Developing a Non-Dues Revenue Strategy for Sustainability

Written by Bruce Rosenthal & Norissa Giangola on October 4, 2018

Giangola and Rosenthal have partnered with associations to create highly successful non-dues and corporate partnership programs that drive revenue and member value. Below, they share strategies for sustainability in the face of competition.

For the first time ever, generating non-dues revenue topped the list of association priorities in 2017, according to McKinley Advisors’ 10th annual “Economic Impact on Associations” report.

In our own conversations over the past months, over 20 association CXOs have discussed with us their need to move beyond the reliance on member dues and drive new revenue. In reality, garnering the attention of members with revenue-based offerings is easier said than done.

New technologies and the growing expert economy have shepherded in a world of innovative competition for association core offerings that are increasingly threatening current association revenue. We see three trends that associations need to understand and address:

  • Dynamic education: your members have access to timely, dynamic, and interactive online learning opportunities, ranging from LinkedIn Learning to Coursera to the free webinars and conferences offered by companies that sell products and services to members of associations. Driving your own education value – through a strategic content offering that likely includes branded video platforms and new training models – can become both a significant revenue stream and a source of value for members if done well. If not, expect to lose that attention to these competitive offerings.
  • Professional networking circles and groups that help broker direct business opportunities are approaching your members with offerings that drive ROI, just as members increasingly seek out real business value. Finding ways to provide effective business networking, with other members, vendors, etc., can be an added benefit for members – and for the companies that look to meet them.
  • Association revenue from corporate sponsorships also faces new challenges as sponsors are growing increasingly reluctant to pay hefty fees in exchange for transactional benefits like signage, an advertisement in the program, and acknowledgement from the podium at a conference. Only a high value-add program will be able to drive revenue into the future.

It’s very much about choice. Association members seeking education, networking, and business value have more choices, with more competitive offerings about where to spend their money.

For most associations, growing and maintaining new revenue streams also means developing or adding the capabilities to do it well. This includes finding new ways to assess, evaluate, strategize and create the best programs to optimize revenue and member value from content development, education, conferences, business relationship brokering, and sponsorships.

Don’t want to fall behind? Creating a comprehensive strategy for your organization is critical.

Here are a few tips regarding one aspect of that value strategy: Managing corporate sponsorships to drive non-dues revenue as well as to innovate the association’s product offering. The other side of the coin is that sponsorship programs are at great risk of losing revenue without an effective, in-step approach. In our experience, the key value lies in helping the companies thoughtfully (and transparently) reach association members with their offerings in a way that drives value for both parties: corporate sponsors and members.

This is essentially a paradigm shift from corporate sponsorships to corporate partnerships: genuinely partnering with companies to add value for their company,

When associations strive to create enduring non-dues revenue strategies for sustainability, it’s important to consider five key success factors:

  1. Dream big. What value can you derive from connecting your members to companies – both for members and for corporate partners? What do your members need – for example, solutions, strategies, case studies, research, toolkits, regulations guidance, and data – that can be provided by corporate partners?
  2. Align with your association’s mission, goals, and culture. There’s a clear line between what drives value for your members and what doesn’t; establishing decision-making criteria to safeguard mission alignment (ensuring buy-in at the board and staff level and managing risk) is critical.
  3. Ensure that your board and staff embrace your non-dues revenue initiatives by building a strong business and mission case for the value corporate partners bring to your association.
  4. Make certain that the corporate partnership program taps and builds on the intellectual and brand assets of your association – and that your association becomes or stays the “go-to” expert.
  5. Always adhering to #2, operate your non-dues program like a business, with a strong focus on driving a valuable product that creates values for both members and partners and makes money.

Following this roadmap – thinking outside of the traditional rules of their association to truly innovate – our clients have created programs that drive millions of dollars of revenue while bringing new product offerings to their association. That’s a win-win that associations can embrace.