When it comes to increasing income from dues, there are two obvious choices: Raise the amount charged to each member, or expand the number of members. Fortunately, these are not the only ways to address needs for added revenue. Many meeting planners, as well as other association staff, are recognizing the importance of non-dues revenue and pursuing creative ways to capture it.
“Associations continue to do more with less and it is important to generate non-dues revenue,” says Matthew Lombardi, vice president of the conventions division of the National Association of Realtors, Chicago. He notes that companies want to sell and promote to association members and that creating these opportunities will provide new revenue sources.
In addition, non-dues revenues create an additional member benefit by helping keep member dues lower than would otherwise be the case. At the same time, such funds can help the organization address a growth agenda.
“Non-dues revenue sources help keep associations creative, relevant and innovative,” Lombardi says. “This is important when selling the benefit of membership to the next generation of members.”
Additional revenues also help insure against future budget challenges.
“In this day and age, it’s important to have revenue from a number of different sources so you do not have to depend too much upon revenue from one source,” says Frank E. Gainer, director of conferences for the American Occupational Therapy Association in Bethesda, Maryland. “This spreads the risk.”
“In this day and age, it’s important to have revenue from a number of different sources so you do not have to depend too much upon revenue from one source. This spreads the risk.” — Frank E. Gainer
At the American Library Association (ALA), non-dues revenue is generated in a variety of ways, according to Mary Mackay, marketing director of the Chicago-based organization.
“As with any organization or business, diversification is critical for long-term financial health so we can weather the inevitable ups and downs in the different revenue-generating areas,” she says.
At ALA, such measures include face-to-face conferences, institutes, forums and symposia, as well as extensive publishing programs ranging from professional development-related books to the organization’s well-known READ celebrity poster series. Other revenue sources include e-learning programs, advertising revenue in journals and magazines, corporate sponsorships and individual donations.
“We’ve had success with all these programs,” Mackay says. “At the same time, we’re constantly evaluating and re-evaluating based on data and what our members and customers need to keep building the profession and libraries for the future.”
While conference and meeting fees do generate income, there is an ongoing effort to keep these fees reasonably low.
“We keep our rates as affordable as possible,” Mackay says. “Our creative energy goes into programming and developing relevant content so we attract as many members and others as possible to participate. Increasing the size of our audience — and delivering a memorable, professionally useful experience that members talk about and recommend to others — is more likely to guarantee our long-term financial health.”
Corporate sponsorships, on the other hand, may be fair game when it comes to profits.
“We offer a wide array of opportunities for corporate sponsors to participate in the association,” Mackay says. They include advertising in print and online journals, magazines, conference programs, and the conference show dailies, exhibiting at face-to-face events, and sponsoring webinars and other online events. Other opportunities involve sponsorship of awards and scholarships, some of which are named for the corporate sponsor.
“Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, wins a prize for sponsorship longevity,” Mackay notes. “They’ve sponsored shuttle buses at our national conferences for 50 years now.”
While not yet a major revenue source for ALA, Web advertising offers growth potential. At this point, the organization doesn’t accept Web ads on the website homepage or many landing pages, but some individual units within the association have specific Web advertising programs and partnerships.
“Especially with the focus on responsive design and mobile use now, we’ll be especially careful about integrating ads into our content,” Mackay says. “But it’s obviously a growth area. We don’t sell ALA member emails; instead, we have limited programs whereby we send emails out on behalf of a sponsor. We’re conscious of the need to keep email under control so our members don’t feel inundated.”
Selling branded merchandise is another successful strategy. At the annual meeting and some division national conferences, ALA operates e-conference stores onsite where attendees can buy regular branded items as well as conference-specific merchandise. Several library-focused events are held each year such as National Library Week, School Library Month, Banned Books Week, Teen Read Week and El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Día). For these events, librarians buy theme-branded posters, bookmarks, and other related products to promote activities in their libraries and communities.
The ALA also offers e-learning opportunities and webinars in multiple formats on numerous topics. While some of the association’s divisions offer online learning options as part of the membership dues, most are fee-based. On top of participant fees, some webinars also generate revenue by having corporate sponsors. For instance, with “American Libraries Live” and “Booklist” webinars, contributing sponsors have opportunities to present on the programs.
NAR pursues similar strategies. Booth sales and sponsorships at its annual conference and expo are major revenue sources. The income helps conference planners keep registration fees as low as possible to aid in encouraging members to attend the Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference.
“Non-dues revenue from expo sales and sponsorships help augment registration fees, so we are able to pass along the savings to our members,” Lombardi says. “We also offer a tiered pricing system, with registration options to fit any schedule or budget.”
Lombardi says his association continually looks for new and creative ideas for conference exhibitors and sponsors. “We create a value proposition for companies to reach our members through channels we manage and control,” he says. “For example, we have an exclusive sponsor for the conference education session recordings. This sponsorship provides the company with year-long exposure through the program.”
Another success has been the exclusive sponsorship of Conference Live, a virtual window into the conference experience.
“This sponsorship allows the company to have a voice in NAR’s conference communications, drive attendance to their booth onsite, and start important conversations with members,” he says.
The association also generates non-dues revenue by offering recorded conference sessions for purchase and download.
“Not only does this program bring in revenue, but it’s also a great sponsorship opportunity for the right partner,” Lombardi says. “And the members benefit by accessing education even if they cannot attend the conference in person.” He adds that recorded sessions also are available throughout the year, extending the reach of the conference beyond just the event dates.
Recorded sessions are available for purchase on both flash drive and disc, as well as through streaming or downloading the recordings. In addition, these materials provide an incentive for other participation by conference-goers. Since 2010, attendees who have registered at the highest registration level received a free set of streaming or downloads courtesy of the sponsor. The program is tied into the sponsor’s focus on education for real estate pros and has allowed for a year-round sponsorship that lives on well past the event.
“This also increases the conference’s educational reach to members and provides one more source of non-dues revenue for the association,” Lombardi says.
Thinking beyond the actual event about ways to leverage the experience and meeting content benefits the organization as well as attendees, Lombardi adds. “It shows that the association cares about members even if they can’t attend the event in person.”
Gainer also stresses the importance of evaluating events for potential improvement. The conference team for his association holds an annual retreat where staff review feedback from participants and decide on what should be changed. Changes are communicated to attendees by listing them in a piece entitled “Your Feedback Makes a Difference.”
“We have focused on creating a more dynamic annual conference and expo,” Gainer says. “We have also been focusing on making the content more appealing to advanced-level practitioners.”
Continued attention to pricing levels is another key factor.
Catherine Mills, director of the Chicago-based American Dental Association’s annual meeting, says that while it’s important to keep dues low, members are willing to pay for educational activities or other events in which they see value.
“People always say they like free, but they are willing to pay,” she says. “This is especially true for the higher level, hands-on experiences.” At the same time, pricing should be reasonable. “You don’t want to look like a money-grabber,” she says.
It’s also true that well-placed discounts, while reducing revenues in the short term, can lead to long-term commitments that bolster overall income.
For example, the AOTA has benefitted from a “join now” program rate that offers a slightly discounted membership rate wrapped into fees for the annual conference. Almost 10 percent of attendees take advantage of the reduced rate, according to Gainer.
Mackay says that possibilities for enhancing offerings and bolstering revenue should be an organization-wide priority.
“Everyone across the association is asked to be mindful of opportunities for diversifying our offerings in creative ways,” she says. “Our meeting planners work closely with exhibitors and sponsors to come up with mutually beneficial new products, programs and services.”
One area being considered by ALA is globalization.
“We’re looking to increase revenue from international programs and services in the coming years,” Mackay says. As a starting point, her association has begun collaborating with the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates.
“The key in the international arena is to do good homework and be aware of where there are local interests and ventures in place,” Mackay says. “We can then determine where we can help them amplify what they’re already doing versus opportunities for new programs that can help the field of librarianship develop globally.”
Lombardi urges other meeting planners to spend time analyzing income possibilities.
“Do your research,” he says. “Determine your non-dues revenue goals and create opportunities to meet those goals. Also, learn what other associations are doing to successfully generate non-dues revenue.”
Mills agrees that it’s important to take an analytical approach.
“You need to look at the goals and plans for your organization,” she says. In the process, she adds, it becomes increasingly important to assess member interests. “People used to join just to join,” she says. “That’s not true anymore.”
Collaboration also can be helpful.
“Know your members and industry,” Lombardi says. “Work with your current partners and vendors to create non-dues revenue opportunities at your events. Such revenue can help your association by funding special projects or new member benefits.” AC&F