4 tips for involving sponsors in your association’s conference

One hands holds out a few bank notes to another hand

As you plan your association’s annual slate of events, there’s one essential task you shouldn’t overlook: how you’ll involve and engage sponsors. Involving sponsors in the event itself adds value to the event for your association, its members, and the sponsoring business. 

Sponsors not only cover fixed event costs, but they also provide credibility, additional networking opportunities for your members, and open doors to long-term partnerships. They also get exposure to your audience, and your association gets the chance to expand your membership.

Here are four tips for getting them involved.

(1) Plan events collaboratively

Collaborating on a conference, a specific event or even a series of events is a great way to involve your sponsors. If you have a major association sponsor, you might even consider including their name in the event’s title. Be sure to involve their team in the planning process as early as possible to make the event more cohesive and the engagement mutually beneficial.

Start by ensuring everyone has access to planning documents and event management platforms. This keeps everyone on the same page while keeping your teams—and processes—organized and efficient. Cloud tools like Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive are good options to allow team members to work together on documents. You might also consider a joint project management tool. 

Above all, make sure you have regular in-person or virtual meetings to strengthen their involvement and your partnership for the event. These regular touchpoints keep sponsors in the loop about the event’s status and what’s needed from them. For example, you could set up biweekly fifteen-minute Zoom update meetings and a monthly hour-long coffee chat with each sponsor so you have multiple opportunities for making contact. This structure allows sponsors to share their questions, ideas, and concerns so they feel heard and respected.

(2) Include sponsor-hosted sessions

Sponsors want the opportunity to connect with your association’s members, and events are the perfect opportunity for them to do so. When sponsors can build relationships with members, it increases the likelihood that they’ll continue the engagement after the conference is over, boosting value for sponsors and your members.

There are a variety of ways to foster these connections at an conference, such as:

  • Hosting a booth at a trade show or conference
  • Moderating or participating in a panel discussion at an educational event
  • Running a continuing education workshop
  • Running an on-course game at a charity golf tournament
  • Hosting a happy hour

For example, let’s say your student legal association is sponsored by a local law practice. You could set up an “Ask a Lawyer” segment where students can submit questions ahead of time and learn new insights from seasoned professionals in their field.

Not only do sponsors see valuable exposure in these options, but they also get to interact with your members. Consider allowing sponsors to take the lead in planning their involvement in these types of events. Frequently check in with them leading up to the event day to confirm the details and that it stays consistent with the event’s theme and provides value to members.

(3) Offer tailored sponsorship opportunities

Your association’s sponsors will have specific goals or outcomes in mind when it comes to sponsoring conferences and other events. You can help them meet those goals by working directly with them to create a tailored sponsorship opportunity that’s mutually beneficial and features options for their involvement. 

For example, if you’re hosting a hybrid event, you might craft sponsorship packages that include interactive elements for a sponsor interested in boosting their online presence. Include a live-streamed portion of the event, such as a specific speaker, that they can share through their communication channels. Or, if you’re holding a charity golf outing, for instance, work with the sponsor to see if they want to mingle with golfers before, during, or after the event. 

Whatever the case, it’s essential to keep lines of communication open and not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Be willing to be flexible and design sponsorships that fit everyone’s needs. 

(4) Provide exclusive networking opportunities

Networking is an excellent way for your members and sponsors to get to know one another and build lasting connections. And being able to market something as “exclusive” adds immediate value. Look for ways to build networking opportunities into your conferences. For example, you could host a meet and greet for new members, a post-golf tournament banquet, or a hybrid conference for a select group of members for members and sponsors to talk face-to-face. Ultimately, the goal is to give sponsors a chance to connect with your association’s members meaningfully. 

Sponsors might also be interested in obtaining the contact information of members who participate in an event so they can follow up with those who show interest in their brand, so build this option into your sponsorship offerings. 

Wrapping Up

Treat sponsors like true partners throughout planning and execution and stay on the same page. You’ll be in a good position for not only a successful event but also successful sponsor engagement. With the proper communication cadences and tech stack on your side, you can provide an unbeatable ROI for your sponsors and cultivate long-lasting relationships.

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