff may find that regular fundraisers are the way to go. Just a few takeaways to keep in mind:

Look for one-time sponsorships to defray costs. Remember all the marketing and overhead costs we mentioned? You may be able to cut this down to almost nothing if you find people or businesses that are willing to donate their time, talent, or funds. This means a more productive fundraiser for you, and in return, you provide visibility and free marketing to your sponsors.

Start early, and give options. One of the best ways to ensure a good turnout is to start marketing early. People should start hearing about your event a good month or two in advance, which means you should prepare your marketing a couple months before that. Fundraising is all about planning, so start early and provide lots of options for people to donate – online, in person, via mail, etc.

Different options for different purposes

From the information we’ve presented here you can see that fundraising and corporate sponsorships are two very different options, both with unique benefits and drawbacks. The only way to determine which one is right for you is to first examine your own goals.

Do you need a short-term boost or a long-term source of revenue? How are you planning to grow your association in the next year, and which of these methods will help you get there? You may find that a combination of both works best, or that you need to go an entirely different route.

The first step to making that decision is to arm yourself with knowledge. Only then can you safely experiment with the options at hand.

Free Ebook Increasing Your Association's Non-Dues Revenue

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