Building a Future-Proofing Strategy – How to Diversify Your Non-Dues Revenue Part 1

By David Butler • July 26, 2022

By David Butler & David Freeman

If your association depends almost solely on one revenue source, you’re at a major — and potentially catastrophic — risk if that revenue source shifts. In order to make sure you’re prepared for unforeseen revenue stream changes and to ensure the long-term success and viability of your association, you should consider diversifying your non-dues revenue (NDR) sources. 

So, let’s learn more about diversifying your sources of revenue beyond dues and how this type of future-proofing can prepare you for whatever lies ahead. 

What is Future-Proofing?

You guessed it — future-proofing is the process of protecting your organization against potential future events. More specifically, it’s the development of methods to minimize the impact of future events. Future-proofing can be used for associations, businesses, objects, and people.

Let’s take a physical office building, for example. Office buildings are insulated to provide protection against heat, cold, and extreme weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Some may have solar panels while maintaining access to the electric grid. And their customizable layouts can even adapt to growing staff.

In short, thanks to future-proofing, modern office buildings can be prepared for anything. And your association should be, too.

Why is Future-Proofing Important?

We hate to break it to you, but no business or association is untouchable. There are no guarantees that a crisis won’t impact your association someday. A future-proof strategy is your assurance that you’ve protected your association against the world’s unknowns to the best of your ability. This helps preserve your association while upholding fiduciary responsibility to your members and stakeholders. 

Over the years, many associations relied on hosting in-person events as their main non-dues revenue driver. With the introduction of COVID-19, one crisis instantly derailed years of progress and earnings in March 2020. Associations revised cancelation clauses and braced for impact. For the first time, they considered a future without in-person meetings or events. 

We can’t be sure when the next global, regional, or local crisis will strike, or how it will impact your association. But with future-proofing, when that time comes, you’ll be ready.

To future-proof your association, you need to diversify. Aside from dues, how does your association earn revenue? Let’s take a look at some common sources.

Traditional Non-Dues Revenue Generators

Some traditional NDR generators include: 

  • Sponsorships 
  • Advertising – Print and Digital
  • Job Posting Sales
  • Events & Conferences 
  • Directories 
  • Video Content 
  • Show Guides 
  • Online Buyers’ Guides 
  • Traditional Newsletters 
  • Digital Magazines
  • Print Magazines
  • Exhibit Sales 

These are great options to help achieve your association’s revenue goals. But for future-proofed success, you need to move beyond traditional means.  

Beyond Tradition: Future-Proofing Strategies for Non-Dues Revenue

Incorporating unique NDR strategies can help to diversify your overall revenue streams. Remember: diversification and future-proofing go hand-in-hand. New non-dues revenue drivers can increase member engagement, which not only encourages advertisers to renew, but also attracts new advertisers.

Here are some ways to think outside the box when it comes to NDR sources.

Sponsored Content  

Sponsored content can help your association gain visibility for partner companies and other interested parties on well-marketed platforms. It’s a great revenue source because the content is placed around material that readers already enjoy. This means you’ll build a valuable client connection and enhance the user experience – instead of disrupting it, like irrelevant advertising can – while earning NDR. With so many ways to leverage sponsored content, there’s no reason your association shouldn’t take advantage of this revenue source. 

Let’s dive into each type in a bit more detail.

Print/Digital Sponsored Advertorials

Advertorials must be clearly marked as sponsored content. This is because advertorials are sponsor-provided editorial content. And to be successful, they must provide value to your members. Beyond that, you get to control publication requirements. One way to streamline your review process is to stipulate that your association may edit content to meet the criteria. Then, if a supplier submits insufficient content, you can make changes, request changes, or decline to publish. 

Research Papers or Surveys

If your association publishes annual surveys, research papers, or reports, consider offering exclusive sponsorship opportunities. Since research papers and reports help to uniquely position your association as an authoritative resource or thought leader, be careful with sponsorship placement. The value of the content should supersede any mention of the sponsorship, but the opportunity for elevating the content with a partner sponsor is always worthwhile to consider.


Podcasts, webinars, and seminars can have a longer shelf life than other forms of content, making them great opportunities for sponsored content to grow non-dues revenue. With a publication schedule that includes speakers and relevant topics, advertisers are often willing to buy ad spots at a premium when topics align well with their brand or pay to serve as thought leaders with your association. Although many topics are not suitable for “pay-to-play” speaking opportunities, many are, and your association should consider this with each opportunity.  

Social Media

Social media offers a huge revenue and advertising opportunity. That said, it’s a moving target. New developments, trends, and platforms arise daily. So it’s important to ensure that you only take advantage of social media opportunities that align with your members and association values. When you find the right fit for sponsored content on social media, you can monetize opportunities based on the size of your following. You can also use social media to promote other content produced by your association (magazines, reports, etc.).

Webinars and Educational Programs Within Your LMS

When recruiting sponsors for educational content, focus on the benefits that the sponsors should receive. A few examples include having their name and/or logo appear throughout the presentation, including a member of the organization on a webinar host panel, offering custom introductions for your sponsors at the start of the event, etc. 

You can offer standalone sponsorships for educational content or bundle this offering with other types of advertising opportunities. Make sure that any potential sponsors align with the focus of those programs. 

Opportunities and Extras at Events

As we emerge from the lengthy event hiatus over the last two years, it’s once again viable for associations to host events. And with events come additional ways to maximize your association’s event revenue. This includes offering:

  • Event extras and upgrades – suggest add-ons beyond admission, such as t-shirts, booth sales, literature, exclusive session attendance, and sponsorships at the same time as event ticket purchase and at a designated space at your event
  • Special event pricing – different rates for primary members, affiliate members, non-members, for-profit company attendees, and guests
  • Unique sponsorships – schedule photo booths and headshots, co-create events with sponsors, and offer wellness breaks and pop-up activities
  • Non-traditional events – host live, virtual, and hybrid career fairs to open up new doors to sponsorship opportunities 

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Building a Future-Proofing Strategy

Non-dues revenue is a basic necessity for all associations, but growing NDR requires a comprehensive plan. This plan should include assessing which non-dues revenue strategies are most essential and then building a strategic mix of non-dues revenue. 

In Part 2, we’ll discuss more ways to diversify your NDR and future-proof your association. Want to discover how we can boost your non-dues revenue now? Request a meeting to discuss today! 


David Butler; Senior Director, Business Development has worked tirelessly within the association community for over 12 years as the Senior Director of Business Development at Naylor. In that time, he has assisted association colleagues by providing the thought leadership necessary to maximize opportunities to drive non-dues revenue, acquire and retain members, and advance their unique missions.  Outside of the office, David enjoys watching football with his family and visiting the local dog parks with his Goldendoodle and Toy Poodle.


David Freeman, Account Manager. Freeman is a dynamic Account Director at Naylor, responsible for sustaining and expanding relationships with Naylor’s key and growth accounts to ensure long-term development, financial growth and client retention. He has a unique breadth and depth of association industry knowledge, having managed Naylor’s relationships with hundreds of organizations. He began his career at Naylor in 2014 in advertising sales and quickly distinguished himself as an outstanding sales leader and manager, becoming an Account Director in 2019. David is passionate about helping his clients and colleagues succeed.