How 5 Associations Approach Sponsored Content to Generate Revenue and Member Engagement

We spoke with association leaders to learn how they’re approaching sponsored content in a way that not only grows non-dues revenue, but also adds value to members and aligns with their organizational mission.

The No. 1 challenge of most associations is generating non-dues revenue, according to Naylor’s Association Benchmarking Report. With dues and events revenue decreasing or stagnant for many associations, sponsored content represents a substantial opportunity for professional member associations to diversify and grow revenue.

While advertisers and vendors certainly have a high demand for sponsored content, many associations are unsure how to get started with sponsored content or, if they already have a program, how to scale it into a meaningful source of recurring revenue. And, beyond generating revenue, many association leaders are unsure how to create a sponsored content program that adds value to members and remains consistent with their organizational mission.

We recently spoke with leaders at five different associations, each one at a different stage in their sponsored content programming, to find out how their organization approaches sponsored content. Each shares their experience and insights, along with helpful tips to help you shape or refine your organization’s approach to sponsored content.

Advertiser demand propels the expansion of NAMIC’s sponsored content program

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Up until now, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies’ (NAMIC) approach to sponsored content has consisted of three to four special reports per year, co-authored with and co-branded for select sponsors. Though these reports are deeply important to NAMIC’s membership, which consists of 1500 member insurance companies collectively employing hundreds of thousands of employees, they are also very resource-intensive.

Now, however, NAMIC is looking to expand its sponsored content program to include more offerings in which sponsors pay to have their content published and promoted by the association provided it meets NAMIC’s quality standards and aligns with its mission.

What’s driving the expansion? Sponsor demand. “Our vendors are asking for new opportunities to showcase their expertise and present themselves as thought leaders to our membership,” says Molly Keiser, senior director of sponsorship and advertising. Keiser says that sponsored content, as long as it’s educational and not a sales pitch, is an excellent way for NAMIC’s vendors to accomplish that and build trust along the way.

Lindsay Robison, content marketing director and editor-in-chief of IN magazine, explains, “Our organization’s mission is to be the indispensable partner for our members’ success. We don’t have to be a one-stop shop for that. We can bring in other voices to help.” Plus, Robison continues, “There’s so much going on in the industry, our staff simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to cover everything.”

Keiser points out that NAMIC’s vendors have “deep subject matter expertise on a wide variety of subjects and are knowledgeable about the informational needs of our members.” A sponsored content program will allow NAMIC to leverage its vendors’ subject matter expertise for the benefit of members.

Another benefit of sponsored content is that it represents a new revenue opportunity. Keiser says she’s spoken with colleagues at other associations who have confirmed the revenue can be substantial. Given the need to diversify revenue beyond dues revenue, Keiser and Robison see an expanded sponsored content opportunity as a win-win-win for the associations, members, and vendors alike.
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IAA uses sponsored content to augment its own thought leadership

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The Investment Adviser Association (IAA) represents the interests of fiduciary investment adviser firms that collectively manage more than $35 trillion in assets. Although the IAA is still in the exploratory phase of its sponsored content programs, Janay Rickwalder, vice president of communications and marketing, says the organization is seeing some early success.

The IAA recently launched "IAA Access," a platform that offers sponsors various options, from webinars to infographics. Sponsors can supply their own content or have it developed by IAA’s internal teams at an additional cost. This initiative has generated a meaningful new revenue stream, highlighting the importance of offering sponsors customizable packages that reflect their goals and needs.

“IAA Access allows our sponsors to share their expertise and humanize their brand in a way that traditional advertising opportunities do not,” says Rickwalder, who points to the revenue the program has generated in a relatively short time as an indicator of its popularity among sponsors.

Not only does sponsored content represent a new non-dues revenue stream, but the IAA views it as a means to reinforce its own thought leadership and enhance member engagement. According to Rickwalder, sponsored content allows the IAA to introduce diverse voices while still maintaining control over the narrative as well as the quality and accuracy of the information it provides members, important considerations given the highly regulated nature of its industry.

For associations contemplating a foray into sponsored content, Rickwalder advises a thorough exploration of what such an endeavor entails, including a solid plan and the resources to execute it successfully. Rickwalder notes that while, sponsored content presents a promising opportunity for revenue and engagement, it requires careful planning, strategic partnerships, and a commitment to quality to truly benefit the association and its members.

ARA’s commitment to editorial integrity is key to its sponsored content success

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The American Retirement Association (ARA), the umbrella organization for five retirement-related associations, integrates sponsored content across all of its platforms, including magazines, digital media, webinars, podcasts, and speaking engagements. And at the heart of its sponsored content strategy is a steadfast commitment to its mission: To support retirement plan advisors and advocate for policies to help all working Americans achieve a secure retirement.

ARA has established a "very defined firewall" to maintain the integrity of its sponsored content, respecting journalistic ethics without compromising internal editorial control for financial gain. "We will never turn our internal editorial controls over to an outside source for money," ARA’s Chief Content Officer John Sullivan asserts.

This mission-focused approach ensures that the association's sponsored content serves the professional development of its 45,000 members, which include retirement plan fiduciaries and advisors.

Pointing to an unusually high open rate for a recently launched newsletter dedicated exclusively to sponsored content, Sullivan believes that this commitment to quality and integrity is a key driver of the success of the association’s sponsored content program.

Sullivan, whose editorial team vets every piece of sponsored content for quality and member value, acknowledges that sponsor interest is largely driving the ARA’s emphasis on developing new sponsored content products, such as podcasts and a sponsor-dedicated email.

Given advertisers’ growing interest in using content to foster business development opportunities and establish competitive differentiation, Sullivan cautions associations hesitant to embrace sponsored content that they are likely missing a substantial opportunity. “As long as the content adheres to your association’s mission, you should embrace it, or those sponsorship dollars are going elsewhere,” says Sullivan.

How IEEE’s long-standing sponsored content program continues to evolve

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IEEE, one of the world’s largest professional associations with more than 460,000 members and 40 technical societies, has been embracing sponsored content at least since 2008 when Mark David joined the organization’s leadership team.

In fact, David, IEEE’s director of business development and advertising, attributes much of his professional success to sponsored content. "Sponsored content has been part of my career and part of my success," says David, whose approach is deeply rooted in ensuring the content is not only relevant but also educational, serving the dual purpose of providing value to members and advertisers alike.

IEEE has long embraced traditional forms of sponsored content, including native print and digital advertising as well as sponsored webinars. Recently, the organization began including sponsored content in its editorial newsletters to broaden the distribution of sponsors’ thought leadership and educational content.

One of the challenges associated with sponsored content for many organizations is distribution. But David says the incorporation of sponsored content into its newsletters has been successful. The cross-platform approach ensures that valuable content reaches the broadest possible audience, aligning with IEEE's commitment to delivering quality content across various media.

David has noticed a growing demand among sponsors for more sponsored content opportunities, acknowledging that "When it comes to sponsored content, the primary goal from our advertising community is becoming more and more about lead generation." It's a candid acknowledgment that, while sponsors aim to leverage their expertise to educate professional audiences, the underlying objective is to foster new business development opportunities by generating potential business leads, and IEEE’s sponsored content programs are evolving to accommodate those goals.

For organizations navigating the realm of sponsored content, David’s advice is clear: prioritize content relevance, avoid audience saturation, and ensure a solid logistical infrastructure for delivering content and capturing leads. This approach is not just about generating revenue, but also about fostering an educational ecosystem that benefits both members and sponsors.
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ACC creates a seven-figure revenue stream from sponsored content

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The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) was facing two challenges with its sponsored content program: First, in addition to the traditional benefits of thought leadership and brand awareness, the ACC’s sponsors were looking for lead gen opportunities from their sponsored content.

Moustafa Abdel-Kader, ACC’s senior director of business development, explains, "We had been offering a co-branded email program for about two years. Our sponsors were mostly pleased with it, but they began asking for a different kind of pay-per-lead model and one that was more turnkey for them."

Second, the ACC needed a sponsored content program that could be scaled to yield a meaningful and predictable non-dues revenue stream, a common challenge among many associations when it comes to sponsored content programs.

To solve for these challenges, the ACC partnered with Lead Marvels to launch an interactive Resource Library. Dubbed the Partner Knowledge Center, Abdel-Kader says, “Our Resource Library is a testament to overcoming the challenge of scaling sponsored content in a way that it creates a meaningful and predictable non-dues revenue stream. This platform offers a turnkey solution for our sponsors, catering to their desire to generate leads from their sponsored content effectively."

Since launching its Resource Library platform, the ACC has generated more than $1 million in non-dues revenue. But the strategy goes beyond revenue; it is about creating a symbiotic relationship between the association, sponsors, and members.

Abdel-Kader highlighted the importance of this dynamic, noting that "our sponsors have so much expertise to offer our membership. This program gives us a scalable, turnkey way to leverage that expertise to help members with the various issues they might be having.”

This perspective underscores the ACC's commitment to delivering value to both its members and sponsors, ensuring that the sponsored content is not only a source of revenue for the association but also a resource of expert knowledge and solutions for its 45,000 in-house counsel members.

A turnkey, scalable sponsored content platform for your association

What phase is your association at when it comes to sponsored content? Are you already deep into sponsored content, but your sponsors are asking for more opportunities or new products? Have you yet to embrace sponsored content because you’re not sure how to get started? Maybe your association is somewhere in between?

Regardless of where your association is at in its approach to sponsored content, Lead Marvels’ interactive Resource Library platform can help you launch and grow your program.

More than 100 associations have already partnered with us to implement our platform, and here’s why . . .

1. It’s turnkey: You don’t need to make any new investments in staff or technology. After we white label an online Resource Library for your organization's website, the platform is hosted and fully managed by our team.

2. There is no cost: Our platform is available for your association at no cost whatsoever through our revenue share model. Our association partners receive a monthly recurring stream of non-dues revenue.

3. It’s scalable: Our Resource Library platform provides an immersive experience for members and enjoys high renewal rates from satisfied sponsors. Our team can even partially or fully manage the sales effort if you’d like.

And if you feel that your organization needs to move quickly to catch up with your sponsors’ demands, we can have you up and running — and generating revenue — in a matter of weeks.

Ready to grow your association’s non-dues revenue through sponsored content? Read our guide on how our Resource Library platform works, then schedule a free demonstration today.

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