Content that grows non-dues revenue shouldn't be a burden for associations or cannibalize sponsor dollars. Learn how a Resource Library does it right.
There is little worth in content for content's sake. But the right content, the kind that brings actual value to your association's members while also helping to grow non-dues revenue? That can work wonders — like raising up to six figures or more in association revenue.
At a recent Non-Dues-A-Palooza event, three association executives shared with Lead Marvels' President Michael Palacios how they use the company’s interactive Resource Library platform to maximize the benefits of industry-related white papers, ebooks, webinars, podcasts, and other types of thought leadership resources.
A Resource Library, also called a Content Hub, Knowledge Hub, or Knowledge Center, is a digital platform that hosts select thought leadership materials primarily contributed by third-party sponsors. Corporate sponsors and industry solution providers that have content they wish to promote through an association’s Resource Library pay to receive leads through a contact form that members complete to access the content.
The platform is free for associations that partner with Lead Marvels, and the revenue generated from the Resource Library is divided between the two organizations, creating a recurring stream of non-dues revenue for associations. At the same time, association members benefit from getting access to helpful professional resources from your association’s website, encouraging them to come back again and again as new materials are created and shared within the Resource Library.
Content that doesn't help solve one or more of an association's pain points is a wasted opportunity.
A top issue for the ACC was getting more content engagement from its 45,000 members. At the same time, its sponsors wanted a new way to get in front of members and generate leads, according to Abdel-Kader, senior director of business development.
Engagement among its 11,000 CPA members was also a key area for improvement at MassCPAs. The association needed a way for its large national sponsors and local advertisers to boost their connections with members. Wells noted there was only so much space for sponsored articles in the association's print magazine.
Likewise, NAEA was looking for a solution to help its sponsors create meaningful engagement with its 8,000 members, and “salesy” content wasn’t cutting it, according to Comegys, director of membership and business development.
"Our members were sick of hearing sales pitches," she said. "Finding a way to position our sponsors as thought leaders was really key to getting out of the sales pitch arena and more into thought leadership. We were striving for ways to position our sponsors and our association as the place to come for relevant and timely information."
If content leads to extra work or worries for an association's likely overburdened communications team, it won't be able to achieve its full potential. "Working with a very small staff, the resources as far as staff time to launch a content library was a huge concern," said Comegys. NAEA’s Resource Library (which it refers to as a Knowledge Center) “turned out to be something we didn't have to worry about at all."
Not only is a Resource Library platform hosted and fully managed by Lead Marvels, but it can manage the sales effort as well. While many associations see this as one of the key benefits of partnering with Lead Marvels, Wells was hesitant to give up any control of the deep relationships she had built with MassCPA's sponsors and advertisers. "I'm a one-man team on the sales side, so I have a very close relationship with our sponsors and advertisers," she said. "Relinquishing that control and trusting the process, that they would receive good customer service, was a concern at first."
Fortunately, it was quickly eased. Thanks in part to that trust, the MassCPA Knowledge Center is a vital part of the association's content and revenue strategy, accounting for 20% of its total revenue.
Abdel-Kader's confidence in having a partner the ACC could trust with its sponsors contributed to the ease of getting its Resource Library off the ground quickly and without burden.
"One big value for us is just how easy the implementation of the Resource Library really was," he said. "It was very easy to get approval for it because we were able to say, 'It's not going to use much staff time and it will have no costs for us.' That was a huge value to us, especially starting up and trying to get revenue as quickly as we could."
3. Content That Won’t Cannibalize Sponsor Dollars
Whenever an association introduces a new sponsor revenue stream, there's concern about cannibalizing sponsor dollars previously allocated to other projects. That was an initial concern for ACC in particular since the association already had an existing email-based lead-gen program for sponsors.
A simple solution was to take a holistic approach to lead-gen opportunities. Rather than separating project budgets and goals, Abdel-Kader began promoting the big picture of overall leads.
"I started talking more about all of our products in terms of our lead-gen offerings instead of [separating] the emails and the Resource Library," he said. "So just thinking about it more holistically in terms of, 'These are our lead-gen opportunities.' Now, we have stopped worrying about cannibalization."
At MassCPAs, addressing the concern head-on has actually deepened the organization’s relationship with sponsors and even created new opportunities the association had yet to consider, such as taking advantage of different advertising budgets among sponsors' local and national offices.
"It's led me to have more direct conversations with our sponsors about the anatomy of their budget and where they might have a bucket of money for sponsorship and a bucket for advertising," Wells says. "If anything, it has led to more conversations to understand how their organization is set up."
4. Content That Brings True Value
Of course, the top priority of association-driven content is to yield a unique value for members. Whether it's to provide education on new industry regulations, introduce professional trends or best practices, or encourage members to take action, each piece of content is strengthened by its benefits.
To see peak member engagement with content at NAEA, it needs to provide new information on how to grow a member’s practice, use trusted research, and overall deliver as a valid resource. "Our members are not getting a sales pitch anymore," said Comegys. "The thing that we've found our members love most — and that we can, in real-time, see performing well — is guides or tip pieces."
As a bonus, when a piece of thought leadership from NAEA's Knowledge Center does well, the association then uses it to boost its social media presence, an area where NAEA was not as strong in the past. "This has really been a way for us to enhance multiple areas and ways that we're reaching members," said Comegys.
If a sponsor wants to promote content that looks like a pure sales pitch, it triggers a conversation about doing a demo webinar or participating in NAEA's partner "office hours" instead. "For a fee, we'll let them set up office hours where they have an opportunity to engage with those qualified leads on a one-on-one basis," added Comegys. "We've gotten really great feedback from that, and it keeps the content library free of sales pitches."
The ACC has also found a way to pivot sponsors away from sales-oriented content within its Partner Knowledge Center while expanding its non-dues revenue opportunities. It began with vetting every piece of sponsor content to ensure it was centered around thought leadership rather than self-promotion.
"We made sure from the very beginning that they know that our members will engage better if it's thought leadership," said Abdel-Kader. "Fast forward, seven, eight years, we're now starting very slowly — because we haven't really had any complaints — to introduce very limited opportunities to email about products or other events, at a much higher cost. And sponsors, they flock to that."
Members appreciate the ACC's thorough approach. "The numbers speak for how successful it is," Abdel-Kader added. "We've been seeing consistent 15% to 20% open rates on all our emails. Taking five or 10 minutes to quickly review that email really does a lot in the long run."
5. Content That Grows Non-Dues Revenue
At a time when print revenue is down and event revenue has not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, it is especially advantageous for associations to count on other forms of non-dues revenue.
Lead Marvels operates on a straightforward revenue-sharing model. Out of every dollar earned from a Resource Library, 40% goes to the partner association, Lead Marvels retains 40%, and the remaining 20% is allocated to the individual who introduced the program to the sponsor in the form of a commission. Typically, this individual is a member of either the association's sales team or the Lead Marvels sales team.
Having the freedom and willingness to try new things at NAEA has translated to more than $55,000 in revenue over the year since the association launched its Knowledge Center. "Launching a content library, I expected us to make maybe $800 a month non-dues revenue," said Comegys. "But then, having a team willing to send out more dedicated emails, more social posts around this content, we've had record-breaking months of $7,600 in revenue."
The ACC has about doubled its annual revenue from its Partner Knowledge Center since launching three years ago. According to Abdel-Kader, what was then around $150,000 a year is now close to $300,000.
Overall, all three associations have found that introducing an interactive Resource Library has enabled their content to meet the needs of members, sponsors, and the association itself.
It's also provided an unforeseen additional benefit: A new pipeline of qualified sponsors and potential new-member leads. "It's a very low-risk, pretty economical way for a company to test out engaging with your association — far more economical than sponsoring an event," said MassCPAs' Wells. "The margin's higher, and there's no travel cost associated. We've found it's a feeder system to increase our sponsorship program."
Comegys agreed. "Something we weren't expecting is that the qualified leads that our sponsors are seeing are also a way for us to look at who's viewing our Knowledge Center," said Comegys. "We can view the qualified leads and see who's not members and then use that as a tool to market to non-members as a recruitment piece."
She added, "It's also led to so many more relationships with potential sponsors and now partners of NAEA that we would not have seen prior to launching the Knowledge Center. The benefits have far exceeded our expectations."
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