Association Leaders Offer Sponsors a 5-Step Roadmap for Deeper Engagement with Professional Communities

Association executives share how advertisers and sponsors can make meaningful connections with members beyond purchasing traditional sponsorship programs.

Note: This is the final installment in our series discussing association marketing. So far, we have talked about:

Associations want sponsors and advertisers to get the most out of their partnerships, and engaged participation is a common theme among those who succeed. But what does that engagement look like, and how can you achieve it? The Lead Marvels Team recently spoke with four association leaders to provide an inside track on how you, as a sponsor, can connect more effectively with their members.

Going beyond traditional paid opportunities like display ads, webinars, and event sponsorships to develop active relationships within the association pays dividends. Learn five ways to build the kind of trust and credibility that creates loyal brand advocates and positions you as a go-to industry expert. And yes, you’ll likely find it will ultimately make your paid sponsorship programs more effective as well.

1. Find a seat at the table

If an association you support offers a membership category for sponsors, take advantage of it! Becoming a member lets you participate alongside the people you’d like to reach, giving you greater credibility and visibility, says Denise Bethel, Senior Director of Business Development at the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA).

“The best networking comes from joining that group and being there, not just as a sponsor, but being there as their colleague and someone members can talk to,” she says.

Bethel also encourages sponsors to attend mixers and volunteering opportunities as a way to build rapport. She says that when members see sponsors consistently showing commitment to the association's community, it promotes trust. Don't stop at showing up to mingle, either. Look for openings on event and programming committees where your expertise can shine.

However, if the association does not have a membership category for sponsors, find alternative ways to develop closer relationships within the association. Being physically present at association-related events and meeting people face-to-face build credibility and meaning connections.

2. Think local

Local association chapters are likely to have their own regional events and opportunities to connect with members who are also your neighbors. If you’re unsure where to start, the association’s national or state-level office can often make an introduction to local chapters, which may have more opportunities for speaking engagements or offer other ways they need support.

It's a particularly beneficial strategy for sponsors who only operate in specific regions or would like to develop their position in target markets. The Association of Corporate Counsel's (ACC) Senior Director of Business Development, Moustafa Abdel-Kader, says he actively encourages sponsors to give more attention to the most relevant chapters.

Working with local chapters within an association also lets you amplify your impact. The smaller, more intimate events run by local and regional chapters often mean less competition for members' attention.

3. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer

Participating in activities that benefit an association's charitable causes — they all have them! — is an excellent opportunity to build rapport with members while giving back. For instance, CalCPA assembles bicycles around the holidays for children in need. Sponsors often work alongside members to assemble them, says Bethel.

“If you join the community wholeheartedly — join their running club, go on hikes with them, go to a golf event — when they see your face, they're going to trust you more,” Bethel says. “It's about being there when they need you. They may not need your product right now, but when they do, you will be right there in front of them.”

Participate in committees, get involved in advocacy and lobbying efforts, and look for ways to contribute your expertise to fulfilling the association's mission, such as visiting schools on behalf of the association to engage with students and teach them about the industry.

Abdel-Kader says the ACC actively looks for greater sponsor involvement in its causes. “If there's an opportunity for sponsors to work with on our advocacy efforts, we're happy to have them,” he says.

4. Keep the lines of communication open

An ongoing job of association leadership is to offer its members educational content that creates real-life value. If you can help them craft strategies that connect with those needs, they'll likely listen.

The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) is open to sponsors' ideas on serving members better, says Kelli Comegys, Director of Membership and Business Development. "If there's an idea or a concept you want to try, just let us know," Comegys says. "We are always excited to get creative or try something new."

Associations want sponsors’ paid programs to be a success, too. A great way to multiply efforts is to clearly communicate your goals and how they may fit within the association’s plans, says the ACC’s Abdel-Kader.

Look for opportunities to give feedback through formal efforts like association-issued surveys, but also reach out proactively with your ideas. For example, Abdel-Kader welcomes event and programming ideas from sponsors. “We see our sponsors as we see our members,” he says. “We try to advocate for sponsors as much as we can within the organization and get them these opportunities to be involved.”

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5. Share your expertise

When leveraged and channeled properly, your subject-matter expertise and industry experience can be highly valued by association members. For educational presentations and other sponsor-provided resources to come across successfully, however, Abdel-Kader says the key is to focus on how the information will help members — not how it could position you for a sale.

“Whether you’re doing a session or a webcast, bring your expertise,” he says. “Our members don’t want to hear a sales pitch. But, they can really connect with and respond to something educational.”

NAEA's Comegys says associations have a massive need for educational and informative content that will hold members’ attention. Whether it's writing a column for the association magazine or running a lunch-and-learn on legislation that will impact the industry, there are plenty of opportunities for sponsors to put themselves in front of members with quality content that showcases their expertise.

"Members are seeing ads wherever they go," she says. "Content that isn't just another advertisement will stand out and have a positive effect on the audience."

Make the ultimate connection with an online Resource Library

Joining an association at the local and national level, giving your time, engaging in cross-promotional strategizing, and sharing your industry knowledge are all association-approved steps toward deeper sponsor engagement. Another is to contribute to an association’s online Resource Library.

Lead Marvels has partnered with over 100 associations to build online Resource Libraries that help sponsors directly provide highly valued expertise and industry insights to association members in the form of white papers, guides, podcasts, and more. This thought leadership content is available at members' fingertips 24/7. When a member fills out a form to download your content, you receive their information as a business lead.

If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of syndicating your content within an association a Resource Library, schedule a free demo with us today.

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