7 Essential Qualities Associations Should Look for in a Non-Dues Revenue Partner

The right non-dues revenue partner can amplify your association’s value proposition, grow member engagement, and help you achieve your mission.

Associations seem to be feeling more optimistic — and that’s a welcome change! Marketing General’s 2024 Association Economic Outlook Report [PDF] finds that the majority of associations are expecting an increase in both membership (61%) and non-dues revenue (56%) in the coming year.

While some may be tempted to sit back and breathe a much-needed sigh of relief, now is not the time to be passive. An Associations Now article covering the same report implores that “A central lesson from the pandemic is that organizations can’t be passive and monolithic when it comes to revenue drivers—more than ever, they need to explore ways to engage members in a variety of ways.”

Most association leaders understand that raising membership dues has limited potential for funding growth and expanding member services without risking member dissatisfaction or, worse, attrition, which is why non-dues revenue needs to be a key area of focus.

Indeed, generating non-dues revenue is the No. 1 challenge associations are experiencing, according to Naylor’s 2023 Associations Communications Benchmarking Report. And while new revenue initiatives can be developed, launched, and managed in-house, that often takes time and resources that aren’t readily available to many associations.

As Naylor reports, the two main barriers to generating non-dues revenue are that associations feel understaffed (55.2%) and lack enough resources (54.6%) to increase non-dues revenue.
White Paper:

Growing Non-Dues Revenue with an Online Resource Library

The case for building a non-dues revenue partnership

Partnering with a third party to launch new non-dues revenue initiatives offers several advantages for associations. In addition to bringing more resources to bear on new revenue initiatives, third-party partners may offer specialized expertise that can enhance the effectiveness and scalability of revenue-generating projects, which might be outside the association's core competencies. Ideally, this allows associations to diversify their income streams without diluting focus from their primary mission.

These collaborations can lead to innovative initiatives that bolster the association’s financial stability, extend its influence, and positively impact member recruitment and retention efforts.

But, selecting a non-dues revenue partner that shares your association's values, fits your culture, offers new and innovative approaches, and is committed to your financial success can often be a challenge. Knowing what to look for in a partner is essential for building a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

7 crucial attributes of an ideal non-dues revenue partner

Of course, not all non-dues revenue opportunities are created equal. While many options may seem appealing, the competence of the partner can make or break the initiative. Collaborating with the right organization allows you to tap into new revenue streams and foster a symbiotic relationship that nurtures favorable outcomes, even when you’re contending with limited staff, budget, and bandwidth.

To increase your chances of success, look for these seven attributes in a non-dues revenue partner.
1. They’re aligned with your values and mission

In Economist Impact’s survey, A deeper understanding: Building trust in business partnerships [PDF], 89% of executives say it’s important for their business partners to share their organization’s values. A partner aligned with your association’s goals is more likely to contribute to the long-term success of revenue initiatives, offering more than just financial benefits. Collaborating with a like-minded organization also shows your members, stakeholders, and the broader community that reputable allies back your mission.

By leveraging your partner's resources and influence, you can advocate more effectively for policy changes, raise awareness about critical issues, and mobilize support for your members. This approach strengthens your mission and builds solidarity within your sector, fostering a sense of community and collective action among stakeholders.

2. They’re ethical and trustworthy

Trust is the foundation of successful partnerships. In PwC’s 2024 Trust in US Business survey, 93% of business executives agree that building and maintaining trust improves the bottom line. And in the Economist Impact survey, 82% of respondents believe that trust cannot exist without transparency.

Associations must prioritize partners with a track record of ethical practices and integrity. This includes transparent pricing structures, fair business practices, and a commitment to upholding industry standards. A partner's reputation within the association community speaks volumes about their credibility and reliability, making it essential to conduct thorough due diligence before entering into partnership agreements.

3. They provide tangible value for your members

When association members were asked why their organization doesn’t offer a more compelling value proposition, 36% of respondents in the 2023 MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report cited a lack of membership benefits

Associations can enhance their value proposition and deepen member engagement with a non-dues revenue partner that offers tangible benefits to its members, like exclusive deals, access to specialized resources, and networking opportunities.

This echoes what companies surveyed in Professional Partners Network’s State of Sponsorship Engagement Study[PDF] said were their primary objectives in sponsoring associations:
  • create awareness and visibility (61%)
  • demonstrate thought leadership (58%)
  • educate prospective customers about products/services (72%)
  • meet prospects (58%)
White Paper:

What Your Sponsors Want and How to Optimize for It

4. They’re innovative and flexible

One size rarely fits all regarding non-dues revenue. An ideal partner proactively explores new revenue initiative, leverages emerging technologies, and adapts strategies to meet evolving market demands — not to mention the unique needs of your association.

Whether it's implementing digital platforms, uncovering and addressing gaps in member benefits, or exploring innovative sponsorships programs, the partner should offer a range of creative options that can be tailored to suit the association's specific size, industry, and target membership.

5. They’re skilled in collaboration and communication

A solid business relationship requires open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to work toward shared goals. An ideal non-dues revenue partner demonstrates a collaborative mindset, actively seeking input from the association's leadership and staff, fostering a culture of teamwork and transparency. Whether it's brainstorming new ideas, resolving challenges, or celebrating wins, a joint effort and open line of communication strengthen the relationship and pave the way for sustainable growth.

6. They don’t put a strain on internal resources

When asked about their association's barriers to increasing non-dues revenue, more than half of Naylor's Benchmarking Report respondents cite being understaffed and not having enough bandwidth and resources. The non-dues revenue solutions provided by your partnership should not require additional staffing, investment, or a significant reorganization of resources.

7. They offer a recurring source of revenue

The ideal partnership targets reliable, low-cost revenue sources that are easy to maintain, substantial enough to finance strategic initiatives, and conducive to a lasting, enduring relationship.

Dan Kowitz, founder & CEO of JSB Partnership Consultants, says, "By developing corporate sponsorship programs that meet member needs, engage companies year-round, and position them as knowledge leaders, the outcome is beneficial for members, sponsors, and the association alike."

Your trusted non-dues revenue partner

At Lead Marvels, we've partnered with more than 100 associations to build recurring and predictable sources of non-dues revenue through our unique Resource Library program.
Case Study:

How the Association of Corporate Counsel Generated $1 Million in Non-Dues Revenue

A digital Resource Library, seamlessly integrated into an association's website and managed by Lead Marvels, features premium content like white papers, guides, podcasts, and webinars, mainly sourced from industry sponsors and solution providers.

Unlike traditional association resource libraries, Lead Marvels Resource Library platform is interactive, updates regularly with diverse topics, and generates non-dues revenue through sponsored content. It also delivers valuable member insights for associations, thought leadership content to engage members, and business development opportunities for sponsors.

There is no cost whatsoever to the association, and the Resource Library is hosted and fully managed by Lead Marvels. We can also manage the sales effort, making the initiative as turnkey as possible for your association.

Interested in learning more? Request a free, no obligation demo or visit: www.leadmarvels.com/associations.

Lead Marvels

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