Is the Privilege of Reaching Your Members a Balance-Sheet Booster?

By • November 5, 2012

Are you taking advantage of every opportunity your association has to raise non-dues revenue?

Of course, you might think to yourself. We charge vendors to exhibit at our annual expo. We collect fees for members to become certified. Printing a logo in our annual awards banquet program is an upcharge. We are definitely maximizing our non-dues revenue.

Great. Now are you ready to sell the proverbial farm and really rake in some extra funds?

  • Many associations underestimate the value of the assets they have.
  • By being creative, you can come up with many new sources of revenue that will enhance your bottom line and not offend your members and volunteers.
  • You may already be earning non-dues revenue, but are you doing so as strategically as you could be?

connection with his new book, Jeff De Cagna recently wrote about taking a closer look at your organization’s budget and determining if you are spending your money strategically. “Instead of organizing budgets around a predetermined set of activities,” he wrote, “association boards can function more like investors by allocating capital to fund high-level strategic priorities developed through the crowdsourcing of strategy, while trusting staff and voluntary leaders to collaborate in real time to decide on the specific approaches and investments required to achieve those priorities.” In other words, stop funding traditional activities simply because you’ve always done it that way, and start throwing your money at agreed-upon pursuits and people that will directly help you achieve your goals.

In the same manner De Cagna suggests inspecting budgets, take a closer look at your organization’s potential revenue-generating sources and determine if you are earning money strategically. Beyond attendance at events or shows, certification and continuing education, or materials such as white papers or books, are you earning money from every printed piece, email, meeting or item you produce?

Are you making the privilege of reaching your members at every touch point a balance-sheet booster?

Many associations would find plenty more potential sources of non-dues revenue if they would look closer at their publications and other tangibles:


Offer advertising or a compact paid editorial space in your regular communications. Do you create and mail a daily newsletter during your conference? Find businesses willing to sponsor each day’s update. Include a logo, or if your newsletters or emails are text-based, offer a couple lines that summarize the businesses’ mission or offerings.


Digital magazines offer a variety of ad placements, including videos, audio files, virtual postcards and animation that not only make your magazine more interactive and interesting to the reader, but offer the potential to earn some serious revenue from these rich media. The fact that ads can be linked directly to an advertiser’s website makes them even more convenient and informative—and
less intrusive—to the reader.


Online advertising doesn’t have to be flashy. Your website could have one sponsor whose message is seamlessly included in a sidebar, header or footer on every page.


Acknowledge sponsors at select or all meetings. Sometimes a simple verbal thank you for a vendor’s support, coming from the mouth of your executive director or president, is the most sincere form of gratitude as well as endorsement. Charge for that sincerity!

Social Media:

Your association’s social media pages are a perfect place to introduce sponsors as a friend and supporter of your association. Offer digital word-of-mouth ads on your social media pages as a way for vendors to connect with potential clients. Your only setup costs for this channel are staff time, which can be as minimal as needed.

Conference apps:

As blogger Julius Solaris notes, these are becoming essential tools for multiday, multitrack conferences and shows, and conference apps usually have the screen space for paid logos, micro banners and balloons. Are you selling that space? According to the Pew
Research Center, 70 percent of all American cellphone owners use their phones to access information when they need it through apps and mobile browsers. Your members are likely within that group.

You may be thinking: Our association should be a haven from ads. We don’t want our organization to become a pseudo-NASCAR eyesore.

Well, fine. But as advertising pioneer David Ogilvy pointed out, “Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.”

To add to that: Advertising is annoying only if it is not well-placed. Restaurant billboards near the only interstate exit for 30 miles around are a welcome sight. A repairman’s phone number on a refrigerator magnet when said refrigerator has stopped working is a welcome sight. Sell your farm to the appropriate sponsors, and their messages will dovetail seamlessly with your association brand.

Furthermore, as blogger Deirdre Reid points out, vendors are sometimes exactly the people to whom you should repeatedly
introduce your members. They provide the expert services members need and want, so make it easy for the two groups to meet. Let vendors put their brands in front of your members in conversational ways. Involve them in the creation of your non-dues revenue opportunities. They’ll reach the potential customers they want, and your members will be pleased that their membership plugs them into the network they need to function more effectively.

Why would you pass over potential revenue? Get creative with your non-dues revenue sources. Your scholarship winners, your volunteers whom you reward with gift cards and your staff whom you reward with a raise, all of which is funded through this extra revenue, will thank you.

Kelly Donovan is the team leader for online marketing with Naylor, LLC.