In a NDR Slump? Get Creative and Stay Connected.

One association pro shares successful strategies to regain and rebuild revenue lost to the pandemic.

If continued uncertainty in the events arena has you doubting that your association will be able to match pre-COVID revenue marks, you are not alone. In the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, which surveyed nearly 500 leaders of North American trade associations, professional societies and association management companies, 61% of respondents said they expect lower non-dues revenue overall this year. Another 46% expect difficulty getting back to the levels of advertising, sponsorship and exhibit sales they saw before the pandemic.

But Brian Hoffman, President of Illinois Bankers Business Services, Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the Illinois Bankers Association, doesn’t see things so grimly. “With so much going virtual, it’s been extremely tough for a lot of associations and industries to be able to get their vendors in front of people,” says Hoffman. “But you can find all kinds of new ways to promote your vendors’ products and services if you get creative.”

It starts, he says, with conversations. “The biggest thing is to keep up relationships — we’ve done a really good job of trying to make sure that we’re staying in front of our best vendors and making sure we understand what their needs are so that we can keep the sponsorship dollars in place.”

Everyone is hungry to get back to in-person events — attendees have Zoom fatigue, and sponsors don’t feel like they’re truly getting seen. Hoffman has found a way to combat both problems. “We started sending out care packages to our attendees, and our sponsors are filling them with fun stuff like a $5 Starbucks gift card, or hand sanitizer bottles with the company’s name on them, or snacks. We also have a shipping sponsor whose logo will go on the package labels. It’s a great way to make attendees happy and get sponsors’ names in front of them.”

Hoffman also has gamified the virtual trade show experience. “We have games in our virtual world and do things like provide a secret word at a virtual booth that attendees need in order to visit. You can do a lot of little things to keep virtual events interesting and engaging.”

The more you offer your members, the more opportunities there are for non-dues revenue, says Hoffman. For smaller associations with limited resources, he suggests looking to partnerships to offer more without increasing workload. “For most products and services, it’s all about volume,” he explains. “So, how do you create that volume? You partner with other associations and organizations with similar missions, and offer things that serve both sets of memberships.”

Be inventive, try new things, but at the end of the day, Hoffman says, remember that an association’s strength, stability, and growth potential all come down to people. “Don’t discount the power of getting in front of your members,” he says. ”The best thing we’ve done over the last year is set up one-on-one Zoom calls with our members. We’ll do an annual orientation with our banks just to update them on all the products and services and things that we do. It might be a refresher for them, it might be introducing them to a new service they weren’t aware of or it might be finding out a problem they need help with. Staying in touch allows you to be nimble and quickly act when opportunities arise that will serve both the members and your organization.”

Naylor Association Solutions provides innovative association tools and services for strengthening member engagement and increasing non-dues revenue. Our offerings include member communications, management of live and online meetings and events, online career centers, Association Management Software (AMS) and Member Data Platform (MDP), full-service association management, and online learning. A strategic partner to professional and trade associations in the U.S. and Canada, Naylor serves more than 1,700 associations across 80+ industries. For more information, visit