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Key Sustainability Questions to Ask Before Your Membership Organisation Signs A Sponsorship Deal

The sponsorship game for membership organisations has a new rulebook, and sustainability is increasingly becoming front and centre.

ESG factors — Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics are becoming the yardstick for sponsors. These factors aren't just buzzwords; they're shaping decisions, impacting sales, reputation, and the all-important bottom line.

The following are key things to think about when developing sponsorships for your membership organisation to ensure that your ESG principles and practices line up with your sponsors.

Walking the Talk: Green Practices

Membership groups are at a crossroads — you can't just talk the talk about being environmentally friendly while hitching your activity to partners who don't share the same values.

We've seen this play out very publicly for other not for profits recently. Think oil & gas sponsorships, where the mismatch between values and partnerships sparked some serious backlash including damage to reputation, loss of members and customers leading to decreased revenues. That's the last thing your membership organisation wants — accusations of greenwashing and a hit to your membership organisations brand reputation.

Income vs. Values: The Tough Call

Let's face it, money talks, but ethics especially for independent membership organisations are crucial. Take the arts sector, always under pressure to generate income . They've often turned to oil & gas sponsors for that much-needed injection of funds. But when does the financial boost justify crossing ethical boundaries? It's a tough question with real implications for your stakeholders and community connections.

Seeing Beyond the Surface

Considering an oil & gas sponsor, tobacco firm, processed meat manufacturer? Hold up! It's not just about the investment they're making. Your organisation's moral compass — its strategy, values, and ethical stance — needs to sync up with any potential partners. Think long and hard about how your selection of sponsor may impact your brand, trust levels, and whether it might drive away members who aren't on board with your choice.

Finding Balance: Money and Morals

Before you sign on the dotted line, it's crucial to weigh the financial perks against the ethical concerns. Sustainability isn't a checkbox; its core to your strategy and your community.

A thorough evaluation of your sponsors ensures sponsorships don't just keep the lights on but also align with your values, building trust and securing your organisation's future. The balance between financial stability and staying true to your independence, credibility and values, means navigating sponsorships for your membership organisation demands a strategic approach, and one that your senior leadership team, including finance lead and CEO is behind.

Choosing partnerships that resonate with your ethos and mirror your community's expectations is key to a sustainable, thriving organization.

Remember the partners you work with reflect who you are !

Delving into Other Sponsorship Categories

So, we know oil & gas sponsorships raise the hackles of environmental activists, but what about other big polluters like automotive and airline companies, food and soft drink manufacturers? Let's not forget the fast fashion industry's massive carbon footprint.

Let's be realistic—your membership organisation can't dismiss every environmentally questionable category, however you can investigate each individual companies' environmental standings before you sign the deal.

Partner Evaluation: Climate Change Heroes or Villains?

Think of your potential partner as either a climate change champ or a troublemaker. What's their latest report saying about their environmental actions? Do they track their emissions, have a solid report on it, or better yet, do they have net-zero plans and targets in place? Asking for concrete evidence ensures their values align with yours and those of the community you represent. Ripple Effects: Beyond the Check

Sure, big sponsorship deals wave around a fat check, but do you want to spend the next cycle defending your partner's behavior or cleaning up vandalism on your buildings? There's a good chance that teaming up with a sustainability-lagging sponsor might deter other potential sponsors from getting in on your action too.

Dip Your Toe: Test the Sponsorship Waters

Feeling a bit uncertain about how folks might react to a new partnership? Here's an idea—take it slow. Instead of diving headfirst into a naming rights deal, why not start with a trial partnership? Pilot projects let you weigh the pros and cons and do some serious research. If things look promising, you've got the green light for a game-changing activation.

A Moment of Self-Reflection

Most of the talk has been about avoiding unexpected PR disasters and maintaining credibility with your community and partners. But what about your organization's sustainability standards? Do you have a clear stance on the environment? It's time to practice what you preach. Sponsors might even start quizzing your organization on its own sustainability data, plans, and targets before they agree to back your activity.

Setting the Standards: Policies and Criteria

No matter your organization's size, having a sustainability policy at the organizational level and a sponsorship policy with clear ESG principles is key. Just like sponsors, your organization will increasingly come under scrutiny for its environmental stance. Taking this area seriously isn't just important for the planet; it's vital for keeping committed sponsors on board.

Do you need further guidance on who your membership organisation should be partnering with? Or what to include/not include in your partnership or sponsorship deal?

Get in touch with b2b's expert partnerships team.

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