How can you set your association up for a solid financial future with flexible, non-dues revenue streams?
Don’t rely only on membership dues to keep your association strong and healthy.
Invest in quality digital advertising space, make engagement growth a priority, promote your available ad space, and strike a good advertising balance so that you can increase exposure for your own initiatives or bring in more outside sponsorship, all leading to additional non-dues revenue.
1. Invest in quality digital advertising space.
In the advertising and non-dues revenue world, you want beautiful, functional online spaces for your advertising, whether it’s by email, on your website, or in your online community. In our digital age, online advertising is the best way to get your content and sponsors’ content in front of your member or donor base.
There are three factors that qualify a channel as a “quality online space”: high traffic, beautiful and functional design, and targeted content. Let’s explore a bit about each.
You want your channels to be well-trafficked. You want high participation and engagement. Advertisers prefer a billboard on a busy highway than a billboard on a dead-end dirt road.
If you’re advertising on your emails, do you have good open and click rates? Sometimes, all you need to do is revamp your subject lines. If you have an online community, this doesn’t mean that posts or discussions are the only things that equal traffic. Even if you have lurkers, they could be downloading resources and logging in like crazy – totally valuable from a potential advertiser’s perspective.
Beautiful and functional design
A beautiful channel that’s easy to use and engage with will help you out a lot with increasing traffic, but aesthetic appeal isn’t all that matters. Invest time and effort into making your channels user-friendly.
If you don’t have someone on your team with user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) design chops, consider hiring or consulting with an expert so your website and online community really glow.
You may not have to bring outside people in for help with email design: We’ve got 17 tips for the non-designer on how to make your emails appealing and totally clickable.
This word is music to an advertiser’s ears: “targeted.” If you can offer targeted advertising capabilities to advertisers, displaying certain ads based on members’ data, they’ll love it. Think of how social media networks allow advertisers to choose who they’d like to show their ad to based on demographics, interests, engagement.
These capabilities allow advertisers to get the most bang for their buck. Say they want to advertise a certification program – you could target this ad only to those members who’ve indicated interest in this type of certification (which you know from their past data), and then show them the ad where they’re most likely to see it: Your website, automated emails, or online community.
On top of that, you can use marketing automation to retarget advertisements. If a member is halfway through registering for an event that you’d advertised in an email, but then dropped off without completing the registration, you could retarget the ad to them by displaying it on your website on their next visit.
2. Make engagement growth a priority.
What will potential advertisers or your marketing team want from the advertising spaces you’re offering? Eyes! Eyes and engagement so that they can get the most value out of the money they’re investing in promotion.
So, if you want to increase the interest and investment in your available advertising spaces, make increasing engagement a priority. For example, if people aren’t opening the emails you send, have you considered creating responsive workflows with marketing automation, so that members receive content on things they’re interested in?
The software takes their engagement level into account, so you’re focusing your efforts on those who will be most receptive (again, that tailored content coming in clutch when pitching potential advertisers).
Engagement is a much bigger topic than I can cover here, but luckily for you, we’ve got tons of other resources on the blog, like the post below.
3. Promote, promote, promote.
Once you’ve beautified your channels and amped up your engagement, it’s time for a little advertising of your own. You need advertisers if you want to make a profit off this venture (or, you can advertise your own content – both approaches work).
If you’ve got the stats to back up your claims, you can prove to potential sponsors and advertisers that what you’re offering is coveted real estate. You know what they say: Location, location, location. How can you prove to potential advertisers and sponsors that yours is the location to choose?
For example, the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA) created an advertising kit to send to advertisers, showing them what they had available and including stats about its member engagement and demographics. In a year, the ad space in their online community daily digest emails, weekly e-newsletters, and discussion pages brought in nearly $14,000 in additional revenue.
“The success with advertising has been huge for us. It frees us up to do other things.” – Kristin Wells, Events and Business Development Manager, MSCPA
Read the full story: MSCPA Case Study
4. Use judgement for how much advertising is too much advertising.
This is the caveat to everything I’ve said so far. When you’re advertising to your members, you don’t want them to ever feel bombarded by promotion. Since you own the space, you can limit what you include and how much advertising you allow. If members get frustrated with the advertising, that will have an inverse reaction on engagement, which will have an inverse reaction on advertising interest – it’s a tension you’ll need to manage with care.
Mastering advertising in your online spaces will take some trial and error, so don’t worry if it takes time to get it right.
To help, think through the advertising space you have and what your members want – will this be a valuable resource to them? Have you allowed promotion in the past? If not, maybe start small.
For example, MSCPA restricts advertising just to sidebars and top banners in their online community, and one ad space in each weekly newsletter. The nice thing about this type of approach is that the rarity of the ads can increase their value – people may be willing to pay more if the spots are limited.
Your goal should be to make the best use of the space you have without overwhelming your members, while still providing them value, and bringing in helpful non-due revenue for your organization.
Strengthen Your Association’s Non-Dues Revenue Channels
Your next step?
Consider where you’re doing well or not so well in each of these four areas. If you can get to a good level on each of them, you’re well on your way to increasing your non-dues revenue. Take it from the National Association of School Nurses (NASN): They placed ads in their community and generated an additional $110,000 in non-dues revenue since starting a partnership with Association Revenue Partners.
For more tips, check out the extended guide: How to Generate Revenue from Your Community.
Elizabeth Bell is a Content Specialist at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.
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