For many associations, building new ways to generate revenue and diversify beyond membership comes down to identifying, and taking advantage of, new opportunities. Here are a few ideas.
By Eric Goodstadt
Diversification is the first rule of financial management. And the association space is no different. The fact is, membership dues can only get you so far if your goal is to invest more money into the programs and services you offer.
Not convinced that nondues revenue is essential to your association’s growth? Consider this: The 2019 edition of Marketing General Incorporated’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report found that roughly 46 percent of association members were older than 55, while just 26 percent were under 40. The report also found that the associations struggling to grow (28 percent of those surveyed) were most likely to have more baby boomers as members, while those seeing declines (26 percent) said they faced challenges attracting younger members. Clearly it’s risky to lean on membership alone, given that nearly half of all association members, on average, are nearing or at retirement age.
Diversifying your offerings will also bolster your reserves in case something goes wrong. With all of that in mind, here are a few strategies to help point you in the right direction:
Focus on a robust content strategy. The great thing about content programs is that they can be monetized in numerous ways. For example, one of Manifest’s long-term clients has found much success with its portfolio of magazines and websites that touch upon different aspects of its field. The depth and reach of these publications offer advertisers and industry partners revenue-generating opportunities. Likewise, associations have a tremendous amount of information, research, and expertise that can provide the bedrock for a revenue-generating content platform. Needless to say, if you’ve already created such a platform, be sure to keep it up to date—leveraging new mediums and technology will not only keep you relevant but will also create more revenue-generating advertising inventory.
Look into building a job board. Many trade and professional groups represent industries that are quite niche, and employers are willing to pay for access to their members. Yet most associations aren’t leaning into job boards as much as they could. According to a Community Brands benchmark report on small-staff associations, just over a third of associations surveyed offer a job board to their members as a source of nondues revenue. And revenue isn’t the only factor: Job boards can also be an opportunity to maximize visibility for careers in your industry and reach out to new groups of potential members. In 2018, for example, the packaging group PMMI launched a job board, CareerLink, to reach students who might be interested in the field. The program, which charges for premium listings, isn’t just a digital success—it also created an opportunity for PMMI to build job fair events at its tradeshows. The revenue goes to the group’s PMMI Foundation, which helps encourage workforce development.
Offer premium services that encourage members to spend more. Not everyone will be willing to pay beyond the price of admission—but by giving your members the opportunity to do so, you can potentially unlock nondues revenue paths that didn’t exist previously. Examples of this type of approach abound in the for-profit space. For example, you can go to IKEA and buy a couch, and pay extra to have it delivered and assembled. While using LinkedIn is generally free, the social network offers a premium version that allows users to see who has visited their profiles, enabling them to proactively reach out to recruiters. And while lots of people pay to read The New York Times, some will pay extra for special access to recipes and crossword puzzles. You probably have ideas for services just like these to build on top of your membership offering.
Uncover New Opportunities
For associations, finding the right strategy isn’t necessarily the hard part. Often, it’s about finding the right opportunity—and it might not be something you can see on your own. A good partner can help wring out these opportunities over time, ensuring that they don’t become one-time windfalls but easy-to-replicate business models.
There will always be members who want more, and advertisers who are willing to pay more for new experiences. When those nondues revenue opportunities present themselves, will you be ready?
Eric Goodstadt, president of Manifest, has more than two decades of experience in the agency world, serving clients in diverse sectors—including associations, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies.