Nondues Revenue in Pandemic Times: Embrace an Entrepreneurial Mindset

As the pandemic has torpedoed in-person events—a key revenue generator—associations have been looking to boost other areas of nondues revenue. Finding innovative ways to bring in new income during these times requires the right mindset, experts say.

While most association missions revolve around helping members or industry goals, that mission can’t be accomplished without funding and other sources of revenue. As the economy continues to be negatively affected by the pandemic, associations are looking to boost their nondues revenue. To find out what groups are doing to achieve this goal during these tumultuous times, I talked to a few experts, who say that new revenue streams start with having the right mindset.

“The associations that are going to generate new revenue—not your grandma’s nondues revenue—are the ones that can embrace that entrepreneurial mindset and create an environment of change,” said Teri Carden, cofounder and CEO of 100Reviews and organizer of the Non Dues-a-Palooza conference. “Creating an environment that’s conducive to these changes is really tricky.”

Carden said she likes associations to visualize successful nondues revenue approaches as the center of a Venn diagram with three ingredients. “You’ve got three concentric circles,” she said. “One is, it provides the member value. The other one is, it provides intel to the industry. And the third one is that it actually generates revenue. Where those three things crossover are the sweetest nondues revenue ideas. It has to do those three things. If any one of those three things missing, it falls down on doing a good job of generating nondues revenue.”

Alan DeYoung, executive director of the Wisconsin EMS Association, noted that his organization can’t charge a lot for dues because many of its members work in volunteer positions and wouldn’t join at high rates. Most of his association’s funding is from nondues revenue, and like Carden, he focuses on a similar sweet-spot approach.

“It needs to be recurring, it needs to provide some type of value to our members, and the process should be as automated as possible,” DeYoung said.

Finding Your Nondues Sweet Spot

Sean Soth, founder of Professionals for Association Revenue, notes that it’s a tough time economically now, so the first step in maximizing nondues revenue is to assess what the association is doing. He recommends a portfolio review of nondues-revenue-generating products—from sponsorship, to events, to content.

“I think it comes down to working with your team, understanding your market, and then making adjustments in your portfolio,” Soth said. “Inside the portfolio, it’s important to understand what is working and what isn’t.”

Carden agreed, noting that understanding what is not working is key to improving an organization’s nondues revenue situation. “Leadership has to have a mentality to embrace new programs and to sunset other programs,” Carden said. “Ultimately, if we just add on to the programs, and don’t sunset some, then we’re stretching our resources thin.”

Sunsetting programs can be hard because inertia or internal champions resist. If that’s the case at your association, Carden suggests conducting an audit and surveying members. She worked with an organization that went through and wrote down all of its programs. In columns beside the program/product name, staff added a member value score and the revenue generated by the program/product. “If it was low member value and low revenue, we got rid of it,” Carden said.

With programs elsewhere on the scale, associations can make other decisions that will help bolster nondues revenue. “You can see which programs can get more resources behind them to really make those programs go,” Carden said.

Along those same lines, Soth noted that it’s also important for associations to integrate customer feedback. “Many associations have been doing the same thing for a while, but what do the customers want?” he said. “And how can you build something around that?”

As organizations start to branch out into new products and services that fall into the revenue-generating sweet spot, Carden recommends setting up metrics to help know if the product is succeeding and when it might be expected to sunset.

“Anytime a new program is created, it actually has a shelf life,” Carden said. “We need to say, OK, what does success look like in one year? What does success look like in two years, three years, five years?”

This is the first of a three-part series on nondues revenue. The next two articles in this series will focus on ways associations are reshaping their sponsorship offerings and revenue shares to bolster nondues revenue.

(baramee2554/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!