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How to Generate Non-Dues Revenue from Association Sponsorships

Associations that diversify their revenue streams beyond member dues are much better positioned to keep a robust staff and explore new programs.

Why Non-Dues Revenue is Critical

Non-dues revenue, which is income generated from sources other than membership fees, plays a pivotal role in maintaining and enhancing the programs and services your association offers. It’s a fundamental pillar for financial stability and growth.

It’s estimated across the industry that anywhere from 25-35% of total revenue for professional associations comes from member dues. That’s not much – but it most associations prefer not to drastically raise prices for members. That means the majority of incoming funds need to come from non-dues sources. 

Having diverse revenue streams stabilizes your association’s financial resources and can help you invest in programs, events, and member services that ultimately draw new members. Generating income beyond just member dues also allows you to keep membership (and other programs) affordable without sacrificing the quality of services and benefits you offer.

In this guide, I’ll explore a few of the ways you can bolster your association’s non-dues revenue. Then I’ll dive a little deeper into how you can create successful sponsorship and advertising programs. With these strategies, your association can tap into new financial growth avenues and offer even better value to members. Let’s get started!

Higher Logic created a Sample Advertising Prospectus template to help you get started or update your sponsorship program.

man working on association sponsorship program

Finding the Right Non-Dues Revenue Sources

A recent survey asked association professionals how effective their organization was at driving non-dues revenue. A majority, 55%, said they actively look for new ideas to diversify their revenue streams. They know that non-dues revenue is vital to their association’s ability to keep providing value to members. Without non-dues revenue, it’s very difficult to keep the financial ask on members low, fuel improved events and content, maintain a staff size that avoids burnout, and tap into the association’s full potential.    

All that said, it’s important to identify the right non-dues revenue strategies that align with your association’s unique needs and target audience. Your priority is your members – you don’t want to spam them with advertisements or sponsorships they’re not interested in. Luckily, many non-dues revenue tactics actually create new opportunities or highlight relevant content for your members.

Methods to Generate Non-Dues Revenue

There are several types of non-dues revenue activities. You might find you’re already doing some of these – for some associations, maybe these are things you already incorporate as part of your member benefits.

But for those you’re not already doing, consider which could work for your members – or what you could adjust to broaden your revenue sources.

Sponsorship opportunities and packages: Provide sponsorship opportunities to businesses that resonate with your mission and values. Create appealing sponsorship packages that deliver value to sponsors, such as logo placements, speaking opportunities, and exclusive event access.

Advertising options: Utilize your digital assets, like websites, newsletters, and conferences, to offer advertising options to relevant businesses. This could include banner ads, sponsored content, or sponsored emails.

Career Centers & Job Boards: Establishing a job board for your members can provide job listings, career resources, and professional development opportunities. By partnering with employers and offering premium services like resume reviews or interview coaching, you can monetize this valuable resource.

Virtual and In-Person Events: Interactive events, such as webinars, can create exciting opportunities for your members and generate revenue. These events provide an enjoyable experience for members and create opportunities for sponsorship and advertising. Additionally, webinars can serve as a platform to showcase your organization’s expertise, attract new members, and generate revenue simultaneously.

Premium content and courses: By developing exclusive content or online courses that provide in-depth knowledge or specialized training, you can generate revenue while providing added value to your members. Remember to ensure that the content aligns with the interests and needs of your members.

Data and member insights monetization: Associations often have valuable data and insights about their members. By anonymizing and aggregating this data, you can offer it back to members (e.g. workload and salary surveys or other insights into your industry) or, if appropriate, to businesses or researchers invested in trends in your industry. This not only generates revenue but bolsters your association’s position as a trusted industry resource.

Merchandise Sales: Leverage your organization’s brand and create merchandise that resonates with your members. These items can be sold through your website or at events. Additionally, consider partnering with relevant vendors to offer exclusive discounts to your members.

Publications and Digital Resources: Consider offering publications such as industry reports, research papers, or expert interviews, for a fee. You can also explore advertising opportunities within your publications or on your website.Implementing these strategies can create additional revenue streams for your organization while delivering value to your members. Regular evaluation and adaptation of these initiatives based on member feedback and market trends are crucial to maximize their effectiveness.Now, let’s dive a little deeper into sponsorships…

Creating a Successful Association Sponsorship Program

When done right, having a sponsorship program is a great way to generate value both for your organization and your members. Many companies have a regular part of their budget dedicated to sponsoring events and purchasing external marketing placements. To claim a portion of that budget for your association, you have to communicate the value you can offer sponsor companies: 

  • Access to a very specific and relevant audience of customers and prospects 
  • Opportunity to build better relationships for their business 
  • Ability to access data and insights on the target audience 
  • Your association as another channel in their content strategy 
  • Reputation and trust-building 
  • Good old-fashioned lead generation 
  • Added brand visibility 
  • Built-in focus group to vet current and future products and services 
  • The competitive advantage of being the authority in relevant associations

That said, when crafting your sponsorship offerings, you should always keep in mind what benefits your members gain from your sponsors. Yes, you want to attract non-dues revenue, but you don’t want to ostracize your members (and jeopardize dues revenue) by making them feel like you’re selling things that aren’t relevant.   

The good news is, what’s good for members usually makes for better sponsorship opportunities anyway because members are more engaged with, for example, a thought-leadership article or webinar, than a banner ad.  

The New Sponsorship Landscape

Just as the needs of members change over time, so do the needs of sponsors. In the wake of the pandemic, many sponsors reevaluated the effectiveness of their sponsorships – so associations have to avoid a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  

Strategic advisor and association consultant Bruce Rosenthal says associations are facing some new questions. Do sponsors really need the biggest exhibit booth at a conference, or should they pursue other ways to can engage event attendees? Do they need banner ads to generate brand awareness, or are they looking to demonstrate thought leadership? How can your association support the year-round marketing sponsors are now looking for, rather than just an annual event sponsorship?  

The Many Options for Selling Sponsorship

Get creative: one of the key takeaways from non-dues revenue experts at the 2022 Non-Due$-a-Palooza conference was to explore the assets you already have and view them with a new eye toward monetization. Think about the platforms and channels you use to engage your members (e.g. email, online community, events, etc.) and think about how you could build sponsorship into those to offset the cost of those platforms/channels. Some examples include:  

Community Sponsorship

Run ads on the logged-out homepage (visible to anyone who visits your community site) and/or within your community (targeted to members). In a platform like Higher Logic Thrive Community, there are multiple placement options (leaderboard, sidebar, footer, ads in community email digests) available where you could sell and place graphic ads.  

Community Thought Leadership, Relationship Building & Reputation Management

If it’s appropriate for your community and members, let sponsors join your online community and develop direct connections with potential customers by participating in discussions and answering questions as subject matter experts. Let them discover what users are looking for, contribute to the community blog and knowledge base, and maintain a listing in the member directory. You can set the ground rules if you want to ensure they don’t make promotional posts.  

Event Sponsorship

Tried and true. Let sponsors leverage event fanfare to drive attention. For in-person events, consider booths, print items, signage, swag, etc. For virtual events, sponsors can be noted in slides, on the event website, and in event online communities. You might also highlight sponsors in communications to attendees – for example, in banner ads in attendee emails or in a dedicated sponsor thank you.   

Newsletter Sponsorship

This is the perfect example of accessing another organization’s robust email list in addition to operating your own for exposure at a consistent cadence. Sponsors can reserve space for ads in a variety of formats or be the presenting sponsor of benchmark features or columns that appear in every edition.     

Newsletter Thought-Leadership & Sponsored Content

Beyond ad placement, sponsors can be content contributors. This positions them as a valued and trusted source of information that could only come from their access and expertise. Again, this can be delivered in a variety of formats, be it text, audio, video, graphic, or infographic.  

And Anything Else You Can Think Of

Think outside of boxes. Non-dues revenue can come from sponsor participation in fundraising, merchandise, job boards, the sale of premium content, ads on mobile apps, and free educational opportunities like workshops, webinars, seminars, courses, and certifications. 

How to Price, Expand, and Optimize Your Association’s Sponsorship Activity

As a former association marketer and Higher Logic customer, I have first-hand experience monetizing the investment my association made in our member experience platforms. In my former role as the Assistant Director of Marketing at Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, (PRIM&R), I helped run a sponsorship program that eventually completely covered the cost of our Higher Logic Thrive Marketing and Community products – in fact, in 2022 we brought in over $60k non-dues revenue from email and community ads alone (not including conference sponsorship).   

What I found is that you can start small and work your way up. At first, we were only selling member newsletter sponsorship, but as that began consistently selling out, we expanded our offerings. When the pandemic hit, the interest in online and email sponsorship drastically increased.  

I’ll admit that setting the “right” price felt a little daunting, but we researched what other email, web, and community ads cost in our space. You might be able to connect with your staff that buy ads for your organization (if that’s someone different from you – we were a small organization, so I did both) to talk about what they’re spending as a starting point. Then see how ads are performing and adjust. For us, we settled on between $1,000 and $1,500 for email ads, and $300 to $600 for web and community ads because our community was new and we were having a harder time communicating the value of community ads to vendors who weren’t familiar with our community yet.  

You can always adjust pricing until you hit the sweet spot of most takers at the highest rate. If something’s not selling, try lowering the price, or offering a complimentary placement to a trusted sponsor who’s already buying other placements so that other vendors can see what that placement looks like in action. Or run your own ads (and maybe ads for your ads) in those openings – this can help you generating awareness (and performance stats, like click rates on email ad banners) so sponsors know what they’re buying. 

Also, it might sound counterintuitive, but don’t be afraid to raise prices even if it means less ads sold – having fewer, but higher-paying sponsors can help you maximize revenue per placement while lightening the load on staff.  

Non-Dues Revenue Can Fund the Tools That Make Sponsorships Even More Successful

An association platform like Higher Logic Thrive not only helps you create an engaging member experience, it also offers a way to deliver value for sponsors. It’s the key to the kind of year-round exposure and interaction sponsors are looking for.   

The great news for associations is that this kind of powerful technology becomes more accessible when you consider how to use it to generate non-dues revenue – many existing customers have more than paid for the cost of their platform.   

Any association, whether for profit or non-profit, is better positioned with powerful communication, community, and member management tools that scale to generate additional, recurring sponsorships – incoming non-dues revenue can then fund new initiatives for members. End result: a strong, secure association that becomes indispensable for both members and sponsors.    

Time to Build

Maybe you have existing sponsorships that you want to improve. Maybe you want to attract additional sponsorships. Or maybe want to try getting a sponsorship program off the ground.  

In each case, getting new initiatives going and implementing improvements can take time. You have to drive awareness of any new or changed program. You might need to spend time running your own ads in the ad space you’re proposing in order to track performance and have success stories to show new sponsors. You might need to offer new opportunities to existing partners at a discounted rate (or even free).   

And lastly, don’t overwhelm your association or staff. Take new sponsorship initiatives one at a time, give them the time and resources to find success, apply what is learned, and build from there. You’ll find the additional revenue more than worth it.  

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Kelly Whelan

Kelly Whelan is the Content Marketing Manager for Higher Logic. In this role, she develops content to support association professionals and advise them on member engagement and communication strategy. She also hosts Higher Logic’s podcast, The Member Engagement Show. She has ~10 years of experience working in marketing for associations and nonprofits.