Win-Win-Win Corporate Partnership Programs for Association Foundations

News | September 27, 2018

By: Bruce Rosenthal, Corporate Partnership & Sponsorship Consultant, Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC

Association fundraising and association foundation professionals are looking for new models of corporate partnerships to increase revenue and expand programming.

For many years, philanthropy was the name of the game. Companies that supported various causes with generous donations of money were eager to support associations and their foundations since this enhanced the affinity with association members … their customers.

If corporate support wasn’t classified as philanthropy, it was called corporate sponsorships. Benefits were usually transactional, such as visibility, advertising, and exhibit booths.

However, things have changed in recent years. Companies that had been supporting associations and association foundations now want more than logos on signage at the association’s conference, banner ads, and a bigger booth in the expo.

Companies are interested in three things, based on my research as an association executive in charge of corporate partnerships and as a consultant to associations and not-for-profit organizations: (1) business development opportunities; (2) brand differentiation as a top supporter of the association; and (3) to be positioned as a knowledge leader.

According to Tarsha Whitaker Calloway, Executive Director, Corporate Relations, Emory University, in, “In years past, philanthropy was considered a byproduct of private sector corporate success. Today, the best corporate philanthropy tends to align itself with the corporation’s business strategy in ways that pay dividends for the company ….”

This transition is easier said than done. What we have is a “men are from Mars; women are from Venus” moment. Many associations and their foundations are offering companies visibility in front of the membership. Companies are seeking engagement with members. These are opposite ends of the spectrum.

How can association fundraising and foundation professionals bridge this gap? Here is a 4-step plan:

#1.  Make sure that everything you do to enhance your corporate partnership program aligns with the missions of your association and foundation. Deviating from the association’s mission weakens the association and undercuts the value for members as well as corporate partners.

#2.  Identify the needs of the association’s members, the association, and the foundation. These needs could include white papers, case studies, webinars, surveys, toolkits, and explanations of federal regulations. Some association foundations offer research, student-focused activities, fellowships and scholarships, community programs, and consumer programs.

#3.  Find out the business needs of each company. Ask each company about their business goals; how they want to be perceived by your members; their biggest challenges in reaching your association’s audience; and how they would describe a successful partnership.

#4.  Use the information from #2 and #3 to create a package of marketing solutions for each company that fulfills the needs of the association and its members and fulfills the business goals of each company. Also, remember #1: mission alignment.

As associations and their foundations adopt this new model of corporate partnerships, it’s important that the two entities not compete with each other. It can be confusing if a company is contacted separately by an association and its foundation, or separately by the association’s director of corporate partnerships and fundraiser.

By aligning each company’s business needs with opportunities available from the association and its foundation (Steps #2 and #3 above), it should be evident which entity can provide each company with the greatest value.

Evolving from a transactional to a transformational corporate partnership program may require holistic changes for associations and their foundations. It’s a strategy for organizational advancement. It’s a business model that requires resources to be successful. It’s a culture change that requires buy-in from the association’s and the foundation’s boards, CEOs/Executive Directors, and staff to be effective.

A successful corporate partnership program is a win for the association’s members; a win for the association and/or its foundation; and a win for corporate partners.

Bruce Rosenthal is a strategic advisor and consultant to associations and not-for-profit organizations, creating successful corporate partnership programs that increase revenue and add member/constituent value. Previously, he held senior-level positions with associations and not-for-profit organizations. He can be reached at, 301-922-6179;


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