When budgets are tight and you want to get the most from your members, there are countless innovative tactics you can use for revenue generation outside of traditional membership dues.
Looking ahead to the future, though, it’s important to understand the historical context as well: what are membership dues and when are they required? Association memberships and related programs often require one-time or annual fees, also known as dues, for access to networks or groups with shared interests and programs or content relevant to those groups.
How to drive non-dues revenue
Industry associations are one example. Each industry faces unique challenges regarding laws and regulations, general business operations, and member engagement. Collecting dues enables the association to build and maintain valuable resources for members. In the modern landscape, associations can generate revenue in new ways that deliver even more value to members without increasing membership dues.
Here we will explore five strategies for associations to drive non-dues revenue going into 2020:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it a playbook. We hope to challenge and inspire your thinking around creative ways to engage members and make it easy for them to contribute. Let’s dive in!
The traditional auction model has evolved; there are seemingly endless possible ways to execute this important fundraising activity. Here are a few things to consider when you’re planning an auction designed to engage and drive revenue for your organizations.
Be creative with your calls for donations (donation appeals) and make sure they are placed strategically in highly-visible spaces. The most successful appeals result in increased donations: alternative sources of revenue you can use to augment dues. Build your appeals around stories that elicit emotion and show impact (donor ROI). Your website, email signatures, radio or broadcast spots, and one-on-one messaging are great examples of where to capture appeals.
Raffles are a fun way to engage your members, and ticket sales can rack up quickly, especially if you host a raffle as part of a larger-scale fundraising event. Organizing a raffle is fairly simple: you sell tickets at a fixed price, tickets are entered into a repository and drawn at random, those with the winning ticket are rewarded with a special prize. Each of these elements can be tailored to suit your audience and you can leverage prizes in sponsorship appeals for your fundraising event or auction.
The most valuable resource for businesses, associations, and organizations is time and there’s only so much of it to go around. Consider auctioning off resources that will enhance or save time for members and their teams.
It could be anything:
Software or hardware to help power an analog process
Templates for content, procedures, or training courses
A ticket and travel accommodations to a conference or event
2. Live events
Events are increasingly more valuable to associations and their members, as the nonprofit sector catches up with modern marketing trends and innovations. While they can seem like overwhelming investments, the opportunities for return can really pay off.
Ticket costs for conferences, events, and tradeshows vary wildly depending on factors like audience capacity, location, speaker lineup, and general demand. If your development officer or event organizer is weighing options, consider offering discounted rates at various times leading up to your event. This tactic helps you drive demand for your event. By making it clear to prospective attendees that cost will increase over time, you build up their interest and your revenue.
There are countless ways to solicit sponsorships for an event or conference. The level of complexity, customization, and cost-to-benefit potential will depend on your intended audience and prospective sponsors. The value, or perceived value, of your event to sponsors will differ from the value to attendees. As you think about models for event sponsorship, consider the relationships you’re trying to help build: are your people looking for products or services, subject matter expertise, or something else?
As suggested in the earlier section about auctions, technology is a great tool for events. You may auction off hardware, like a tablet or other device, to help your people in their work. But technology is also an effective tool for helping you with your events. Consider leveraging your existing tools (like CRM or LMS) and integrating them with robust technical solutions, such as a mobile event app and event microsite, designed to help with ticketing, registration, engagement, and more.
TIP: Develop your mobile event app with the right event app software. Discover your options on G2.
3. Digital real estate
As is the case with physical conference rooms and exhibition halls, digital space has substantial value. It incurs maintenance costs and is an increasingly coveted resource for businesses of any kind. Why not offer it up as a value-add to your members in exchange for a fee? There are a few types of valuable digital real estate to consider parsing out and offering to your member organizations for purchase. Think of these as channels that provide increased visibility, traffic, and engagement.
Website banner ads
Whether on a more prominent space like your website’s home page or on another page dedicated to vendors or partners, banner ads create awareness and drive web traffic as the ad itself typically contains a click-through link to a target destination such as an organization’s homepage or special offer page.
Similarly, landing pages offer dedicated space to the organization that purchases it for use. In addition to capturing standard brand information, like logos and descriptions, a landing page can feature multiple backlinks, images, and other content that drives awareness and engagement with the brand.
Most consumers use social media to some degree in their everyday lives. Your corporate social channels are connected to broader networks associated with shared interests which can be valuable to other organizations. Discover myriad avenues for mutual benefit by offering regular content-sharing, mentions or shout-outs, and features to members and organizations on these channels in exchange for nominal fees.
4. Training programs
Whether you represent a single association working with multiple organizations, or you’re affiliated with an association management company that oversees multiple associations, learning and development are critical for success. Training is a way to educate and develop your people while bringing overall value to your operations. Depending on what your groups are interested in, these programmatic formats can help them be more successful leaders, support staff, and champions for their communities.
As technology evolves, so do rules and best practices; this is true of every industry and business function around the globe. One way to deliver increased value to your associations and member organizations is to provide expert-led training in the areas most important to them. Consider partnering with internal or external groups to host interactive workshops, a series of guided exercises, or a lunch and learn program. In exchange for a small fee, participants walk away with practical insights they can apply to the everyday work they’re doing.
Educational content is highly sought-after by self-starting professionals across industries and interest groups. Individuals and organizations look to the web for guidance and examples of what success looks like so they can reverse-engineer models to suit their unique business needs. Consider launching a subscription-based learning program where your member organizations pay a flat rate per month or year for access to educational resources.
While organizations have different requirements depending on the industry they serve, sometimes referred to as “hard” skills, the future of business relies on leadership and “soft” skills for success. These types of skills are highly transferable, regardless of industry or functional department, so they offer short-term and long-tail value to participants. Conducting training that focuses on these skills is yet another potential strategy for associations that need to generate non-dues revenue.
5. Branded merchandise (a.k.a. “swag”)
The concept of “swag” is best described as a creative and cost-effective marketing tool that leverages easy-to-produce materials to promote a specific cause or event. It’s a great tactic to showcase important calls to action and give your people a way to relate to your brand in a fun, engaging, and memorable way. But not all swag is created equal, and not everyone will be willing to invest their money into it. Here are three of many characteristics that can help you make an impact with branded event merchandise.
Lanyards, water bottles, golf towels, duffel bags, fountain pens, buttons and baubles— the possibilities for branded merchandise are endless. Many of the traditional offerings are played out, unoriginal, and impractical, though. Start by asking yourself what your people will actually use before making an investment in swag. You know your association best: offer options with tiered pricing your members can choose from.
With the climate crisis pervading global consciousness, the last thing you want to do is kill trees for more printed materials that will be tossed away or create unnecessary waste. Consider environmentally-friendly or zero-waste vendors that offer sustainable products that showcase your brand. Make that part of the value proposition to prospective buyers: it’ll make them feel good to go green.
Your event swag doesn’t have to be boring. Kick up the interest level a notch by researching unique and whimsical pieces that can help leave an impression that lasts beyond the event lifecycle. Focus on building an experience that has meaning. Let your imagination run wild alongside all the institutional knowledge you have about your members and their businesses.
With a new decade comes new challenges and opportunities for your association and its member organizations. As you explore avenues to drive revenue from multiple sources, not just membership dues, look beyond traditional models. Challenge yourself to be more creative and innovative in 2020. After all, thinking outside the proverbial box can help you better engage members, build stronger communities, and deliver more value.
Now that you've discovered new ways to drive non-dues revenue, make sure you're using the right revenue management software to track your sources of income.
Equal parts voracious reader and passionate writer, Maggie is an expert in communication principles and practices that help drive positive impact for business. As Marketing Manager for Pathable, Inc., she’s customer-obsessed, results-oriented, and dedicated to celebrating the value of highly customizable event app and web solutions for event planners across industries around the globe.