Manage Your Buyer’s Guide for Non-Dues Revenue

generate ideas to gain more non-dues revenue for your association

Non-Dues Revenue-Generating Ideas for Associations

Your association’s buyer’s guide is a great tool for disseminating information and products to your association members. But if you’re using it only to sell your members on retaining their membership, you’re selling yourself short when generating ideas for non-dues revenue.

So how can your association use its buyer’s guide to generate additional revenue for your association? Well, first, we need to talk about what kind of buyer’s guide we have already.

Tailor-Making Your Buyer’s Guide

We all know the old adage, “know your audience”. And it’s an important thing to keep in mind for your association. Especially when we’re thinking about ways to generate additional value that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the core values of your association.

But perhaps you’re not even trying to reach your loyal association members. These are all key ideas to consider when we’re talking about buyer’s guides and their ability to add to your total revenue.

Different Types of Buyer’s Guides

consider first-time buyers when creating buyer's guides

Long-Time-First-Time

The first type of buyer’s guide for your association to consider is one for a first-time buyer. What can you offer a member who has never purchased any of your association’s goods or services?

We want to clearly and concisely lay out the process and benefits of everything that we have to offer our members. What can we tell them without overloading? Think of how you sell at trade shows. What is your elevator pitch?

compare and contrast member benefits when creating buyer's guides

Compare and Contrast

Of course, you have more to offer your members than a single product or service. But we know that perhaps, what’s right for some, isn’t right for all. Here’s your chance to go a little more in depth with what you can offer. What additional member benefits are you able to provide? What are the benefits of one product or service in comparison to another?

This is your opportunity to show that you can understand your members on a personal basis. Show that you understand what makes your base diverse, as well as unified.

Product Add-Ons

show your association members how your products surpass what other associations can offer in their buyer's guides

Here’s another idea that is not unfamiliar: upselling. If you’ve got your members in the door already, you know that you’ve got something they want. Hopefully, it’s also something that no one else can offer them. If you’re offering branded merchandise, it is likely that this is the case.

So what can you do to further separate your association from the herd and become a front runner? You need to show your audience that your products and services are not the end of the road. What can we tack on to further the experience of inclusion and membership?

Post-Purchase Help

make sure members are provided a buyer's guide that works as a manual for the members who have opted in

We want our members to feel that we are with them every step of the way. So our buyer’s guides shouldn’t stop once the check is cleared. For members who have opted in, provide a buyer’s guide that acts as an instructional manual.

Show them how to use your products and services, but don’t let it stop right there. Show your gratitude for your members’ continued patronage (especially outside of simply paying their membership dues). If possible, offer certifications to your members through your buyer’s guides. This will bolster that feeling of inclusion, which is exactly where we’d like to stay.

Formatting Tips for Any Type of Buyer’s Guides

when creating your buyer's guides, make sure they are clear and concise

No matter if we’re writing guides for first-time buyers, or people who have had our products or services for years, you want your guide to be simple. This doesn’t mean simply using monosyllabic phrases, but again being clear and concise.

Avoid long-winded phrases and too much jargon. We want this to be something anyone could use to help them. Even if someone were to pick your buyer’s guide up off the street, they should be able to take a clear understanding from it.

It can also be very helpful to break up your guides into small paragraphs with lots of appropriate headings. Long paragraphs are sure to have your members losing their place. And more importantly, they’re going to lose interest and stop reading.

We live in a fast-paced world, and part of understanding that is having information readily available. Use a content page or bold headers to easily direct your members to the information they need and want see most.

Be Authentic

create authentic buyer's guides for your association members

According to a poll by Association Adviser, more than half of associations believed that sources of non-dues revenue accounted for 25-50% of their gross revenue stream every year. Clearly, there is a lot of money to be made in creating non-dues revenue.

If you’re successfully selling something you and your members believe in, you’ll be able to create an increase in non-dues revenue. Whether you’re using advertising sales, retail sales, merchandise sales, or providing services, make sure it aligns with the values and needs of your members. Think of the reasons why your members invest time and money into your association and follow that line of thought.

Put it Into Practice

find the right venue when putting your buyer's guides into practice

So now that we’ve talked about the different kinds of buyer’s guides, and what makes a good one, so it’s time to think about how you’re putting it into practice. What’s going to be your venue for these buyer’s guides?

If you have a lot of physical interaction with your members, maybe you want to have that physical buyer’s guide. However, increasingly we live in a digital world. If you have a strong social media presence, don’t ignore it!

This can be a great place to reach a really wide audience. Social media has the added benefit of allowing your members to easily help you share your goods and information with friends and colleagues who might be equally interested.

generating non-dues revenue has a lot to do with the buyer's guide

Generating Non-Dues Revenue

No matter how you plan to generate revenue outside of membership dues, always stay true to your association. There’s nothing that can turn an audience quicker than feeling like they’ve been lied to. So don’t lie to yourself either. There is easy money out there to be made, but you don’t have to do it at the expense of your association’s integrity, or your members’.

Advertising as a Source of External Non-Dues Revenue

for associations, creating a passionate advertising campaign as a source of external non-dues revenue is at the top of your list

Is An Ad Campaign the Way to Increase your Total Revenue?

Advertising as a source of external non-dues revenue can be a touchy subject for some associations. Revenue generators outside of dues revenue streams can seem like you are “selling out” your audience just to make some extra money. But dues usually only account for less than 40% of an association’s total income.

To make up the other 60%, your association is going to have to get creative. There are many routes and sources of external non-dues revenues. Consider this your call to action to thinking about advertising as one of those revenue ideas.

get creative when thinking about advertising as a source of external non-dues revenue

Advertising is Not a Dirty Word

First, we need to get beyond the idea that we don’t want to use advertising as a source of external non-dues revenue for your association. You have built a relationship with your members, and you don’t want to cheapen that relationship. But at the end of the day, we have to admit… money doesn’t grow on trees.

Like we stated before, we’re looking for 60% of our yearly external revenues to be non-dues based. So how can we think outside the box to meet that additional revenue target without sacrificing our integrity?

Advertising doesn’t have to be a dirty word if we can use it effectively. But how can we use advertising to our advantage while remaining loyal to our members and their wants and needs without losing our rectitude?

write what you know  and apply it to your advertising methods

Write What You Know

This turn of phrase doesn’t have to belong solely to the young creative writers of this world. This can also apply to our advertising methods. We need to keep in mind who our members are and what they want from our services. What is going to turn off your members is seeing an advertisement that doesn’t at all pertain to their interests or desires.

If you’re an association advocating for animal rights, you don’t want to display ads for a meat market. Like everything else in business, advertising is about knowing your customer.

discover what's best for your association: in-house vs outsourced advertising as a means of external non-dues revenue

In-House vs. Outsourced Advertising

This is the only real debate you need to have in your deliberations on advertising: who is going to do it? There is an endless supply of advertising agencies who have the preexisting knowledge and tools to help your association advertise as a source for non-dues revenue well and effectively.

But there is something to be said for using the people who are already under your roof to accomplish the task of creating external non-dues revenue sources. So, let’s explore some of the pros and cons of each, and what is going to be the biggest benefit to your members as well as your association.

In-House Advertising

One of the greatest advantages of using an in-house team to drive your advertising campaign is just what we spoke to previously. Your in-house team already knows your member base. You have a department that creates newsletters and uses your website and social media avenues to speak directly to your members and what they want. This research and knowledge are going to be invaluable to the process of advertising.

We already spoke to the point that we don’t want to blatantly advertise something that our members are not interested in, or worse, something they oppose. Instead, we can use the research that we already have on our members to give them something that they want. Or better yet, we can give them the idea of something that they didn’t know they wanted.

What creative connections can we make between the interests and needs of our members and the services and products in the world?

However, something that we want to keep in mind is the cost of this advertising. Do you already have an onboard team that could handle your advertising? According to payscale.com, “An experienced Advertising Sales Representative which includes employees with 10 to 20 years of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation of $46,000”.

This is the biggest deterrent for using in-house advertising for your association. If you don’t already have the time for it, hiring the right people could cost you substantially more than what you stand to make back on advertising.

So what’s the alternative? Outsourcing our advertising campaign.

Outsourced Advertising

The primary reason to outsource your advertising and pay additional fees for additional income is that they have the experience and the tools. Advertising agencies have representatives that know the game, and while they may not know your company, it’s their business to find out more about it. It can be a harrowing experience trying to navigate the world of advertising and doing it effectively.

Advertising agencies have the tools and experience to make sure your advertisements are going to be meaningful as well as effective. Another thing to consider is that these agencies already have so many pre-existing relationships with companies who are looking to advertise.

While our in-house team might have to start from scratch, an outsourced team only needs to match the knowledge they have with the information you give them about your association.

outsourcing your advertising to an agency can sometimes be the right option for your association

Hiring an agency isn’t going to be free, but it could very well cost you less money than if you were hiring your own team and starting from the beginning.

There are two main reasons why you wouldn’t want to hire an agency to handle your advertising. The first is the knowledge of your association. You might have an extremely complex or niche member basis that would be difficult for an advertising agency to comprehend and market to effectively.

The other reason is that it might cost more to hire the company than you could make on your end. It’s extremely important to intimately know what your budget and threshold for this process are, and perhaps more pertinently, what you would stand to earn back from it.

If you see that what you stand to earn in comparison to what you stand to spend is too risky an investment, it might be best to just delineate some of your current staff members to this external non-dues revenue project campaign.

make an association benefit a member benefit when finding means of creating external non-dues revenue

Making an Association Benefit a Member Benefit

Ultimately, our goal in advertising as a source of external non-dues revenue should be symbiotic. We want to earn additional revenues outside of membership dues, but we also want to stay on-brand in our ideas and values. Advertising can be a way to strengthen your financial status.

But perhaps additionally, advertising can be another way that your association interacts and maintains its relationship with your members. For more means of increasing your external non-dues revenue, check out this other blog!

5 Means of Increasing Non-Dues Revenue Your Association Should Be Utilizing

increasing your association's non-dues revenue should be as easy as this guided flowchart

Non-Dues Revenue: A Business Model for Success

Man cannot survive on bread alone. Likewise, an association cannot survive on revenues obtained solely from membership dues.

If you want to grow your association, you need to develop multiple avenues for financial growth from non-dues revenue sources.

What would your association do if your membership growth slowed? Would you be able to survive? If you can create these additional non-dues revenue sources to grow your association’s finances, you will be in a privileged position where you will not even bat an eyelash.

So what are some additional ways to see financial growth in your association through non-dues revenue?

Offer Your Members Something They Don’t Already Have

What are some sources of non-dues revenue that your current members would pay for?

You already know that you have the attention of your members. If they’re willing to pay your membership dues, it means you’re doing something right. So why not utilize this attention that you already have?

Upselling is a sales technique that many people are familiar with. It is the simple act of utilizing the attention that your audience is already giving you to offer them something more in exchange for an additional fee.

You can do the same for your association members. Offer some exclusive content, benefits, or services for your members who choose to engage with this higher status. These can all be additional sources of non-dues revenue that they want and/or need.

For your association members, a higher status can mean a greater feeling of inclusivity with your association. This creates not only a feeling of inclusion for these members, but a feeling like their inclusion really means something beyond the general association membership.

Utilize Advertising Sales for a Non-Dues Revenue Stream

Advertising is another really healthy for of non-dues revenue for your association.

Most associations are already utilizing literature such as newsletters and automated emails for their members. These associations provide information to many eyes all over the world, and this is a great opportunity to increase non-dues revenues through advertising placements. While associations are serving their members through periodic informational avenues, they can also work on increasing non-dues revenue through strategic advertising placements within the content.

Offer advertising space, like those our friends at Association Revenue Partners provide, through different distribution channels such as newsletters, on your website, and through buyers’ guides as a source of non-dues revenue. There are plenty of businesses and services that would love to present themselves to your association members as having aligning interests and mentalities. To keep everything inline with your association’s values, make sure that these advertisements come from a company or service that you and your members align with in terms of ideology.

At its core, associations are created to bring like-minded professionals together. These folks work together to serve a greater purpose in the name of the association, and also within their individual professional lives. So the question isn’t why should you offer outside entities a chance – it’s why wouldn’t you? Everyone wins! Now is the time to focus on your members’ values, interests, and needs.

What companies align with your association’s values and interests? What services are something your members need? Give them a trusted source to go to, and in turn, you will also enhance your association’s reputation as a truly valuable source. Sponsorship opportunities are everywhere, and it’s a great way to make some additional non-dues revenue for your association.

Non-Dues Revenue Through Branded Merchandise

Merchandising is perhaps the most obvious way of creating non-dues revenue streams for your association. If your association is something your members are proud to be a part of, you can bet that they would be proud to sport some branded merchandising too. This could be as simple as a hat or a sweatshirt (the cold months are still here).

Offering branded association merchandise is a way to encourage your members to feel that same sense of belonging we discussed earlier (as well as in our blog about AI & Personalized Content). And it also works as free advertising for your association. Place a merchandise order for clothing or other products that have your logo, name, and contact information on them, but also something that generates engagement.

Create unique merchandise that will intrigue people on the street enough to ask your members, “What is ________?” Lay the these conversations and you will be converting people into members before you even meet them.

Engage the Active Audience on Social Media

Your association members are on social media so why not engage with them there for some free advertising of non-dues revenue programs

Your association probably has more events and programs than any individual member is able to remember. So utilize your captive audience of social media followers. You want to engage with your members in this way already, so use it to create some excitement around additional sources of non-dues revenue.

Let members know what you have going on, but also use it as free advertising. If you’re offering branded merchandise, this is a great way to get the word out. Engage people with the visual capabilities of Facebook or Instagram. Show off those stylish hats or sweatshirts. Again, create a conversation.

Make people, especially non-members, want to engage with your social media posts. Make them want to ask questions about your merchandise, your events that are open to members and non-members alike, and other impressive things your association is participating in. Make them want it. Non-dues revenue generation like this, if done correctly, will eventually translate into more dues-based revenue as well. It’s a win-win.

Make a Splash at Trade Shows

Your association should definitely plant the seeds of both membership revenue and non-dues revenue at trade shows.

Here’s the big one! Your trade shows are your direct line to the people of the world. This is where all of the things we have discussed come together to make the perfect storm of total revenue generation.

Showcase the additional services, content, and events your association is offering. Show off your branded merchandise. It might even be wise to give it away for free at these trade shows in order to pull in more prospective members.

Get your booth sponsored! Decrease your overhead costs, and show that your association aligns with companies or services that line up with the values and concerns of your members, (and people you hope will become members).

Also, encourage people to follow your social media accounts by making a game or contest of it. For example, create a photo booth where folks can take pictures while wearing your branded merchandise. This increases your free advertising, but also makes people want to check out your social media presence. Add a hashtag that is customized for your association and the trade show you are attending. While they’re taking a look at that stylish photo of themselves, they will also see all of these other services and products you offer, potentially generating even more non-dues revenue down the line.

The Never Ending Source of Non-Dues Revenue

Non-dues revenue can really drive your organization and keep you from depending on membership dues.

Your ability to generate financial growth outside of membership dues is only limited by your imagination. Everyone has a certain amount of disposable income. Give your members a reason to believe that your association has something worth putting this disposable income towards outside of their membership fees.

Running an association is a unique venue of connection to the world. Make use of this unique connection to provide your members with even more benefits than they thought possible. This is what will ultimately keep your association growing consistently year after year.


Sponsorships: Hidden Gems of Incremental Revenue

optimizing sponsorships packages brings incremental revenue back to associations

Optimize Sponsorship Packages Maximize Your Associations Non-Dues Revenue

Maximizing revenue for associations is more than just searching for additional membership dues. Sponsorships are now more vital than ever for associations struggling to maximize their NDR. Within each association, there are multiple opportunities for additional revenue streams. Incremental revenue gains are created by adding value to existing products or services to increase exposure for your customers.  Maximizing your NDR (aka non-dues revenue) is an easily forgotten method of increasing total revenue.

To increase the amount you can charge for your sponsorship packages means optimizing your assets to increase the value of the packages to the sponsors through an increased audience, or additional exposure to a select group.

Types of Sponsorship Packages

Increasing value for sponsors exists in many forms.

A few examples of NDR are shown below:

  • Allow sponsors to access members at a conference
  • Display sponsor advertising inside an association newsletter
  • Display sponsorship materials at a networking event
  • Invite a sponsor to co-host a webinar
  • Display sponsorship messages on the association website
  • Post sponsorship messages to association social media sites

trade shows serve as a fantastic platform for your association's sponsorships packages

Sponsorship opportunities can be attached to virtually every interaction an association has with its members. By offering sponsorship packages, additional revenue streams are realistically achievable. It is vital to remember that something of value needs to be created for the potential advertisers, but more importantly for association members.  

The Challenge

In the 2018 update of the Association Communications Benchmarking Report by Association Adviser and Naylor Association Solutions, it was shown that 46% of associations surveyed “felt their ability to generate non-dues revenue (NDR) from their communications was a serious or significant challenge.” This is a 6% increase from the 2017 survey results where 40% of respondents indicated a significant challenge.

Communications should not be seen as an independent entity but as part of the associations offering to create maximum exposure for your sponsors.  

Developing Packages Sponsors Want

It is best not to introduce “different” advertising opportunities, but look at your current assets and create better packages for your sponsors.  It is less about introducing new advertising, and more about maximizing what you do offer.

increase exposure for sponsorships packages at association trade shows

We asked Pat Mersinger from the Red2Black Group about increasing the value of advertising packages.  

He went right for the trade show. He said when working with associations, they forget about the ramp up to show, and the post-show engagement. Offer a bell curve advertising package that will increase exposure on your website site, newsletter, and trade show schedule as the event gets closer.

Plus, after the event is over, maximize those sponsors in the post-show wrap-up, website, and newsletter. Instead of making it a one or two-day sponsorship, you can grow it to a 3-month sponsorship providing more exposure, ongoing lead generation, and additional advertising opportunities.  We did introduce any new products, but really maximized the products you are currently offering.


Website Maximization Sells Sponsorship Packages

maximizing content within an association's website and newsletter helps sell sponsorships

For your website and newsletter to have value, it needs to have content that is up-to-date and refreshed frequently. To persuade members to revisit an association site, the site needs to have new and interesting content posted daily.

For an association that is manually posting new content, this can be a huge undertaking. It is advisable in these cases to seek out an AI-based content curator. These curators use artificial intelligence algorithms to locate suitable content and also have the ability to customize content to align with the interests of association members.

A common practice for associations is to sell sponsorship inside the e-newsletter that is sent to its members. Newsletter sponsorships must be something that is of value to both the sponsor and the members receiving it. The sponsorship could be an ad targeting individual members with new job opportunities or educational offerings that further their industry knowledge. It could also be a posting for a new product or service where sponsors need to reach association members that are key decision makers. Since e-newsletters are sent to members on an ongoing basis, whether that’s weekly or monthly, they serve as a constantly renewed location where sponsor messages can be sold. This revenue channel is frequently overlooked, yet it is available every month of the year.

Like the web site example above, an e-newsletter is also a place where the importance of fresh, relevant content should not be underestimated.

Leveraging Outside Experts

selling sponsorships packages means leveraging outside experts

Associations are often under-resourced when it comes to managing marketing efforts such as email campaigns, website content and social media postings.

Since it takes additional resources to sell sponsorship packages, it is not surprising that the 2018 Association Communications Benchmarking Report indicated that advertising sales were the second most likely function to be outsourced.

This is primarily the case because the association sales team is focused on selling memberships or sponsorships for trade shows. They do not have time to sell advertising.

Organizations such as Association Revenue Partners (ARP) allow associations to outsource all their sponsorship sales to a group of experienced professionals. Professional sales teams like ARP are able to connect to organizations immediately and start selling. This means that an association’s staff can stay focused on members and shows, while the external sales team acts to drive additional revenue for the association.

Using a third-party sales team allows associations to tap into experts with a proven record of not only selling sponsorships but also in delivering ads that are visually stunning and conceptually interesting.

Don’t Leave Money on the Table

don't leave money on the table by ignoring the possibilities of sponsorships

Sponsorship packages are a stream of non-dues revenue available to every association. Virtually every touch point with members provides at least one opportunity to sell a sponsorship placement. These opportunities are also an additional avenue by which to provide valuable third-party products or services to association members and to increase member engagement. Don’t leave money on the table by ignoring the possibilities of sponsorships.