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18 non-dues revenue ideas associations can use to increase profit

Recently updated on June 26th, 2024

Association revenue can be categorized into two primary streams: membership dues and non-dues revenue. Membership dues represent the fees that members pay to belong to your association. While non-dues revenue represents any income that your association generates beyond these membership fees. 

Associations can look to increase both of these forms of revenue when they need to. To increase membership revenue, they can put in efforts to attract new members or increase membership fees. 

Due to its nature non-dues revenue on the other hand offers more potential growth areas, and in this article we’ll explore some potential avenues you can explore to grow your associations non-dues revenue, we’ll also look at some of the issues you association can face if it’s too reliant on member dues.

The issues with relying too heavily on membership dues revenue

There are several issues associations can face when the majority of their funds are coming directly from members, including:

Vulnerability to membership fluctuations

When over 50% of revenue comes from membership dues, any fluctuation in membership numbers—due to economic downturns, industry shifts, or competition—can jeopardize the entire financial structure of the association.

For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, many professional associations saw a significant drop in membership as professionals cut costs, leading to a direct and immediate impact on these associations’ revenues. 

Covid and its immediate aftermath had similar effects. In 2021, Marketing General in their 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report found that 47% of associations that were part of the report noted decreases in their membership levels, with 45% suffering from a drop in membership renewals, up from 24% the year before. 

The good news is that in their 2023 edition of the same report notes that 48% of associations reported an increase in membership counts. 

Limited capacity for investment in new services

A heavy reliance on dues can limit the funds available for investing in new programs, services, or technologies that could benefit members and attract new ones. This can create a cycle where the association cannot afford to innovate, potentially making the membership less appealing.

Overburdening members and a perceived loss of value perception 

If dues constitute a significant portion of your budget you might experience pressure or a necessity to increase fees to cover rising costs, which can burden members financially and lead to questions about the value proposition of the association. 

High dues might deter potential members, and lead to a perception that membership with your association doesn’t provide value for money.

Dependency on a single revenue stream

Over-reliance on any single revenue source, such as membership dues, exposes you to potential risk, particularly if there is any disruption to the income source. Diversifying revenue streams offers your association greater financial stability, and can help you plan better for the long-term.

The benefits of expanding and generating non-dues revenue

The issues outlined above can be mitigated by expanding non-dues revenue. And there are plenty benefits to doing so, such as:

  • Diversification of revenue –  relying solely on membership dues puts your association at risk if membership rates decline. Diversifying your income with non-dues revenue can help provide financial stability and reduce dependency on membership fluctuations.
  • More opportunities to improve member services – non-dues revenue allows your association to offer additional services and benefits that can enhance member satisfaction and retention without increasing dues.
  • Opportunities for innovation – exploring and implementing non-dues revenue streams often leads to innovative ways to engage members and the community, keeping your association relevant and forward-thinking.

18 ways you can increase your associations non-dues revenue

1. Offer training programs or expand existing training opportunities to your members

Offering training to your members is one of the best ways to increase your non-dues revenue, while at the same time directly benefiting your members – whether that be individuals or companies that are members. 

For example, Arlo customer the Vancouver Island Construction Association offers industry leading professional development training to its members. Through VICA’s programs construction companies are able to fill those vacant positions, boost productivity, develop better leaders, stay abreast of changes within the industry and harness new technologies, just to name a few.

VICA are also seeing progressive companies realize the value in professional development, and the return on investment it brings for those businesses, as Jessica Bonney, VICA’s Manager of Training and Education explains:

“VICA members who enroll themselves or their staff in courses available through VICA have an advantage over their competition. We’re seeing a direct correlation between Vancouver Island’s most successful contractors having the highest number of enrolled employees in our training programs”. 

There are plenty of insights we can gather from Jessica’s experience on potential commercial opportunities that offering training can bring to an association, such as:

  • Partnerships with local or national employers who are looking to upskill their staff
  • Strong USP to bring in potential new members
  • The chance you to offer different tiers of membership to companies with more premium membership options for more in-demand types of training
  • Increased member retention rates as clients are seeing direct benefits for taking the training
  • Potential training licensing and distribution opportunities, where the association’s customers become resellers of the training packages
  • Offer corporate packages to companies – opens up a whole new revenue stream
  • Opportunities for an association to build their brand and reputation as an industry leader.

If you decide to offer training programs to your members, you’ll require software to manage your training operations. You can learn more about Arlo’s training management software below, or review our list of the top training management systems available in 2024 to learn about the solutions available.

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2. Host conferences and events

Hosting annual conferences and events can be a great way for associations to diversify their income. These events provide an opportunity for members to network, share knowledge, and engage with the latest industry developments. Charging for attendance, sponsorship opportunities, workshops, or exclusive sessions can generate substantial income. 

Some examples of associations who put on these kind of events include:

  • The Association for Talent Development (ATD) – hosts the annual ATD International Conference & Expo, and many other smaller events throughout the year.
  • The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) hosts the annual ISTE live event each year, one of the world’s most premier edtech events.

Of course, there are very large events, so if you’re getting started you could look at hosting smaller, more local events or virtual options like virtual conferences or a series of webinars that have a smaller upfront cost. 

For example the Vancouver Island Construction Association, hosts the Vancouver Island Building Awards – a smaller, yet very successful local event where their members can showcase their expertise.

3. Look at forming corporate partnerships and sponsorships

You can look at partnering with companies that align with your members interests. Potential partners can get opportunities for meaningful engagement with your members, while members get opportunities to get distinctive information and resources from the partners or sponsors you choose to partner with.

A couple of ways you can start thinking about potential partnerships are:

  • Survey your members to see what topics and information they would find interesting and valuable. These insights can give you some guidance on the type of partners you seek out.
  • Think about any previous sponsorships or partnerships you’ve had that have been particularly successful.

4. Sell ad space in your owned assets

If you’re an association with a large audience on social media, or on your mailing list then you can look into advertising or affiliate opportunities. For example, if you have a monthly newsletter that goes out to your members you could offer relevant businesses the opportunity to advertise within it.

Your association can generate extra revenue through selling advertising or sponsorship opportunities, while the business advertising gets their products or services in front of highly relevant potential customers.

To protect your associations reputation though its important to think strategically about advertising opportunities, and only allow businesses that you know your members would find value in to advertise with you. 

5. Start producing merchandise

Who doesn’t love a branded t-shirt or a mug? It’s a simple way of connecting with your members and helping them become walking advocates of your brand.

6. Look to secure available grants and funding

Securing grants and funding from external sources such as government bodies, foundations, and international organizations can give you significant opportunities for new projects and initiatives.

An example would be a scientific research association receiving a grant from a government health department to conduct a new study. Any grants or funding will be highly individual to the industry or field your association is in so you’ll need to take some time to carry out some up front research.  

To get started its worth checking to see if there are any s specialized databases that list grants specifically for associations and nonprofits, which can help you identify relevant funding opportunities. You can also regularly check the websites of government agencies and foundations related to your association as they often have sections dedicated to funding opportunities with detailed application guides.

7. Publishing and content sales

Some associations can leverage their expertise and authority in their field to generate revenue through publishing, particularly through research reports, white papers or online course content. You could publish an industry report that publishes original research and unique insights, you may want to charge for this, or you could put the report behind a form where a reader provides their details in exchange for reading the report. 

This can be a great lead generation method, and producing original research is a great way to get referenced and linked to other reputable sources, which increases brand awareness and gets your association in front of new potential members. 

Other types of content you could look at producing are:

  • Physical books, e-books and guides – as an association you have direct access to your members. If you have a book, or knowledge of an area that you could produce a guide on you can produce this and sell it directly to your members. 
  • Podcasts – if you have significant expertise in your field you could start by producing a podcast series featuring interviews, discussions, and expert insights on industry trends, challenges, and innovations. Monetization opportunities can include sponsorships, advertising, or premium content access.
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8. Gain rental income from renting out spare office space

Associations often own or manage properties that can be used to generate rental income. This could include renting out office space, meeting rooms, or event venues to external parties when you’re not using them for association activity.

For example, if you have a centrally located headquarters you might rent out its conference facilities to non-member organizations for meetings and events, giving them the opportunity to capitalize on its prime location and well-equipped spaces.

9. Seek out association consultancy services

Seeking out professional expertise can often be the fastest and most effective way to unlock growth for your association. A reputable association consultant will be able to analyze your current revenue streams, see the percentage coming from non-dues initiatives and give you a detailed plan on the most effective initiatives and campaigns you can roll out that works with your current capabilities.

10. Offer a premium job boards and career services

Associations can generate significant revenue by offering job boards and career services, particularly if you’re an association in a niche industry. You can charge employers to post job listings on your website, or in something like a newsletter to market the roles directly to your members. 

This approach has multiple benefits: 

  • Companies looking to hire get access to a pool of highly qualified, relevant candidates
  • Your members get access to career opportunities that they may not find elsewhere.

You could also offer your members tailored career advice. For example, you may have members in your association at different stages of their career, and you could broker packages where more senior members offer career mentoring services or workshops to more junior members. 

Alternatively, you could offer career mentoring services directly to members based upon your own experiences and expertise.

11. Implement member-to-member referral schemes

While not completely unrelated to non-dues revenue, a member to member referral scheme – where members get an incentive for referring current non members who could become members – can help you generate revenue in a few different ways. 

First, you tap into the existing network of your association, a ready made trove of potential new members, meaning they’re likely to have some interest in your association already, second offering an attractive referral scheme to existing members can increase retention rates.

A couple of different popular referral scheme ideas to get you started are:

  • Tiered rewards system: – implement a tiered rewards system where members receive increasingly valuable rewards based on the number of successful referrals they make. This could include discounts on membership fees, exclusive access to events, or special recognition at association meetings.
  • Throw an annual referral competitions – organize an annual competition with significant prizes for the members who refer the highest number of new members within a year. Prizes could range from free membership for a year to trips or high-value gift cards, creating a fun and competitive environment that encourages participation

12. Expert-led mastermind groups and educational programs

If you have a network of industry experts you can tap into as part of your association you can organize exclusive, high-ticket mastermind groups led by industry experts where members pay to join small, focused sessions.

For example, a legal association could set up mastermind groups focusing on specific areas like corporate law, intellectual property, or international law. These groups could be led by renowned legal experts and offer sessions on advanced case strategies, regulatory updates, and networking with peers and mentors.

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13. High-value networking events

Similar to mastermind groups, if you’re in contact with industry leaders and investors there are many different high-value networking events you could look at running. These could be structured as gala dinners, luxury retreats, or special access events, commanding a premium for the opportunity to build high-stake connections.

For example, in the image below you can see the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) networking events page, where they have various networking events listed such as reception and roundtable events.

Image Source

14. Industry-specific research services

A bit of a niche idea, but one that can potentially be very profitable. If you have the expertise or access to resources that can facilitate it then offering tailored research services that allow members to commission studies or analysis reports focused on specific industry issues, trends, or opportunities could be something to consider. 

This service is especially valuable for organizations planning strategic moves or investments and needing in-depth, customized data to make informed business critical decisions. An example of this could be a trade association for renewable energy could provide customized research services to companies interested in expanding their operations into new geographic regions.

15. Deploy custom consulting services to boost non-dues revenue

A consulting arm within your association that offers expert advice and strategy development tailored to the specific needs of members can be highly lucrative. This service would be particularly beneficial for smaller members or independent professionals who lack the internal resources to tackle complex industry challenges on their own., such as setting up their own business or launching into a new market.

16. Look to your existing data for opportunities to generate revenue

A deep analysis of your existing organizational data can provide insights into potential business areas or initiatives that could help you increase revenue. 

For example, if you regularly run events you might find that certain types of events, such as hands-on workshops or expert panels, have higher attendance and member satisfaction rates. You can then look at expanding these potential events, segment your audience accordingly and promote these events to those audiences.

17. Drill into your existing member base and network

A deep dive into the demographics, professional needs, and feedback of your existing member base can highlight niche areas that can provide ideas of tailored services or products you could develop.

For example, suppose data analysis reveals that a significant portion of your membership consists of young professionals eager for networking and skill development. You could launch a mentorship program pairing young members with experienced professionals, funded by a nominal fee from mentees and possibly sponsored by industry corporations interested in nurturing young talent.

18. Task a team member or build a dedicated team to solve the problem

After reading through the previous 17 ideas you’re probably thinking ‘well that all sounds great, but where do I find the time to plan out and executive some of these initiatives’, there’s no easy answer to that question.

It’s likely you’ll need to task a team member or build a team to start the process of brainstorming and deciding upon the ideas that are most suitable for your association and the ones that will have the most impact.

This is the time where you could think about seeking out a consultant, particularly if you’re confident that you have ideas that you want to implement but aren’t 100% sure on which will have the most impact on your non-dues revenue in the shortest amount of time.

Final thoughts – get creative to diversify revenue streams

You should now have a decent grasp of some non-dues revenue ideas you can use to generate non-dues revenue that will benefit both your members and your association. Naturally, some of these ideas will be more relevant to your specific association than others, but exploring a variety of options can help you identify the most suitable choices for maximizing revenue and improve member satisfaction.

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