5 Tips to Attract Sponsors to Your Membership-Based Organization
Regardless of the shared interests and values that draw your membership-based organization together, some of your goals and activities will benefit from the support you can obtain through relationships with suitable sponsors. Whether these are local retailers whose products are relevant to your membership. or service businesses with an equally strong tie to those who join you, you can find authentic connections that offer mutual benefit. Use these tips to enhance your search for meaningful sponsorship opportunities.
Find good matches
The mission and vision of your organization should help point you toward the types of businesses that are likely to find welcome opportunities in a sponsorship allegiance with your group. Start with your demographics. Does your organization appeal to a specific age group or generation—or the parents of an equally specific segment of the population? Does gender identity predict who joins your membership? Do your activities involve or require specific types of services for assistance? The answers to these sorts of questions can help you identify the kinds of partners that match well with your organization and its members.
If you’re already in a sponsor relationship with one or more businesses, you may be able to connect with other proprietors in the same segment—or expand your existing relationships if you offer some form of exclusivity. Likewise, look to organizations that support related causes or otherwise serve as allies of your group, as they may be welcome sources of shared engagement and support.
Answer the big question: What’s in it for them?
Let’s face it: Sponsors want something in return for their involvement. After all, that’s what underlies the mutually beneficial relationships that make you want to attract them in the first place. But if your answer to their “What’s in it for us?” question is something along the lines of “We’ll put your logo on our website,” that may not be enough to satisfy a prospective sponsor.
Think about the relationship you want to establish in terms of how you can amplify the visibility of your partners in ways that are consistent both with your values and with their interests. The ideas and focus you share can be the basis of the publicity you offer. For example, if you’re a running club, an athletic shoe store makes a logical partner because your members need suitable footwear and the merchant needs suitable customers. Look for the win and find ways to expand it so both parties come out ahead.
Show how you’re different from other sponsorship opportunities
Just because a business is local and/or seemingly small doesn’t mean that no organizations other than yours will approach such a prospect with a sponsor relationship in mind. You can’t assume that the effectiveness and value you think you offer are unique to your group—but you can formulate a pitch that positions your organization as a better sponsorship opportunity than other groups can offer.
This takes some strategic thinking. If you start with a vision of the types of groups that would be likely to view this particular business as an attractive sponsorship prospect, you can begin to make a list of other organizations that look at least somewhat like yours and whose interests also would intersect with this company. Now you can make comparisons and see how you come out ahead of other organizations.
You may never mention these potential “competitors” by name in your pitch to a prospective sponsor of your membership-based organization, but you can itemize the comparative pros and cons in a way that makes the comparison clear and shows how it favors you. Perhaps you create more events and therefore attract more attention and participation than another organization does. Maybe—like the running group and the shoe store—your membership has connections with a target market that’s also of interest to the prospect. Once you figure out how and where you come out ahead, you can position yourself accordingly.
Talk to the right people
The closer you can get to the people with decision-making power at the company you’re trying to attract as a sponsor of your membership-based organization, the fewer steps you’ll have to take to connect with the right individuals. Once you identify the prospects you want to approach, look within your organization for members and fellow administrators with direct or indirect connections to movers and shakers in these companies.
Those connections may be face to face, virtual, or both. Perhaps you—or your child—received treatment from an orthopedist whose practice specializes in athletes, which could become a logical sponsorship connection for an organization dedicated to runners. Maybe one of your members is active in the same parents’ organization as a partner in the practice. Furthermore, what if several of your members connect with this decision maker on LinkedIn or a similar social media site? All these connections can help you reach the people with the power to say “Yes” to your sponsorship invitation.
Exactly how you make your pitch depends on the nature of your connections and the location of your relationships. If all your ties to the potential sponsor are virtual, that’s probably the conduit for your pitch. Conversely, if you’re “IRL” (in real life) friends with or close acquaintances of someone with decision-making authority at this company, you may be better off asking for an in-person meeting.
And don’t assume that the value you’ve identified is so unique that you can stroll into someone’s business, talk for five minutes, shake hands, and leave with an agreement. That can happen at times, but you really need a well-developed, well-written presentation that you can print out as well as send via e-mail attachment, one that covers all the bases from “here’s who we are” and “here’s why this makes sense” to “here’s what you’ll gain” and “here’s what’s in it for us.”
Keep track of every contact and communication
Never underestimate the power of a note in the mail to impress a prospect with your message and mission. At the same time, make good use of digital communications and phone calls, too. But regardless of how you interact with prospective sponsors of your membership-based organization, keep track of everything you say, and when and how you say it, as well as each and every response you receive. The better your tracking, the less likely you are to drop the ball—or “over try” and communicate too often.
Remember to begin your research and your outreach long before you hope, let alone need, to benefit from a sponsorship connection. Once you’ve signed up a prospect, don’t forget to thank them—promptly and professionally—for deciding to begin their involvement.