5 Ways to Strengthen Long-Term Partnerships with Key Sponsors



Original Author: JP Moery

The end of the calendar year is once again upon us, and thoughts turn to Holiday season gift-giving and hope of better opportunities for a New Year. For most organizations, the end of the calendar year is also membership renewal season. Unfortunately, association sponsorship strategies are put on hold and critical sponsors are not thought about.

Much like picking out the perfect holiday gift, you must think about what your key sponsors would like to receive for a year-long strategic sponsorship next year. Or if the sponsorship accurately reflects the association’s mission and values.

Let’s look at ways to strengthen long-term sponsor partnerships with concrete ideas.

1. Put the Needs of Key Sponsors First, Not Yours. 

Before the new year starts, call the key sponsors, and let them know you are developing year-long programming and would like feedback on what is most valuable to them. Tell these key sponsors about the best sponsorship opportunities that are being considered in the hope that they can see the value of a year-long strategic partnership. Ask them upfront about their priorities in your market before you ever design the program, and add their “pet projects” if feasible. 

Here’s a different way to look at your best sponsors. Think of key sponsors as a group project in school. If you frequently communicate with your project partners, it’s easier to collaborate and earn a higher grade. The point is to stay in frequent communication with the rest of the sponsors to get the best ideas and cultivate longer-term relationships.

Effective communication helps your sponsorship feel like a collaboration rather than a contractual obligation. When both sides have a say in the sponsorship, the results will be long-lasting. 

2. Offer Custom Benefits to Key Sponsors 

Your best sponsors don’t want the same treatment as the others who paid for the bronze or tin levels. After collaborating with your key sponsors, bolster sponsorships by offering customized options to them. Some potential sponsors will not care about the menu of sponsorship options, like being listed on the event webpage or having their name printed on a sign. 

No, some big-time sponsors will want to share their expertise and be on panel discussions, focus groups, or have a 15-minute presentation to the entire event. Specifically, not all sponsors want recognition on signage and print materials, and being seen as a thought leader means much more to these sponsors. 

In our post-COVID world, the best way to know what will work for your sponsors is to ask them for their input (see step 1). The more you listen to your sponsors, the stronger your show of appreciation and strengthen your bond.

3. Aligning Similar Values and Promoting Similar Values 

You receive a call from a potential big-time sponsor. It’s a global carbonated drink company wanting premier event sponsorship for your medical association. Awesome, right?

Wrong. This story happened, and the backlash against the association was intense. Since carbonated sugar-filled soda is a well-known contributor to obesity, many felt the partnership conflicted with the nonprofit’s values and mission.

In many ways, reputation is even more critical for nonprofit associations than for-profit companies. Putting your core purpose and values first is the foundation of your association. Accepting a lucrative but controversial short-term sponsorship may fatten coffers for a year, but you lose your reputation, and you’ve lost a vast amount of members. 

4. Deliver What You Promised

You’ve laid the groundwork for long-term partnerships; now it’s time to execute the agreements you’ve made properly. Again, here’s where frequent, open communication is key and why not fulfilling a key sponsor’s expectations is the surest way to lose corporate support. 

Most companies will NOT vocalize their disappointment about unmet expectations, especially to a nonprofit association. What you will see, however, is pulling back to a certain degree, if not wholly, on next year’s sponsorship opportunity and dollars. The sponsor will give excuses (budget cuts, money spent elsewhere, etc.). Still, the fact is if the sponsorship meets or exceeds expectations, a key sponsor will not hesitate to sign up for the same level of sponsorship again.  

5. Express Sponsorship Gratitude

It may seem obvious, but when talking to key sponsors, they will often not hear from an association after an event or special communication outreach. Association staff resources are often limited and may be crazy busy after an event. Sometimes the idea of a thank you note is there but just never executed. 

If you want long-term ongoing relationships with sponsors, the simple “thank you” gesture of sending a handwritten note can be one of the most important in maintaining an existing relationship. If you send a gift in addition to the handwritten thank you note (which we highly recommend), make sure the gift is thoughtful, benefiting a trusted, long-term sponsor. 

One recommendation is to set aside time BEFORE the event to create “Express Sponsorship Gratitude” as a project for after the event. The power of a sincere “Thank You” is immense and will go a long way to strengthen a long-term partnership. 


Long-term partnerships with key sponsors take time and planning. They cannot be taken for granted. These partnerships take frequent communication and cultivation, but when done properly, will be fruitful and beneficial to both parties. 

We invite you to contact us if you have any questions about how your association can establish great partnerships with sponsors. Your next sponsor relationship may just be a phone call away.


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