Not All Sources of Non-Dues Revenue Are Equal: A 7-Step Guide for Association Leaders to Evaluate NDR

Non-dues revenue opportunities are abundant right now, but which ones will best support your association’s mission? Use this handy guide to find out.

If your association is like most (62%, to be precise), your membership rates — and, presumably, the accompanying revenue — have either declined or stagnated over the past year. And with analysts not expecting business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2026, event revenue is not likely to make up the shortfall any time soon.


Given the double-whammy decline in dues and events revenue, combined with further economic uncertainty posed by inflation, labor shortages, and ongoing supply chain disruptions, it’s understandable that finding new, non-dues revenue (NDR) has been the top priority for associations over that past two years, according to McKinley Advisors’ 2022 Association Viewpoint study.


“Raising dues is not the most welcome option and [member] retention is becoming more of a challenge,” says Teri Carden, creator of Non Dues-a-Palooza. “These combinations mean that it’s more imperative than ever for associations to diversify their non-dues revenue portfolios and create programming that meets the member needs and taps into new sponsorship dollars.”


And the good news is that there is no shortage of new revenue-generating programs for associations to explore. As Carden notes, “We’re in a time when innovation is affordable. Plus, the needs of our members are significantly evolving.”


However, as you look beyond dues and events for other revenue streams, it’s important to note that not all NDR sources are equal. For one, a viable NDR solution should have a minimal opportunity cost, especially as most associations are dealing with limited resources. Even if an NDR solution has high revenue potential, if it requires additional investments in personnel and technology, for example, it may not be worth pursuing.


Conversely, if an NDR solution is easy to implement but has low revenue potential, then its overall impact may not be worth the time or effort, especially when there are more lucrative options available.


To help you determine which strategies are worth pursuing, below are seven criteria for evaluating NDR opportunities. Think of it as a framework to help you identify new revenue sources while balancing the needs of both members and sponsors in support of your association’s core mission.

White Paper:

A Framework for Evaluating New Sources of Non-Dues Revenue

Criteria #1: Does the solution drive member value?

For associations, forging strong connections with members is paramount to their success. In fact, the No. 1 reason members do not renew their memberships is a lack of engagement with their organizations, according to Marketing General’s 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report.


Consequently, any new NDR solution should provide tangible value for members and help drive deeper engagement.


Associations that successfully engage members offer a host of valuable benefits, such as networking opportunities and the chance to advocate for important industry issues. And with live events still on the rebound, forward-thinking associations are developing more digital content, including professional development resources and educational information.


Criteria #2: Does the solution offer market insight?

Beyond driving revenue, associations should consider whether an NDR solution offers unique and actionable intelligence about their industry as well the professional needs of their members. Ask yourself: Does the revenue opportunity help foster a deeper understanding of key issues and reinforce your organization’s status as a thought leader? If not, it may be best to move on.


Opportunities that offer key insights on member needs arm association leaders with intelligence that can influence ongoing member programming and, in the process, add more member value.


Nearly every industry is undergoing rapid change. Associations that stay highly attuned to evolving member needs reinforce their leadership and status as the “voice of the industry.”


Criteria #3: Can the solution be automated?

Associations are under enough internal strain, including personnel shortages and financial restraints. According to the 2022 Association Benchmarking Report, 43% of member engagement teams feel understaffed. On top of that, one in five respondents to PCMA’s 2022 Salary Survey reports that members of their staff have been furloughed or terminated.


Given these resource constraints, it’s imperative that new revenue initiatives don’t pose an additional burden on internal resources. Ideally, new solutions should not require additional staffing or a significant reallocation of resources. Otherwise, it may detract from an association’s core mission.


Criteria #4: Does the solution require minimal up-front investment?

A solution that requires an association to tap its savings can be a risky investment. This is especially true now, as organizations are using available funds to launch new member programs to grow engagement and loyalty. The best NDR solutions offer minimal or no up-front investment.


In addition to offering a fair level of income as part of the value exchange, look for solutions that enable you to leverage efficiencies by aligning with current organizational activities.


Criteria #5: Does the solution offer sponsors value?

It’s a competitive market, and sponsors have many options when it comes to how they allocate their marketing budgets. To stand out in such a crowded field, associations must offer sponsors as much value as possible in order to retain their loyalty.


While the traditional strategy of using live events as a way to entice sponsors still has its place, those same companies, especially in today’s economic climate, need programs that serve their year-round business development needs.


As advertisers look for new avenues to reach prospective customers, associations should focus on NDR solutions that offer unique value to sponsors. This enables you to strengthen your connection and engagement with valued partners who, in turn, will benefit by supporting your organization. And members will benefit as well when they have access to cutting-edge solution providers actively participating in your community.


Criteria #6: Does the solution offer a repeatable source of income?

As important as revenue diversification has become for associations, finding an NDR solution that is repeatable is just as critical. Bumps in revenue are tempting, but one-and-done programs are inefficient. You want a recurring revenue stream that can be implemented and managed without constant oversight or undue effort, freeing you up to pursue other opportunities.


In addition, if the revenue source is both recurring and predictable, it can be used to budget for other strategic initiatives that will help strengthen your association and benefit members. Again, an NDR source probably isn’t worth considering unless it helps drive your association’s mission forward.


Criteria #7: Is the solution “always on”?

Technology enables people to work whenever and wherever they want. And COVID-19 only propelled the trend. For many, the idea of punching a clock and sitting in a cubicle for eight hours a day now seems archaic.


Given this fundamental shift in work, associations need to focus on resources that are available to members 24/7/365 when evaluating new revenue opportunities. Leverage the convenience of your organization’s digital channels so that members can access new solutions at their own convenience. Always-on availability in your member programming is no longer a luxury, but a common expectation for professionals interested in professional development and career advancement.


Online Resource Library: An NDR solution that checks all the boxes

There is no shortage of attractive NDR opportunities, and these solutions are becoming increasingly important in helping associations become less reliant on dues and revenue derived from face-to-face events. The criteria outlined above offer a framework to help you pick NDR solutions that not only drive additional revenue, but align with and support your organizational mission.


As you weigh your options, consider an online Resource Library as a non-dues revenue opportunity. At Lead Marvels, we’ve partnered with more than 100 associations looking for a revenue generator that meets all the criteria for an affordable, reliable, and easy-to-implement NDR solution.

White Paper:

Growing Non-Dues Revenue with an Online Resource Library

Our interactive digital platform can be white labeled for your association, providing a seamless digital experience for members, allowing them to access valued thought leadership content and resources, including white papers, e-books, podcasts, and videos. Because the resources are provided by third parties, associations don’t need to expend their resources creating additional content. A Resource Library can serve as an effective distribution channel for your own organization’s content as well.


When an association member is interested in accessing content, they fill out a short form with their contact information. This information is delivered to the sponsor as a sales lead, connecting the organization with qualified prospective buyers. Sponsors pay a set fee for each lead, and the revenue is shared between the association and Lead Marvels, creating a win-win-win scenario for all parties involved.


Further, there is never any cost to our association partners, and the program does not require any investment in new staff or technology. The Resource Library can be fully managed by Lead Marvels.


For more information or to request a free demo, visit http://www.leadmarvels.com/associations.

White Paper:

A Framework for Evaluating New Sources of Non-Dues Revenue

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