Starting a Chapter Business Partner Relations Program
Building a Chapter Business Partner Relations Program
By including positive business partner relations as a chapter goal, the chapter recognizes the importance of business partner relations to the individual, the chapter and the Association. This recognition will help the chapter capitalize on business partner relationships.
One goal of a Business Partner Relations Program is to develop a positive member approach to business partners and activities involving business partners. Another reverse goal is to market the benefits of connecting with ALA to business partners. ALA provides an important service to business partners by organizing opportunities for contact and exposure. In turn, business partners may supply much needed funding to conduct chapter programs.
Development/expansion of a Business Partner Relations Program can begin with the following steps:
- Designate a chapter officer or committee to focus on chapter interaction with business partners. The decision between an officer and a committee will depend upon the goals and activities of the chapter.
- List your chapter’s current methods of business partner outreach and contact.
- Make sure your program incorporates the business partner’s perspective. Remember that an impression is made with each contact, whether personal or written. The goal is to make a positive impression. Be honest: As you develop your program, list areas that need work to be turned from negative/neutral into positive business partner experiences.
- Speak with chapter leaders and members to discover what they want from a program. Discuss the barriers to good business partner relationships and the opportunities for the chapter and its members to improve these relationships. Educate the members on the importance of business partner support and how it translates into benefits for members.
- Review the chapter calendar to determine whether additional or enhanced business partner activities can be added throughout the year.
- Gain perspective on the needs of the business partner community. Start with focus groups made up of business partners and chapter leaders. Build upon this connection by developing several channels of communication and feedback regarding chapter activities and networking opportunities that are either in place or that could be developed in the future. Business partners will appreciate in-person discussions. Surveys can also be developed and the results incorporated into development of the program.
- Keep a current listing or database of business partner contacts. Chapter members should be encouraged to add business partners to the list. Likewise, information on business partner changes and moves should be kept up to date.
- Each year, the new chapter leaders should review the Program and assess its accomplishments. New goals should be developed and incorporated into chapter program and activity development.
Creating A Business Partner Sponsorship Structure
Once a chapter forms relationships with business partners and begins to receive sponsorships from them, it makes good business sense to create an annual business partner sponsorship structure. This gives the business partners the opportunity to budget for these expenses and to choose those opportunities that most closely match their targeted marketing efforts. It can also help diversify the business partners that chapters look toward, so that chapters do not consistently rely on the same business partners. From the chapter's perspective, it helps to create a map and plan for what will most benefit the chapter and its members. It allows the chapter to effectively budget for programs that it might otherwise not have the resources to bring before the membership. Generally, these fundraising efforts tend to evolve from an event-driven structure to a comprehensive annual structure.
Keeping track of business partners and their relevant information, including their sponsorship dollars, is quite helpful. Consider creating a database of the local business partners to ensure effective relationships. Keep the contact name, address, phone number and e-mail as current as possible. Indicate on the spreadsheet if the contact or company is local, regional or national. Other important information to track includes a short description of the product or service and the amount and type of contribution each business partner has given to the chapter.
Once you have a database, share it once a year with the Regional Team. The Regional Team can be a resource for chapters to call when looking to broaden current business partner support. In turn, the Regional Team should submit these updates to ALA headquarters to facilitate the updating of national business partner information. By sharing resources, the different levels of ALA will benefit greatly by networking and broadening opportunities.
Communication is one of the most challenging and important aspects of business partner relations. As chapters engage business partner participation at chapter events, chapter leaders need to educate their members on the benefits of business partner participation. At first, members may be resistant to business partner participation. However, business partners can educate members about their products and services and assist members in understanding the current trends in business and technology. Additionally, business partner financial support can provide educational opportunities and scholarships that chapters might not otherwise be able to offer their members.
Once members start to recognize these benefits, their viewpoint will likely change. Business partner-member communication is something that needs to be reiterated to the membership on a regular basis as membership and attitudes change over time. Chapter leaders also need to stay in close communication with the sponsoring business partners. It is critical to determine if the business partners feel they are “getting what they paid for.” Where problems exist, chapter leaders must deal with them proactively, rather than reactively.
Some chapters hold an annual educational program for business partners to assist them in learning the particular dynamics of the legal industry. Educational programs can be of great benefit to business partner representatives that are new to the industry and can give experienced business partners the opportunity to voice any concerns.