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The Pro's & Cons of Research Sponsorship for Membership Organisations.

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Should we get our research sponsored?
Will research sponsorship impact our independence or weaken our credibility?
Will including a third party limit our media exposure?

These are some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked by professionals working in membership organisations.

We work with membership organisations to help them plan, define and deliver research programmes and in particular help them to consider how they may generate income from their research and policy work without compromising the data, independence and credibility of the brand, product and content.

Whether research should be sponsored depends on the specific intention, context, subject matter and purpose of the research.

Firstly, not all research projects are right or appropriate for sponsorship. For instance, internal facing research or long duration, academic projects do not typically lend themselves to commercial partnerships. Shorter timeframe, external facing, hot topics, industry or public facing research is often right-fit opportunity for sponsors.

Recent research sponsorships we have developed include: Voice of Small Business Index for the FSB in partnership with Google. Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey for CIPD in partnership with Simplyhealth. IWFM's Sustainability Survey in partnership with Inenco. Ai Research for the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors in partnership with Auditboard. We are extremely through and experienced in the scoping, proposition development and negotiation of research partnership for membership organistions.

There are both advantages and potential drawbacks to sponsoring research projects run by membership organisations:

Advantages of research sponsorship:

  1. Financial Support: Sponsorship can provide necessary funding to conduct research, which may involve costs such as equipment, materials, participant compensation, and data analysis.

  2. Access to Resources: Sponsors can offer access to specialized resources, facilities, know-how and expertise that might not be available to researchers otherwise.

  3. Validation and Credibility: Sponsorship from reputable organisations can enhance the credibility and validity of the research findings, especially if the sponsor has a recognised expertise in the field and a reputable brand.

  4. Collaborative Opportunities: Sponsors may facilitate collaboration between researchers, allowing for interdisciplinary work or bringing together experts from different institutions.

  5. Real-world Impact: Sponsored research might have a higher likelihood of being applied to real-world problems, as sponsors may be interested in practical applications of the findings.

  6. Extended Reach: A sponsor often brings wider channels, route to wider audiences than your original sample and/or report distribution size

  7. Incentives: A sponsor often can provide incentives in the form of cash, products, services that can be used as an incentive to attract respondents.

  8. Case Studies: Sponsors often have access to strong current case study organisations that can be introduced to bring the data/results to life in the research report.

Potential concerns of research sponsorship


  1. Biased Results: There is a potential for bias if the sponsor has a vested interest in a particular outcome. This can compromise the integrity and objectivity of the research. In this instance we always ensure that the independent membership organisation is the lead on the project and has the final sign off and right to veto results.

  2. Limited Autonomy: Researchers might have to adhere to certain guidelines or limitations imposed by the sponsor, which could limit their autonomy and creativity. In this instance firm sponsorship agreements are put in place before any sponsorship activity takes place.

  3. Conflicts of Interest: Financial or other conflicts of interest might arise, impacting the researchers' ability to make impartial decisions.

  4. Loss of Academic Freedom: Sponsorship could potentially lead to a perception of compromised academic freedom, where researchers feel pressured to produce results that align with the sponsor's interests.

  5. Ethical Concerns: In some cases, the source of funding or the nature of the research might raise ethical concerns or public skepticism.

We always work with clients to ensure that tight contracts relating to IP, data, licencing, use of outputs, branding, media and voice are in place to ensure the integrity, independence, and ethical conduct of the research.

These safeguards can include transparency in disclosing funding sources, clear agreements between researchers and sponsors outlining expectations and limitations, and a commitment to publish findings regardless of the results.

Ultimately, the decision to sponsor independent research should always be carefully considered based on the potential benefits, risks, and ethical considerations involved.

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