4 Proven Strategies for Increasing Your Association’s Non-Dues Revenues

Published by LTBD, P.C. | June 10, 2017

Association executives today face a wide range of challenges as they seek to move their organizations forward. On the revenue side of the equation, these include practical matters such as how to raise more dues, and they also encompass existential and structural issues like how to make a compelling case for membership.

This is especially true in an age where the digital revolution has made both information and community — two core longstanding benefits of association membership — widely available outside of the ‘walled garden’ that associations previously controlled.

With these issues at the top of their minds, association leaders need to think creatively and act aggressively to protect, diversify and grow revenue streams so they can ensure both long-term success and, in many cases, short-term survival.

Here are four proven strategies you can use as a starting point to plan and execute new efforts aimed at enhancing your association’s non-dues revenues:

1. Strengthen your in-person programming.

Many associations have fallen into the habit of cutting back in-person events, citing extraordinary costs and reduced revenues. However, in-person events are one of your association’s greatest differentiating experiences. Digital can’t compete with in-person, and only you can bring together the exact mix of people that your membership community makes possible.

Instead of cutting back, refocus on the value-add of in-person events. Consider holding more in-person programs, more frequently, and closer to your members. Make it easier and less costly to participate more frequently, and leverage members themselves to add content and topics that will generate engagement.

2. Expand benefits across your member’s world.

Members are accustomed to the standard range of benefits they receive, but if you think about the member’s overall lifecycle — their career needs, their professional growth, their industry and business challenges — there may be new opportunities to add value. Value-added services can increase member engagement and retention, while also offering you the opportunity to change a premium for additional or advanced membership options. In this model, you’d offer a baseline version of the new benefit at no charge, and then offer a more advanced variant for added fees (similar to the ‘freemium’ software model).

Benefits can also be targeted to specific member segments and sub-segments, such as programs that target a specific job title level or those that provide added value to a specific interest group within the association.

3. Lead your members in learning and coaching.

With the pace of change in our economy and work world today, professional and trade associations alike possess and unprecedented opportunity to educate their members in ways that benefit them and profit the association alike. Learning can be delivered in person, online and through hybrid formats or apps, all of which strengthen the association’s brand as well as offering new revenue stream possibilities.

Another area of opportunity is professional coaching or peer-to-peer coaching. Your association can offer professional coaching and support services to its members, or deliver professional development in a community format where members work with one another in small groups to discuss and address business or career challenges.

Certification has historically been another area where associations held sway, but increasingly members have rejected heavy-handed tactics that they often see as purely designed to force another fee their way and enrich the association at their expense.

Traditional all-or-nothing certification programs may be seeing their days numbered, so consider migrating to a building-blocks model where members can receive a series of smaller credentials over time (and at a lower individual credentialing cost), and ultimately roll those into a traditional professional certification at the end.

4. Stop selling advertising and start offering lead generation.

One thing that many associations have struggled to accept is that members and non-members alike seem much less interested in buying traditional advertising —- whether it be print or digital/display format — than they were in the past. One reason for this shift is that today’s marketers understand that it takes a lot more than just an ad to generate responses from today’s buyers.

One way to solve this problem is to migrate from a pay-and-display model (i.e. you pay money and we’ll display your ad, either in print or online), to a lead-generation model. In the latter case, your focus will move not only toward digital, but beyond that into lead capture. Marketing automation technology today can allow associations to identify and create leads for advertisers in ways that were not possible just a few years ago.

For example, members who log into your members-only portal and click on a specific sponsored article or special offer can be connected to advertisers directly for follow-up. Lead capture forms on public websites and blogs can allow marketers to offer high-value content (such as white papers or eBooks) in return for receiving solid leads to follow up with. The more your association offers actual lead generation to marketers, the more likely they will be to re-prioritize your association as a priority for their marketing spend.

What these four strategies all have in common is a combination of factors: First, they clearly leverage the differentiators of your association. Second, they seek to add value for members and non-member parties alike. And third, they expand the depth and sophistication of your relationship with members — which in turn strengthens member engagement and retention.

By committing to these and other proven strategies for generating and sustaining non-dues revenue, your association will be well-positioned to achieve solid revenue growth for the long term.

Learn more about how partnering with LTBD for outsourced accounting services can enhance your association’s financial and operational effectiveness.

Image Credit: Oregon DOT (Flickr @ Creative Commons)
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