A recent report from Naylor finds most communications teams are concerned they don’t generate enough nondues revenue. While content and sponsorship customization are good steps to take now, ad retargeting and podcasting could drive revenue in the future.
Association communications teams can play an important role in generating nondues revenue, according to Naylor Association Solutions’ 2019 Association Communications Benchmarking Report [registration]. While the report highlighted general trends in communications teams, it also dug into their role in generating nondues revenue.
“[T]here was notable concern over respondents’ inability to generate nondues revenue from their communication vehicles,” the report said. “Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) agreed that this shortcoming was a serious or significant problem.”
Communications teams, according to the report, typically generate revenue for the association through their publications, advertising, and sponsorship deals. Naylor suggested that having more data could help teams generate additional revenue, so I reached out to them and spoke with Sarah Sain, director of content, member communications, to flesh out what strategies were working for communications teams. She said successful associations are collecting data and using it to customize content.
“Capturing as clean a data [set] as you can and getting some qualitative feedback from members, so you are delivering communications that your members want—that is how you will make those nondues revenue streams as effective as possible,” Sain said. “Use that information to customize communication and use that information to curate strong content—whether it’s industry news, updates, legislative articles, how-tos, or member profiles.”
When members have custom content, they are more likely to interact with it, which provides more eyeballs on the content and its associated revenue-generating advertising. The report found associations that used artificial intelligence to customize email newsletter content saw open rates two to three times higher than those that didn’t. Sain said communications staff sometimes think customization requires creating reams of additional content. It doesn’t.
“Content doesn’t have to be fully unique,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just delivering it in different platforms. Some may want to find it in a print piece, while others want it on social media. It’s understanding where you’re going to reach different members of your audience.”
Members aren’t the only group you should be offering customization; it also applies to sponsors. “A lot of associations have the layered sponsorship packages: gold, silver, or bronze. When they approach [a potential sponsor], they say, ‘These are the levels; which one do you want?’” Sain said. “A potentially more effective way to do it, is to say, ‘Here is our group of offerings,’ and allow them to build their own package. They may find certain elements from one package, certain elements from a different package, and they create a customized package.”
The report also suggests asking sponsors if they’re happy with their current sponsorship package and then using that feedback to create customized packages. A Partnership Professionals Network study suggested a similar approach earlier this year.
In addition to customization, Sain pointed out one other tactic being used for revenue generation. “Some associations have been quick to adopt sponsored content options. Some have been a little more hesitant,” Sain said. “It’s a paid advertisement that is more editorially focused. It’s not just a sales pitch, but education, an opportunity to inform. It allows your sponsor members to offer up their expertise.”
While customization is something to focus on now, different trends are sure to become more popular in the association space over the next few years.
“Some of the things we think we’ll see get bigger on the horizon—when looking at new nondues revenues streams—are things like programmatic and retargeting advertising campaigns,” Sain said. “They’re only being used by a quarter and a third [of associations surveyed]. It is something associations are starting to adopt. We are watching to see where it goes.”
Podcasting is an additional revenue stream for associations to consider. “Podcasting, the interest has grown by double digits year over year,” Sain said. “We are watching [it] closely; [it] could be an exciting new stream of revenue.”
Podcasting can generate revenue by sponsorship or ads, without members feeling ad overload. “Your members don’t see it as intrusive—they’re used to hearing ads on those,” Sain said. “If associations have a podcast and there’s an advertisement, that wouldn’t be unexpected, so it can be a really interesting opportunity.”
What new nondues revenue streams are your communications team experimenting with? Tell us in the comments section.