Six Winning Sponsorship Ideas for Your Next Meeting

Employ one of these creative sponsorship ideas that has worked for fellow association professionals.

By Bryn Reese

Sponsorship ideas represented by hanging lightbulbs

As associations strategize about 2023-2024 conferences, the search continues for new elements that keep meetings fresh for members, build revenue, and increase return on investment for corporations. Associations and the companies that support them share one common goal: member engagement. 

Independent Review: Winning Combination 

An independent review of sponsorship offerings by associations with varying membership sizes revealed tactics worth testing at your future meetings. The winning combination: member engagement = brand awareness + product immersion + the voice of industry leaders. 

1. Use Cash as an Engagement Incentive, But Don’t Stop There 

The National Park and Recreation Association’s meeting (nrpa.org) is all about mixing business with fun on the exhibit floor for its 8,000 attendees, including playground equipment and more. Assets include a daily $500 cash giveaway with sign-up at the sponsor’s booth. Attendees must be present to win – a two-fold engagement strategy to ensure repeat booth visits. 

Principal of Park Professionals Network, Scott Reese, recommends associations embrace experiences like TikTok and YouTube broadcasts. And while parking and shuttle sponsorships are tried and true, he wonders why sponsored full or discounted valet parking for event speakers, VIPS, or even volunteers are being overlooked for meetings with significant local attendance. 

“As a speaker, I sometimes come to the meeting or conference just for the day, or even just for my presentation.  I’m generally rushed, sometimes arriving just in time.  Finding a parking space adds stress, and frequently, when I do find a space, it’s distant from the speaking location, resulting in my arrival to the room with an elevated heart rate, out of breath, and in a sweat. How I would appreciate a sponsored valet and guidance to my destination.” 

2. Increase Profit Margin with No-Cost Assets 

Low-cost assets increase profit margin for the bottom-line instead of chipping away at it like special convention center installations. The American Cheese Society (cheesesociety.org), comprised of 2,300 members and prestige brands, provides their Marquee Sponsor a coveted speaking opportunity at the conference kick-off media briefing. The sponsor also received rights to serve product at a selected event, delivering high visibility and product immersion, while keeping reception costs below budget for the association. 

3. Find Solutions for Lean Budgets 

Free sponsorship and paid sponsorship/advertising are two avenues of sponsorship offered by COSMOPROF and COSMOPAC, the Professional Beauty Association’s (probeauty.org) annual B2B conferences for the beauty and cosmetic industry including beauty supply chain, reports 40,000+ beauty professional attendees from over 100 countries, and 1,435 exhibitors. 

Social media exposure, a buyer program, and 1:1 matchmaking, assets that usually carry a fee to lock in, are free. This value-add makes it enticing for smaller companies, or new exhibitors, to engage in the meeting. For $1,000 per sponsor, the boutique sampling program allows companies to distribute 1,000 free samples into the palms of attendees with logo placement at point of onsite distribution and logo in the onsite directory boutique ad.  

This could be an easy “yes” for many companies with deeper inventory pockets than sponsorship budgets. Think 50 sponsors x $1,000 = $50,000. It all adds up to revenue success. 

4. Surprise and Delight Everyone 

The Society for Human Resources Management which has served millions of human resource professionals over 75 years, has designed “a platform that elevates partners through experiences” (shrm.org) including one opportunity that stands out: Surprise and Delight Moments. From evening concerts by top talent, to puppies to play with in the exhibit hall, members agree the association over-delivers.  

Smaller associations can achieve ah-ha moments, too. Pamela Gockerman, senior consultant for a global insurance and consulting firm, had an online conference experience she still talks about. As part of the meeting registration process, virtual attendees were asked to select from a menu of either coffee or tea for a planned coffee break. Three packages arrived before the meeting. The first included four highly curated coffees and accoutrements. The second included world class sponsor-branded items. The third featured treats to enjoy with coffee. Each built momentum for the 15-minute sponsored event. 

Pamela shared, “But it was so much more. It was also about the barista who guided us through the experience. While telling his personal story, he asked attendees to forward their favorite pictures via a link. As he continued his storytelling, he unexpectedly recreated the photos in the coffee using toothpicks and edible color on a foam canvas made from cream. It was magical.” 

5. Recognize Significant Grants and Underwriting 

Sponsorship, grants, and underwriting are often thought of as synonymous, but these are not at all the same. Therein lies opportunity. Recognizing significant foundation grants or underwriting through benefits carried into annual conferences, inspires corporate engagement at higher levels of support. 

The Foundation for Endodontics (aae.org/foundation) offers a funding opportunity to support member-led access to care projects in their communities. The program aids endodontists in providing free access to important specialty care to underserved patients within the United States. Videos were filmed at the clinics and shown, featuring the donor, at their annual meeting and otherwise online providing positive exposure for the company and the Foundation. 

A second new opportunity afforded post-graduate endodontic residents presenting research at the annual meeting up to $500 in travel reimbursement, providing them some financial assistance to attend the meeting. The corporate donor was interested in building meaningful relationships with residents. 

Alyson Whittlesey, Associate Executive Director for the Foundation imparts, “Identifying needs and creating programs to directly support endodontists and the specialty, providing a meaningful opportunity for a corporate donor, and strategically furthering our mission is a win all around.” 

6. Individualize What Corporate Partners Want 

Meaningful engagement is about creative individualization, looking at every element of your meeting in new ways through the perspective of association members, foundations, and corporate partners.  

Asking stakeholder groups what they want, what they really want, identifies unique break-through asset creation, and transforms transactional engagement to genuine collaboration with generous sources of industry support. 

About the Author

Bryn Reese is a practice leader of corporate sponsorship and industry engagement at CS-Effect, a strategic communications agency.

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