The article ‘Worth the membership dues?’ in the last issue of Alliance rightly identifies the value of associations and points out that, without funding, these benefits are difficult to achieve. Relying solely on membership dues to grow, let alone sustain, an organization will have limited impact. However, as our recent research at Aperio shows, finding creative ways to adjust their business model can be rewarding for associations. Our research also shows that one strategy currently being used is expanding non-dues revenues (NDR). Respondents reported that on average 47 per cent of their association’s total revenue is from NDR; over 80 per cent reported that NDR programmes generate revenue in excess of expenses.
NDR can include a broad variety of products and services, ranging from training to accreditation to group buying programmes. In our research we found that the most common NDR activities were meetings – conferences, seminars or workshops. Sponsorship and advertising were the next most common type, leveraging their membership base for firms seeking to raise their profile among their constituents. Other common activities include courses, trade shows, accreditation, books, websites and research.
Associations around the world are facing similar challenges. As a result, case studies of innovative NDR programming can be found around the globe. A common myth is that NDR is just about increasing revenue and diversifying income sources. However, successful non-dues revenue activities are those that create additional benefits for members.
Creative association executives should also think about how NDR can help both member recruitment and retention. Take the example of magazines. Many associations think of their magazines as the chief member benefit rather than as a source of revenue. However, an entrepreneurial association will develop strategies to expand circulation beyond its membership base. While the magazine is attractive to firms because of the breadth of its readership, it also becomes a key marketing tool for the association itself by getting in front of potential members.
However, it is essential that you do your market research. Successful ideas are those that are based on commercial assessment and research to ensure each idea is effectively screened and tested for feasibility.
1 Many of the findings discussed in this letter come from CSAE and Aperio’s book Re-Thinking Association Non-Dues Revenue: Research report and strategies guide.