Reprint of the May 8, 2002 issue of "Dear Association Leader"
"Dear Association Leader" is a free weekly e-mail bulletin for association officers, published by the Leipper Management Group at TechComm Labs.
Dear Association Leader: Money doesn't grow on trees, there is no magic bullet, and the odds of winning the big jackpot are not in your favor. All that said, how do you go about finding sponsors for association events? How can you increase the amount of money available to provide quality services to your members without increasing dues? How do you support the development of new projects and programs?
As outlined in a previous bulletin - , developing financial support for an association has a lot in common with a marriage. Both require finding the right partner, making a commitment, a willingness to compromise, a willingness to work through difficulties and the ups and downs of life, and maybe one of the most important - a commitment to good communications. The issues outlined in the bulletin revolved around promoting yourself, deciding where you are most likely to find good candidates, following up on contacts, developing relationships, and identifying and communicating the advantages of the relationship.
To begin with it helps to know yourself (your association). What are your association's goals? What financial planning has been done? What are the projections for growth both in membership and in programs and services? What resources are available and what has worked in the past? What are your association's weak points and what is being done to address them? Are the policies, procedures, guidelines, and systems in place to support your goals and association growth?
In finding a partner, it helps to be clear about what you want in life and what attributes appeal to you most in other people and why. The same is true when trying to find partners for your association. Consider the association that decides project X will be the best thing they have ever done but they need a sponsor. A committee decides that business A and business B are big corporations and should be able to help. Contact is arranged.
When their efforts fail they often don't know why. Failure can usually be attributed to lack of planning and lack of research. Do these businesses have some commonality with your association or project? Do the potential sponsors have attributes that support your association's goals and purpose? For instance if your association members are professionals in the field of veterinary medicine, does the potential sponsor have a history of supporting organizations and programs related to animal welfare? Was the commonality between your association and the potential sponsor communicated effectively? Were the mutual benefits of collaboration highlighted?
Finding likely contacts
After you have figured out what your association wants and why, developed a plan for gaining and managing financial support, and determined the best way to initiate contact, then you can begin seeking potential partners and developing a relationship. Almost everyone is familiar with the dating game. It can take time, initiative, effort, and sometimes it requires taking a few risks. The end result of finding that perfect someone evolves over time, often through trial and error. Finding good supporters for your organization requires similar efforts. In the planning and research phase, consider the most likely scenarios where contact with potential supporters is most likely to occur. It may be attending trade or professional events or conferences. It may be community events or those supported by the potential sponsors. Peers or other individuals may hold the key to contacting supporters. Maybe the best results will come from direct contact initiated by your association, setting up a meeting with them and inviting them to participate in an association event or activity.
Developing the relationship
Sometimes results aren't realized the first time around. Many of us have heard someone say something like - the first time I met him, I thought he was a creep. Over time you begin to see the real person, realize their strengths and see the qualities that make them special. When you are looking for support for your association, focus on the long term. If you get turned down once, that isn't necessarily an indication you should drop them from any future contact. Do a little introspection, maybe your approach needs to be modified. Maybe the project for which you were seeking support wasn't quite in line with their criteria. Maybe you haven't presented your association in the most effective manner. Maybe your focus has been so narrow you don't see the potential that is right in front of your face.
Keep in mind that even though you may be seeking support from a business or organization, it is people that you are dealing with. Often whether you gain support from the sponsor or not is dependent on the relationship you have developed with an individual. Always generate good feelings and keep working on improving relationships. The sincerity and positive image of your association is like the proverbial ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, it can have impacts far beyond your current vision.
Include those businesses or entities you have determined might be assets to your association on your newsletter and special event mailing list. Create a special informational packet that isn't necessarily focused on fundraising to send to a targeted audience. Don't forget to take or create opportunities to promote your association through community newspapers, advertising campaigns, involvement in other events, and other methods. If nothing else, promoting your association lets people know you are out there and you are active. More importantly, it provides the basis for highlighting commonality which can be enhanced in more direct communications with a specific potential sponsor.
As in dating, how can you meet people unless you go where people are? Visibility can highlight the commitment to a mission or goal and it provides some insight into how the association functions and where it's priorities are. When potential supporters are aware of your association and have some already established ideas about it's programs, services, and management, they are more likely to respond favorably when contacted for support.