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Nondues Know-How

A New Look for Nondues Revenue

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Post-pandemic, associations are becoming more entrepreneurial and working with corporate partners in new ways to develop new revenue streams.

If the COVID-19 pandemic had an upside for associations, it might be that they got more comfortable taking risks.

Teri Carden, creator of Non Dues-a-Palooza, an event series dedicated to nondues revenue ideas, says organizations have been forced to become more entrepreneurial over the past three years. “Associations that were risk-averse for the most part were forced to take risks,” she said. “If we look at the new programming or new nondues revenue programs, a lot of them look and act like small businesses.”

And as in any small business, Carden says, the process at an association begins with some market analysis. For example, in 2021 the Advanced Practitioner Society for Hematology and Oncology began exploring product and program ideas that would serve members while also promoting the association’s status and bottom line.

“We were asking, ‘What are the skills of our members?’” said APSHO Executive Director Wendy Vogel. “‘What do our members have to offer that’s unique to them and could be something that could provide revenue for the society?’” The association soon came up with an endorsement program called the APSHO Seal of Acceptance, where educational or informational materials are submitted by companies and formally approved (or rejected) for the seal.

Seal-of-approval programs aren’t uncommon in the association world, though it was more complicated in APSHO’s case because of the range of disciplines the association supports. The organization has assembled what it calls a “seal team” from various backgrounds to look at submitted materials and establish standards for assessment. “This is not a pay-for-play kind of thing,” Vogel said. “We are very serious about contributing to the good of our patients.”

In its first year, the program generated $80,000 for APSHO. The only hiccup, in fact, was that APSHO underestimated what participants were willing to pay to submit materials for seal consideration. “The sales team said, ‘This is much more valuable than what you think,’” Vogel said. “And we haven’t had anybody blink at the price tag.”

Looking for Intel

Corporate partners have always been a mainstay of association nondues revenue. But companies aren’t just looking for traditional sponsorship and endorsement opportunities anymore. Increasingly, Carden says, they want access to the deep wells of information that associations hold about their niche membership groups. They’re also eager to learn more about how associations have established and promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within their organizations—and bring that education to the corporate office.

“The big brands in the U.S. are looking to associations for market research,” Carden said. “Associations already have the eyeballs of the industry, so they see it as a quick jump where they can get intel, and they’re willing to pay big bucks for that market research.”

Associations already have the eyeballs of the industry ... [and companies are] willing to pay big bucks for that market research.—Teri Carden, Non Dues-a-Palooza

Beyond looking for data and market intelligence, “brands are really big on DEI strategy right now, and they’re willing to hitch their wagon to associations and fund them for programming that can help support those same initiatives,” Carden added.

Lori Zoss Kraska, founder of the consultancy Growth Owl, has helped facilitate corporate partnerships with associations. She recommends that initial outreach be short and targeted.

“Instead of finding a list of 50 large companies that you want to contact, pick something achievable, like two or three per month, and really get to know who they are,” Kraska said. “What is their mission, vision, and values? What do they like to support, and does that match what you do? If a corporation is really big on supporting nature causes and you’re a business association, your chances for success are limited, so don’t call them. Use a framework that makes sense.”

Kraska says many associations that are concerned about sharing member data are surprised that developing this new revenue stream has less to do with giving up information than with offering a dedicated and well-educated audience for a company.

“The requests I hear the most about [from companies], especially regarding DEI and sustainability, are wanting to get their branding and some of the initiatives they’re doing for the community in front of your members as well as opportunities to support like-minded programming your association is offering,” she said. “It’s also about them, informing your members as to some of the good work that they’re doing.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel.

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