Through successful partnerships, an association will be able to strengthen its projects, programs and events, which will ultimately result in member retention and acquisition. In return, associations can also provide value to their partners, such as increased reach and exposure to an audience that is relevant to their business. As an association management company (AMC), Redstone provides partner and sponsor relations management to several of our clients. Here are a few key elements that are critical to ensuring strategic partnerships for associations:
- Strategize for Intentional Partnerships
Avoid jumping into every partnership opportunity that arises for the association. Be selective and intentional about partnerships to lower the risk of creating inequitable relationships and to maximize the chance that the association will be able to deliver on the stated objectives of the partnership. Initiate a targeted discussion on partnership opportunities with key internal stakeholders at the association, such as the Board of Directors, committee members, and AMC staff. It may also be worthwhile to establish a working group exclusively responsible for uncovering the association’s needs and determining the right fit for partnerships. To ensure that the association’s partnerships are rooted in strategy, consider the following questions at the outset of strategic partnership discussions:
- What is the association looking to gain from the partnership? Is it exposure to an untapped audience that would benefit from your association’s offerings? Is it access to thought leadership from another relevant association that is catering to the same industry as your association?
- What is the potential partner looking to gain from the partnership? How will the potential partner perceive value or measure the impact of the partnership? Will this be an equitable relationship and will the association be able to deliver on the terms of the partnership?
Once these key questions are considered, your association will be able to take a targeted approach by establishing a list of well-suited potential partners for a partnership outreach campaign.
- Measurable Objectives = Measurable Success
Once a potential partner is determined to be suitable for a strategic alliance, objectives of the partnership must be clearly defined and articulated on both sides. Before signing off on a partnership agreement, schedule a meeting with the potential partner to discuss how success will be measured. After discussing metrics with the partner at the outset, the association should invest in data and analytics to enhance reporting and demonstrate genuine ROI. If measurable objectives are outlined in the initial partnership agreement, the association will be able to scale the partnership and effectively assess the results. This will enable partners to justify their investments and make fact-based decisions about renewal at the end of the partnership term.
- Constant Dialogue & Open Communication
After expectations have been established upfront, the lines of communication should remain open. Scheduling recurring checkpoints throughout the duration of the partnership is a great way to ensure transparent dialogue between partners over the term of the partnership. This will also give the association and its partner the opportunity to re-evaluate and course correct as needed.
- Demonstrate Value & ROI
As a result of articulating expectations and defining measurable objectives upfront, demonstrating value and ROI to the partner at the end of the term will be feasible. This will involve sharing data to build a better case for both organizations to continue the partnership. Providing a fulfillment report that includes proof that your association delivered the value it promised will go a long way when the partner decides whether or not to negotiate an extension of their partnership with the association.
- Reflect & Adapt
With measurable objectives defined at the outset and data-driven results shared with the partner at the end of their term, the final step will be to schedule a debrief with the partner to reflect, evaluate, and discuss renewal of the partnership. If the results are favourable, this will be the basis to grow and expand the partnership for another term. If the results are disappointing when assessed against the measurable objectives identified at the outset, this will provide timely insights and the opportunity to adjust and adapt for the next term of the partnership. Ultimately, working together to resolve and move forward is the definition of a truly reciprocal and worthwhile partnership.