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The Power of Co-Sponsored Events
Association events can be a platform for uniting like-minded individuals, launching new ideas and initiatives, and generating revenue. In many cases, they are the most important activities on associations’ calendars. Partnering with another association can provide opportunities to reduce costs, mitigate risks and provide members with enhanced networking opportunities.

According to Kevin Gammonley, executive director of the North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD) and the North American Building Material Distribution Association (NBMDA), with the combined resources and budgets of two or more parties, an event is often able to deliver more value to members. Events organized by more than one association may be able to accommodate better speakers and higher quality food and beverage packages. They can also benefit from greater buying power with hotels and other vendors.

Gammonley notes that sometimes associations view an event partnership as simply a co-located arrangement. That’s where associations host their separate events in the same place at the same time, but don’t collaborate otherwise. Instead, he urges associations to consider a co-sponsored model, with one event hosted jointly by two equal partners. However, Gammonley advises that boards need to thoughtfully consider three things before co-sponsoring an event.
  1. Are the cultures aligned?
    Does the association you will be partnering with share the same values as your association? When cultures aren’t aligned it is often difficult to agree on key issues.
  2. Are the objectives aligned?
    Is your association financially stable and focused on prioritizing education, while the other association is recovering from a financial crisis and more concerned with growing revenue? If the partnering associations have different goals for the event, it will create tension and make it difficult for both parties to achieve success. Finding a co-sponsor with similar objectives will result in a strong focus.
  3. Are the represented industries or professions aligned?
    Do the associations serve similar — if not the same — exhibitors, sponsors and attendees? By partnering with an association that represents a similar industry or profession, audiences will overlap, and educational and exhibit offerings will be complimentary.
An Enduring Success

In 2008, the boards of both NAFCD and NBMDA recognized the benefits of combining their annual conventions into one co-sponsored event.

NAFCD and NBMDA both view networking and education as the primary benefits of their events, and revenue generation as a secondary benefit. Both associations represent members who are family-owned business owners and senior executives with strong people skills and backgrounds in sales or marketing. These professionals often share similar mindsets because they are accustomed to navigating family dynamics, with their president and CEO often being 2nd or 3rd generation and with many family members working alongside them. In addition, the majority of members of both organizations work for regional distributorships with close ties to the local community. NAFCD and NBMDA also have relationships within the building product industry, and aim to bring together distributors to share best practices and meet manufacturers. Lastly, the two associations share a goal of achieving continuous improvement each year.

With cultures, objectives and industries aligned, it made sense for the organizations to evolve to a NAFCD + NBMDA Annual Convention. The co-sponsored event now has more energy on-site and more industry “buzz” due to its larger attendance, which increases the networking opportunities for attendees. Gammonley explains that sponsors and exhibitors are also more inclined to take part in an event where they can reach many of the movers and shakers of an industry in one place. That leads to a better bottom line. Sponsorship revenue for the NAFCD + NBMDA Annual Convention has increased by 44 percent over the last three-year period, and each association’s expense totals have been significantly reduced. NAFCD and NBMDA are now in their seventh year of the partnership and the event is continuing to grow each year.

Due to this success, the relationship has extended to other association programs beyond the event. For example, NAFCD and NBMDA now collaborate by combining their compensation data to create benchmarking reports that benefit from the larger sample size. These joint reports also compare what benefits employees receive. Access to this data helps NAFCD and NBMDA members’ companies be competitive in their local markets.

Maintaining Brand Identity

A common concern for many associations considering co-sponsoring an event is that an association’s individual identity will be lost as a result of a partnership. Gammonley said that should not be an issue. “It’s important to keep in mind that in the most successful partnerships, both parties communicate their top priorities, agree to maintain and represent their independent brands and showcase their individual strengths,” said Gammonley.

Major event functions that appeal to all attendees, such as the general session or keynote speaker, can be done jointly. However, the event should include elements specific to the individual partners. For example, at the NAFCD + NBMDA Annual Convention, the organizations implement their welcome reception, keynote address, general sessions, tabletop exhibit session, closing reception and dinner together, but they also provide targeted content for each membership. For example, NAFCD holds separate roundtables, break-out sessions and committee meetings, and NBMDA hosts separate member gatherings where board and committee nominations and financial reports are discussed. The result is an event that facilitates the interaction of memberships of two associations without one being eclipsed or diminished by the other.

In fact, the strongest event partnerships involve associations willing to relinquish some control in order to enhance the event experience and offerings for all attendees. To work together, the associations must understand that they’re not just replicating an old event with a partner, but instead creating a new experience.

That being said, successful aspects of previous events are important to recognize and maintain. For example, because a large tradeshow already existed in their industry, the NAFCD + NBMDA Annual Convention opted to preserve NBMDA’s tabletop business sessions, where booths are used not for product tradeshow style displays, but for executives to interact one-on-one. In addition, where NBMDA previously offered keynote sessions one at a time, the new joint Convention reflects NAFCD’s long-running strategy of concurrent speakers. With this setup, the event incorporates more guest speakers who cover more topics, giving attendees more options.

It’s also important to note that the first year of any partnership requires extensive time and energy. But after the processes and procedures are in place and a base of vendors and suppliers are secured, the successive years are defined more by fine-tuning and finessing already-developed aspects of the event. For a trial run, associations can also coordinate partnerships for smaller events or activities to get a sense for how the relationship would work when applied to a large, annual conference. For example, prior to launching the NAFCD + NBMDA Annual Convention, NBMDA and NAFCD partnered to conduct a joint regional meeting and webinar, both of which were very successful.

Partnerships present an option for energizing your association events with new faces, ideas and excitement. These collaborations can deliver significant boosted returns for each association involved, as well as greater networking opportunities for members. With successful event partnerships, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
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