Our April 24 webinar about hidden ways to earn more non-dues revenue for your association generated plenty of thoughtful questions! Our panelists wrote answers to all submitted questions below. If you attended and have an additional question, or if you’ve watched the recording and would like to know more, submit your non-dues revenue questions in the comment area at the bottom of this post.
- Dave Bornmann, Chief Marketing Officer
- Nate Brown, Director, Business Development
- John Bacon, Senior Group Publisher
They dig into non-traditional ways to create new revenue streams and scrape through the patina of traditional streams to show smaller ways your association can boost existing revenue sources.
Answers by John Bacon, group publisher for Naylor Association Solutions.
Q: We’ve been toying with the idea of including sponsored content in our newsletters. Is this something you would recommend? Have you seen success with sponsored newsletter content?
A: Yes, most definitely. Most of our newsletters offer the chance for advertisers to place sponsored content. It’s a very popular feature and a nice alternative to a typical display ad in a newsletter. They’re usually placed within a specific section of content. They include a small word limit accompanied by a logo and a tagline, so it’s a very simple but effective placement.
Q: Do you label sponsored content as sponsored?
A: Yes. We label anything that’s an advertorial or other type of paid content as “sponsored” so readers know it’s an advertisement. We are honest with all of our content.
Q: I work for a small professional association with high engagement, and sponsored content is the only way to reach our group. What would be a typical price for an ad in an email broadcast, an advertorial, or another form of communication? Is there a formula for determining sponsorship pricing for sponsored content?
A: It depends on your membership’s financial capabilities and the price point of your existing communications. What do you have in your suite of communication products, and what is their price range? You have to gauge, how much are your members or readers are willing to spend. You also have to gauge on how much it actually costs to produce your emails, advertorials, magazine, webinar, or whatever the product in question is. Include staff time, materials, and tech costs. Depending on your costs and what your advertising prospects can afford, you might be able to find a one sponsor that can cover your costs for an entire webinar, or you may need to offer multiple partial sponsorships to cover costs while keeping the barrier to advertiser participation affordable.
Q: How much targeted sponsored advertisement is too much for our association members? Especially starting advertisement from nothing, even one sponsor seems excessive. Is there data that potentially speaks to this?
A: I don’t have specific data about how much advertising a given membership can bear because that amount depends on the types of advertising present and the historical norms surrounding the presence of advertising in your association’s communications. Native advertising – advertising that’s baked into a publication, such as a sponsored section of a magazine or ads within a newsletter, are perceived and accepted differently than ads that are pushed to members on their own, such as a sponsored email advertorial that isn’t surrounded by other content. Organizations can typically use native advertising more frequently because it’s perceived to be less intrusive. Your association can include more than one ad in a newsletter or magazine because they’re balanced by the editorial content that’s also included in the publication.
As for historical norms, ask yourself how often you have advertised to members in the past, and how much you currently communicate to them. How often are you sending emails? How frequently do you expect them to attend events, webinars, or other association functions? As much as we’d like our members to devote most of their time and energy to our association, that’s not reality. If you’ve been communicating with members at a rate that earns your association the level of engagement you want, you can probably try incorporating more sponsored content into your communication strategy without much negative feedback. But if members have already indicated your association sends too much email, or fills their calendars with too many events, you’ll want to slowly introduce sponsored content while scaling back some of your other communications to maintain (and improve) the balance between engaging members and annoying them.
Q: I like the idea of a special section in a publication based on a theme, but we struggle with having content ideas for the next issue of our magazine in time for our sales team to work those themes into their pitches. Any suggestions for overcoming this?
A: You should be creating an annual editorial plan that includes tentative ideas for content at specific times of the year. You can detail these content themes later, but a basic editorial plan will give your advertisers an idea about what each issue, webinar, or other publication will look like, and an opportunity to place their ads in the themed issue, edition or event that best aligns with their brand. Make sure that you disclose that the calendar is subject to change. If and when you have more details for specific content articles that will be written, you could quickly brainstorm a possible special section or marketplace to add at that time. Planning ahead as much as possible is key.
Events and Event Sponsorships
Answers by Dave Bornmann, chief marketing officer for Naylor Associations Solutions.
Q: What do you mean by “buyers” and “suppliers” at exchange events?
A: Buyers are people who have the decision-making ability to purchase items for their business. So for example, if we’re talking about an information technology department, the buyer is often an IT director or vice president of IT. The supplier is a representative of a company that sells products or services of interest to a similar group of buyers. In this example, a supplier would be someone who sells IT software who is trying to find prospects who procure IT services within an organization.
Exchange events host buyers and suppliers of products and services of mutual interest. For associations, exchange event buyer attendees are regular members while supplier attendees are your sponsors, exhibitors, and other businesses that want to sell to your regular members. The challenge of creating a successful exchange event is getting the people in the room that have the ability to sign the check. The one-on-one, 20-minute meetings, the small receptions, and the focus on making business connections at an individual level that characterize exchange events are why suppliers are willing to pay money to get in front of potential buyers.
Q: Do exchange events work better if the buyers/vendors are in a specific area of interest – for example, IT services?
Yes. There needs to be a specific area of interest mutual to buyers and suppliers. Otherwise, the event will attract a cross-section of organizations that’s too broad for any attendee to conduct meaningful, focused meetings.
The area of interest must appeal to decision makers who often already know of the suppliers in attendance. They must feel they will benefit from spending three days away from the office to solidify relationships with such suppliers (some of whom they might already do business with) and to open the dialogue with new vendors. The benefits of face-to-face networking must outweigh the benefits of staying in the office and using email, phone, webcams, or other communication tools for buyers to give up their normal work week and for suppliers to pay to attend.
So the umbrella product or service category for the event must have enough sub categories to attract enough suppliers to financially support the event, and to draw in enough buyers to make suppliers’ investment worth the expense. For your IT example, IT Services would be a great umbrella category because there are scores of sub-product categories that support IT infrastructure.
Answers provided by Dave Bornmann.
Q: What’s the difference between retargeting and programmatic advertising?
A: Retargeting is a subset of programmatic. Think about surfing the internet as a consumer: You’re on a website looking at shoes. Then you migrate to another site and the shoes are following you around via display ads. That’s retargeting.
Programmatic advertising proactively places those shoe ads in front of a consumer based on what we know about their demographics, their location, their organizational affiliation, their past online behavior, or the content of sites they’ve already visited. Businesses using programmatic advertising know who they want to reach and have so much information about individuals based on their digital footprint. In the old, offline way, advertisers used to segment their market based on an educated guess or a sample of demographic data culled from surveys or focus groups. They might have bought a bunch of publications, print ads, and digital ads and hope that the publications in which they’re buying are being read by those people.
But in the world of digital, an advertiser trying to connect with their desired market segment can use the data contained in a programmatic ad network’s database to serve ads to their market segment no matter which digital property they visit. There’s no guessing about where to find your desired audience; the ad network can track them online and show them the ad.
Before you think this is an intrusive way to connect with members, think about the fact that they’re consumers in addition to your members. Other companies and organizations vying for their attention are going to serve them ads based on their business objectives. There’s value in using an advertising medium your members are already seeing to plug your publications, events and other assets. There’s also value in using a programmatic ad platform to help your sponsor/supplier/vendor members reach your regular members. These vendors could go to an impersonal platform such as Google or DoubleClick – or they could come to your association and receive a more personalized ad package that reaches their audience – your members – in a comprehensive way. Be a complete advertising resource that offers print, digital, and programmatic to these advertisers trying to reach your niche audience.
Q: How do you make sponsorship opportunities more attractive?
A: That is a great question. My short answer is that the perceived value of sponsorships partially rests in how you market them. As someone who attends 50 events per year, I witness many of the same sponsorship types over and over and over again. You might need to come up with a new angle to the event experience that attendees will enjoy and potential sponsors will be willing to invest in. Headshot booths are popular because they provide value for attendees, and it benefits a sponsor to be aligned with something attendees appreciate. Wellness rooms are another nouveau example, and in conversations with an industry partner considering that type of sponsorship, you could explain that association events can be stressful and people look for ways to decompress. Instead of having to go back to their hotel rooms, a wellness room allows attendees to conveniently get away for a moment. While they’re in there, an advertiser could have a information on tables for patrons to pick up at their leisure. It’s not an aggressive sell, but you have your brand in places that your target audience wants to be.
However, some traditional sponsorship opportunities – breakfasts, cocktail receptions, sponsored sessions – can still be very enjoyable and are not likely to fade from association events any time soon. So making sponsorship opportunities more attractive is really about selling that industry partner on the value of investing in something that’s meaningful and fun for attendees. Some of those different things, whether it’s the pop-up or the wellness, sponsors want to do because they’re trying to break through. But other sponsorships just need a little marketing sizzle. Do you have quantitative data about how many attendees have taken part in a sponsored area or activity in the past? Do you know how much they enjoyed the activity and plan to revisit it this year? Do you know how many leads or even completed sales past advertisers have traced back to their sponsorship? Know this information, share it, and you’ll be able to polish a sponsorship opportunity and book it again.
Q: Programmatic ads are permissible in Europe and comply with GDPR standards no?
Yes, they are. Similar to many other websites, users have to allow cookies in their browser for a programmatic ad platform to serve them display ads on other sites. There is no impact to programmatic’s effectiveness after users allow. To be fully compliant, work with your programmatic vendor to set up the appropriate consent indicators on your site.
Q: On retargeting, if you are placing a cookie on their computer after they visit your site, then the person cannot be anonymous because you can track their IP address (I think). Is that correct?
Website visitors stay anonymous in the sense that programmatic ad platforms don’t collect any personally identifying details about them. Programmatic platforms look at the demographic, behavioral or location information about the user without tying a name to the user. It’s not about tracking who the user is, but rather what their online activity is like. It takes a look at digital footprints and finds people who match the audience you’re looking to target.
Miscellaneous revenue and sponsorship questions:
Answers provided by Nate Brown, director of business development for software services, and Association Adviser staff
Q: Are there any examples in an AMS, outside of an event module, where you can generate more non-dues revenue?
A: Absolutely! I could probably take up a full hour-long webinar about some of the different options there. Typically, within an AMS you’re going to have an online storefront where you can sell physical products or digital downloads – white papers or webinars or other assets. Your AMS might have a job board function where you can sell job postings to members only or to non-members as well. Have different pricing options available for members versus non-members to give members the benefit of a discount and to earn more revenue from non-members.
You can also charge individuals to join an online committee or discussion group within your AMS. Access to discussions about the industry and new concepts makes up the value they receive in return. There is no shortage of options outside the events module to get non-dues revenue from your AMS.
Q: Anyone have an example of how much to charge for a photo booth sponsorship?
A: As John mentioned in a previous question about how to decide which and how many sponsored advertisements to offer, pricing also will vary by association and event. What are your exhibitors willing to pay? A full analysis of past sponsorships sold and what those sponsorships included should help you figure out an appropriate price point. Additionally, think about how much your out-of-pocket expenses are for the photo booth itself. Is it cheaper to rent one, or to purchase one and use it at multiple events?
My other suggestion would be to price it similarly to another sponsorship piece you offer that has comparable exposure and branding opportunities. And if the opportunity doesn’t sell, work with your potential sponsors! What is their feedback? What are they willing to pay? As Dave mentioned in the webinar, building a relationship and making the sponsor feel like they are a part of the process can have advantages that are tenfold to that of a slightly-less-than-anticipated sponsor sale on a photo booth sponsorship.
Q: Does non-dues revenue tend to result in taxable income, even for a non-profit?
A: This depends on the type of non-dues revenue earned. Check out this article from Venable – it conveys the complexity of the topic and can help you decide how your association might be impacted. We also suggest speaking with an attorney about your specific association’s obligations and parameters.
Want more information about boosting your association’s non-dues revenue? Check out these related resources: