Revenue-Generating Solutions for 5 Essential Member Needs

by Val Brotherton

The importance of revenue diversification was made painfully obvious during the pandemic. Associations that relied too heavily on one revenue source, like the annual meeting or membership dues, had a tough time. Without readily available funds to invest in new programs, they couldn’t meet new member needs. Instead, many of them had to lay off staff and suspend programs. 

Nonprofits rely on profits to fulfill their mission. Revenue diversification is an essential strategy for achieving the financial stability needed to drive your mission forward. If you align member and market needs with your mission, you’ll discover plenty of overlap where you can offer revenue-generating solutions.

Because many employers won’t pay for membership dues—but will pay for programs that help them achieve organizational goals—think beyond members when considering new initiatives. You have a larger non-member market you can cultivate and tap into. You can increase revenue by helping people acquire new skills, generate new leads, or grow their business. 

Market Need #1: Do a Better Job and Advance in Their Career.

Nearly every professional wants to advance in their career by getting promoted or landing a better job. If they’re happy where they are, they’d like to get better at what they do, perhaps do it more quickly, accurately, safely, and/or easily. Your association can meet this need in several ways. Many of them are already the bread-and-butter of your portfolio. 

Professional development. Host webinars, live and on-demand online courses, on-demand recordings, and virtual and in-person conferences and other educational events.

Special membership tier or education subscription. Many associations offer an online learning pass as part of a membership tier or non-member subscription. The pass provides access to a collection of courses, programs, and recordings, or a specific number of credits. You could differentiate your offering by including access to a discussion group with people in the same job role.

Leadership academy. Members (professional and supplier) apply for a leadership development program in which they learn skills applicable to both their job and association leadership positions. Sponsors fund scholarships for those who can’t afford the tuition.

Other revenue-generating programs include: 

  • Certification programs.
  • Certification exam study aids, such as study groups, prep courses, flashcards, and practice exams.
  • Job board and career services, such as resume and interview workshops, coaching services, and virtual job fairs.
Market Need #2: Improve Their Company’s Operations and Market Reputation/Share.

Besides professional development for employees, you can offer:

  • Accreditation programs for organizations.
  • Education licensing. License your educational programs to companies that want to use them for in-house training. Offer a customization option. 
Market Need #3: Stay on Top of Industry News and Information.

Your association’s content can serve many purposes. Members get exclusive access to some content as a membership benefit. You can also use it to attract the interest of prospective members and customers in content marketing campaigns and as lead magnets. You can also sell news and information in digital and print formats and as an event feature. 

  • Publication subscriptions at member and non-member rates. 
  • Publication sales: guides, survey reports, templates, checklists, ebooks, digital downloads (PDFs), and book club packages.
  • Online summits on hot topics and legislative/regulatory changes.
Market Need #4: Connect with Peers and Feel a Sense of Belonging to a Community.

Industry surveys have confirmed what we’ve always suspected: members care as much, if not more, about connecting and conversing with their peers and other industry professionals than they do about any other benefit of membership. It’s time for associations to commit more resources to year-round member connections and conversations. 

Virtual meetups. Schedule and facilitate 30-minute and 1-hour virtual meetups on different topics at different times of the day. Train volunteers to take over facilitation duties—or involve sponsors. Conduct market research to determine which membership segments to target for targeted meetups, for example: 

  • C-suite: Executives want to connect with their peers regularly. You could also offer this higher-budget group additional education/networking opportunities on top of your regular event registration package, for example, exclusive small-group meetups with keynote speakers.
  • Young Professionals: This group would appreciate each other’s support and access to people further along in their careers. Because they don’t have money to spend, invite sponsors to subsidize expenses. 

Niche conferences or one-day events. We’ve seen more talk lately of smaller niche events (virtual and in-person) that provide a more intimate experience and specialized education—more bang for the registration buck.

Online store. Find out if your members are interested in association swag. If not, you can sell publications, study aids, and subscriptions.

Market Need #5: Generate Leads.

Rethink your relationships with sponsors and exhibitors. They must nurture leads 365 days a year, not just the days they make an appearance at your show or conference. Put together an advisory group of industry partners who can help you develop new ways for them to share their expertise while supporting their industry. They much rather teach than sell. 

Sponsorships. Expand beyond logo placement, which does nothing to help a supplier prove their value. Let industry partners sponsor, present, and/or facilitate educational (not promotional) content and networking meetups. 

Exhibitor hub. Host an online content hub where industry partners can share information about their products and services as well as valuable content of interest to your audience. Interested readers share their contact information to download these lead magnets. The association receives a royalty payment for each lead—a win-win for everyone.

VIP meetups. Sponsors host exclusive industry briefings—information that executives and other decision-makers will pay for. 

Innovation grants. Sponsors host hackathons and ideation sessions, and then provide funds for the design, development, and delivery of new association programs.

Scholarships for membership dues and/or educational programs. 

Advertising: website, newsletter, mobile app, and print.

Event registration. Encourage industry partners to not only exhibit at events, but to allow their staff to attend educational sessions. The most successful consultants and suppliers at ASAE are in the session rooms, learning alongside executives. 

To leverage these potential revenue sources, you need an AMS that can help you manage events, certifications, career center, subscriptions, and advertising. Your AMS must also have email marketing functionality that lets you segment lists by membership type, career stage, type of business, specialty/interests, etc. so you can effectively promote these programs. If you plan to use specialized platforms for these functions, your AMS must have an API that allows easy integration with other software platforms.

If your AMS doesn’t have the functionality necessary for meeting member and market needs in these ways, contact us today to learn how associations use MemberSuite to help them generate non-dues revenue. 

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