Nondues Revenue in Pandemic Times: Using Digital Channels for Sponsorship

As organizations look to bolster nondues revenue streams, one area that has seen promise during the pandemic is digital channels. Associations should evaluate their channels, set parameters, and get creative when seeking sponsorship dollars.

As I wrote last week in the first article in this series, associations are looking to beef up nondues revenue to maintain budgets amidst a sluggish pandemic economy. One place they have sought extra income is from sponsors. However, with virtual events usually not able to offer sponsors the same value as in-person ones, experts say it’s important for associations to look at all their content channels—not just events—when reaching out to sponsors.

“You want to start with some type of an audit of your channel assets,” said David Frankil, CEO of Frankil Advisory Services. “If you’re going to be talking to technology providers, ask yourself, do you have a technology community? Do you have a monthly newsletter? Do you do a daily blog post or weekly blog posts? Do you do podcasts? Assemble what your channel assets are to communicate value. From that, you design a structured program.”

These channels allow associations to sell content sponsorships or allow sponsors to create content for those channels. Sean Soth, founder of Professionals for Association Revenue, said it is important to understand how each content channel connects with the audience when talking to sponsors. Some channels may be better-suited for awareness campaigns, while others position the sponsor as a thought leader.

“The important thing with digital is to have a very clear menu of opportunities and what objectives that menu helps to feed,” Soth said. “If [the sponsor] wants thought leadership, maybe they sponsor a webcast. If they want brand recognition, maybe they do the homepage slider.”

Setting Parameters

Anytime that associations deal with sponsors who want to create content for their channels, Frankil said it’s important to set guidelines upfront and review content to ensure its not just a sales pitch and meets member needs.

“You’ve got to have somebody who’s got eyes on content before it goes on your channel,” he said. “Sometimes that leads to an uncomfortable conversation, but you have to maintain the integrity of your channel.”

Additionally, it’s important to protect member data. Again, this comes down to being upfront with partners about what they’re going to get. “A lot of times, the first thing sponsors ask is, ‘We get the leads, right?’” Soth said. “Sometimes they don’t.”

Having opt-in policies for members and clear guidelines for when data is shared is crucial, noted Teri Carden, CEO of 100 Reviews and organizer of the Non Dues-A-Palooza conference. “It only takes one time that you share something that you shouldn’t have shared for it to really ruin the trust that you have with your members,” she said.

Revenue Ideas

Carden and Soth said associations have been creative during the pandemic and shared a few of the interesting ideas they’ve seen for revenue.

Soth mentioned the idea of sponsoring a yearlong networking group. The association sets up the group and plans monthly discussions related to a specific topic.

“For the folks that sponsor, one of their representatives gets to participate and be in the room with the members who are interested in this topic,” Soth said. The yearlong sponsorship idea gives a company the opportunity to assist participating members in solving a problem.

Another idea Soth saw involved sharing association content in new formats. “It’s short bursts of wonderful education on demand—kind of like a Netflix for your training,” Soth said. “Most associations have the content; members just need a new way to consume it. [In this example,] they made it in a way where you can search, find, and consume that content quickly. The association members pay a license or upgraded member fee to have access to that content on demand.”

Carden mentioned two ideas related to sponsorship. In one example, associations gathered videos of members talking about why they like certain events and then let partners sponsor the pages those videos appeared on.

In a second example, Carden cited using poll questions and results for sponsorship. Prior to the event, Carden asked Non Dues-a-Palooza registrants a weekly poll question and shared the results the following week. She offered partners a chance to sponsor the results landing page, or to ask their own question. She said, for organizations who choose to let sponsors ask a question, additional opportunities for revenue might include follow-up content sent to those who responded to the initial survey in specific ways.

“Let’s pretend the [sponsor] asked, ‘Are you happy with your payment processor?’” Carden said. “Then, you could actually say to your sponsor, ‘For all of the people that said no they’re not happy, do you want us to send a separate follow-up campaign on your behalf?’” She noted this allows additional follow up, without sharing member or attendee data, because the organization is sending the campaign.

Soth noted there are lots of ideas for generating revenue out there and encourages associations to talk to each other. “Reach out to peers,” Soth said. “Peer-to-peer engagements where you just talk about how people are doing and hopefully share some insights.”

This is the second article in our nondues revenue series. Be sure to read the first article about embracing an entrepreneurial mindset.

(Sono Creative/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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