Last month, we asked our readers: What are your most valuable sources of non-dues revenue?
The results came in as follows:
For the majority of respondents to our October poll, when they need funds, they can reliably turn to supplier and vendor members. It’s not surprising that this group was cited as the most valuable source of non-dues revenue by half of our poll’s participants. Member suppliers/vendors usually join with the intention of investing in the association and the industry members who belong to it. This investment commonly comes with the expectation of getting something in return — face-to-face time with members/potential customers at an event, name recognition on printed or online materials or space within publications to air sponsored content. Being experts at what they produce or provide, associations have all the reason to work with suppliers to cultivate these types of mutually beneficial relationships.
About one-third of respondents cited non-member suppliers and vendors as their most valuable source of non-dues revenue. This lower percentage may be because non-members are typically not as invested in an association and its activities as members. Furthermore, some associations restrict membership to individuals only or limit the number of supplier members allowed on the rolls at any time. Thus, an organization can support an association only as a non-member.
Whatever the reason, non-member organizations can still be an integral part of an association’s non-dues revenue stream. Regardless of their membership status, they are still a member of the industry and likely have technical expertise to share, products or services that members can benefit from the knowledge of and a desire to connect with members. Don’t discount non-member vendors — talk with them to discover their goals and work with them to find ways to build mutual association-vendor support.
Government sources of non-dues revenue were deemed the most valuable by 17 percent of poll respondents. Depending on the end beneficiaries and the nature of the industry, some associations can take advantage of federal block grants, community development block grants, economic stimulus grants or disaster assistance.
However, associations should be cautious not to rely too much on any single funding source. Just as a typical financial adviser will counsel an individual investor not to put all their “eggs” in one basket, associations are wise to diversify their funding sources so that if one source scales back their funding, the association is financially able to continue operating at the same level. Maintaining a diverse roster of benefactors or revenue streams also forces associations to remain creative, relevant and innovative, as Mark Rowh of The Meeting Magazines notes in his article about generating non-dues revenue. Corporate sponsorships, advertising sales for print and online publications, branded merchandise and fee-based educational programs are tried-and-true methods for raising non-dues revenue, but continual revenue growth requires discussing business goals with supplier members and sponsors and finding mutually satisfying ways for fundraising to work between the association and the sponsor.
Other potential sources of non-dues revenue include:
- Webinar sponsorships – Can include just a logo and link to a business or can include the opportunity to have a member of the business speak about the topic at hand during the webinar.
Conference session sponsorships.
- Ad space in event programs or fliers, membership directories, member magazines, association websites, newsletters, event apps, produced videos, recorded event videos or annual reports.
- Charity event funding/sponsorship.
- Entertainment fees – Especially for an association’s higher-profile events, ask a supplier to cover the cost of bringing in top-quality entertainment for an event.
- Event swag – Lanyards at events, party favors, swag bag items; items provided by sponsor and a fee paid for the privilege of getting these items in members’ hands. Tara Ericson gives a robust review of creative event sponsorship ideas to chew on before your next big event.
- Speaker sponsorship – Have a sponsor cover the honorarium for top-quality speakers.
- Meal/drink/snack sponsorship at annual events or monthly meetings. Some associations make a grand tradition of presenting a special snack or drink at annual events. Making such a tradition available for a fee turns a sponsorship opportunity into an honor.
- Sponsored grants that fund membership dues, event fees, young professional or continuing education scholarships.
- Online learning sponsorships, where companies/organizations help defray the cost of a learning platform in exchange for logoed sponsorship of a course or even a guest speaker role during the course.
- Mentoring program admission fees – Charging participants helps offset the cost of offering what is usually a work-intensive program to provide, and many associations find that charging even a nominal fee to participate improves program retention.
- Affinity programs – The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, which estimates that U.S. chambers of commerce have grown non-dues revenue by 262 percent between 2008 and 2016, offers a comprehensive overview of affinity programs and how associations can start and grow one responsibly.
What about your association? Do the above results speak to your experience growing and diversifying non-dues revenue sources? Are there any sponsorships or programs you would add to the list above? Leave us a comment below, or add your voice to our poll — it’s still open on our polls page.