Relying on membership dues as the primary source of revenue is no longer a viable option for most associations. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, associations were finding it a challenge to grow membership and retain current members.
When the American Society of Association Executives first published its Association Operating Ratio Report in 1953, membership dues accounted for a whopping 96% of average total association revenues. By 2016, dues revenue dropped to just 30% of total revenue for professional associations, with event revenue making up the lion’s share of the difference. But this data was collected before COVID, which has only accelerated the decline in membership and event revenue streams.
Yes, there are ways to pandemic-proof your events, but most event planners don’t expect their meetings to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023. Many companies are also restricting employee travel so, even if you are able to have your event, you’re unlikely to attract the same numbers. Since members perceive an associations’ annual meeting as one of the main benefits of membership, some are not renewing their membership, creating a vicious cycle that associations are struggling to get out of.
This dynamic is making it tougher than ever for most associations to meet their revenue goals. How tough? According to BKD’s report on the state of the nonprofit sector, more than 70% of the associations surveyed reported they suffered revenue declines in 2020. Approximately one in 10 said they lost more than half of their annual revenue, mainly due to the loss of program-related fees and special events. As the report notes, “The forced closure of programs and services was a crushing blow for some organizations.”
And, unfortunately, there’s no end in sight for COVID, nor is it likely to be the last existential challenge associations will face.
But hope is not lost! It’s simply time to get creative about how to build new revenue streams and think outside the dues-and-trade-show-revenue box. Here are three innovative – and proven – ways associations can drive non-dues revenues by monetizing assets they may already have on hand.
You already have the subject matter expertise, so why not use it in some new ways? Podcasts, which already were on the upswing pre-pandemic, now are in the earbuds of more than 120 million Americans, a 78% increase from just 15 years ago. With 20 million or so joining the podcast audience every year, this number is projected to grow 17% annually to reach 160 million by 2023.
You can bet your members are among this growing podcast audience, and not everyone is focused on true crime shows. With a ready-built audience already in place, associations can use this audio platform to illuminate key issues their audiences face, provide engaging conversations with industry thought leaders, and showcase the benefits of being a member.
For inspiration, check out the American Psychiatric Association’s podcasts, which features a wide range of in-depth discussion of journal articles to interviews with experts on the latest initiatives in psychiatry. Another of the many associations going the podcast route is the American Association of Endodontists. AAE’s podcast, Endo Voices, features conversations with some of the top experts in that field.
Podcasts can also help drum up interest in attending the annual convention, whether in person or online, with episodes featuring keynote and hot topic session speakers. Post-event episodes can provide deeper dive explorations on the most buzz-worthy sessions at your show.
In addition to the potential of attracting new and, potentially younger, members, podcasts sponsorship models can also bring in non-dues revenue through banner ads on the website and on-air sponsorships. The revenue potential could be substantial, as podcast revenue is expected to exceed $2 billion by 2023, which would be twice as much as 2021 revenue levels.
If your association doesn’t already have a YouTube channel, it’s time to create one and start rolling the video cam. From annual convection highlight reels to member testimonials and short how-to tutorials, you likely already have video content on hand you could repurpose on YouTube.
Once your channel has 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours over the course of 12 months, your association can enroll in YouTube’s monetization program. This opens up new revenue options including display and video ads. You also can provide special perks to your members for a monthly fee through YouTube’s channel memberships program, showcase and sell your association-branded merchandise through a YouTube Merch Shelf, and let your super-fans buy high-profile spots on your channel’s chat stream through YouTube’s Super Chat program. You can even post your podcasts to YouTube to provide another way for members to access your conversations — and your podcast sponsor messages.
YouTube also has a special program for nonprofits that many associations may qualify for. Check out the American Anthropological Association’s YouTube channel to see how AAA is leveraging the medium’s growing audience to build community and foster engagement.
Incorporating a digital resource library into your site is another easy way to tap into a lucrative – and recurring – non-dues revenue stream. Launching a lead generation program that connects corporate sponsors with members seeking educational information and solutions positions your association as a valued matchmaker.
In a sense, a digital resource library (sometimes referred to as a “Knowledge Hub”) is a lot like a tradeshow exhibit hall. Your corporate sponsors maintain a booth presence to meet engaged members and grow their businesses. And your members need information and solutions to grow professionally. A tradeshow floor is a closed ecosystem that your association provides to meet the needs of sponsors and members alike. A digital resource library functions the same way, but, unlike an event that lasts only a few days, a resource library is “always on.”
Associations can build their own lead gen platform on their site or partner with a third party like Lead Marvels. Lead Marvels partners with associations to build digital resource libraries, fully manages the platform, and even sells lead gen campaigns, sharing revenue with its association partners.
Lead gen campaigns are driven by thought-leadership resources provided by sponsors. To be effective, the content must be aligned with the informational needs of your members. As such, digital resource libraries offer associations a turnkey way to provide more helpful content to members, thereby increasing member engagement and loyalty.
Check out the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Partner Knowledge Center, which provides members with access to helpful resources, such as reports, white papers, guides, and more.
Each of these three non-dues revenue ideas offers you more ways to enhance your digital presence, which has proven to be an important area of need over the past few years. And with that digital presence comes data — lots of data that you can use to further customize your content offerings, as well as demonstrate value with sponsors, exhibitors, and advertisers.
The data can not only highlight which topics are resonating most with members to inform your own educational programming, but it can also be fertile ground for more new product ideas that will drive organizational innovation.
Lead Marvels can partner with your association to build a white-labeled, always-available digital resource library that will generate incremental non-dues revenue in a matter of weeks, not months.
To learn more and request a demo of Lead Marvels’ platform, go to Lead Marvels.