Associations, like any other organization or business, need to make money. However, the financial landscape of Associations is much more elaborate than what meets the eye.

There is a significant segment of revenue streaming in from membership dues, but beyond that, there are several other avenues that can help bring in additional revenue. For example, revenue can come from the sale of programs or services to members and their constituents. This is known as non-dues revenue and allows Associations to be less dependent on membership dues.

Whether or not your Association hosts webinars, publishes books or has staff devoted to fundraising, there are ways to bring in the non-dues bacon. According to ASAE’s Operating Ratio Report, “associations rely most heavily for non-dues revenue on meeting and convention registration fees, exhibit and trade show booth fees, and educational program fees. Associations also conduct fundraising, often through an affiliated foundation, to support initiatives that advance their strategic plan. A commitment to fundraising means that Associations can create new programs, produce research, and fund scholarships and other initiatives that they might not otherwise carry out.”

Graph showing revenue streams of trade associations vs. individual membership organizations*data source from ASAE

Alternative Revenue Streams

For the average Association, membership dues are the largest source of revenue, but surprisingly not by much. According to the ASAE Foundation’s Association Operating Ratio Report, 15th Edition, an average of 45.4 percent of trade association revenue flows from membership dues, while professional Associations report an average of just 30 percent. That leaves over half of the total revenue to be made up by alternative methods. These alternative sources of income can include revenue from tradeshow booth fees, event registrations, and other service offerings which are making up large shares of the revenue stream. Two emerging alternative revenue streams for Associations are affinity programs and fundraising.

#1 Affinity Programs

An increasing number of Associations are turning to affinity programs to generate non-dues revenue. An affinity program allows Associations to offer customizable discount programs to their members, at no cost to the Association. Their ability to leverage cost efficiencies as well as aid in the institutional knowledge about industries and member retention makes them a valuable asset for any Association.

Certain affinity programs offer additional support in targeted advertising and marketing. This can not only add to your non-dues revenue; it can add more value to your members and therefore make you more relevant and necessary. Steven Worth of Plexus Consulting Group notes that “once you know more about your membership, you’re able to design more ways to serve them. That’s where you’re putting yourself on the path to growth and relevancy.”

Beyond cost efficiency, implementing an affinity program can boost membership engagement and retention by offering members no-strings-attached savings that they cannot find anywhere else. UNA Purchasing offers its Association members a no-cost, easy-to-use benefits program, providing savings that can easily offset the cost of membership dues. It’s a quick and easy process to get rolling, so you can offer discounts to your members in as little as one week.

#2 Foundations, Sponsorship, and Fundraising

Another emerging option for Associations with a healthy revenue is fundraising through a growing relationship with foundations. There are many foundations out there open to investing in the right place. Approach donors with sincerity and robust data for your best chance at wooing donors to invest in your Association. Look at places like DonorsChoose.org for more inspiration on fundraising or becoming a donor.

Applying to foundations to raise funds for your Association is often easier and more profitable than one might think. Offer sponsorship options at booths or events, implement a fundraising program that helps generate additional monies, host a gala or special dinner to raise funds. In addition to any fundraising efforts that your Association may already participate in, consider opening up high-traffic areas (such as your website, social media, or newsletters) to display promotional material.

Non-Dues Revenue: The Basics for Underfunded Associations and Chapters by Bob Jonas, Managing Director at Association Revenue Solutions, cites some great ideas for sponsorship and fundraising on behalf of your Association.

Key takeaways

There are alternative methods to create additional non-dues revenue to your Association. You do not have to live in dues dependency nor do you have to strategize on your own. Partnering with a group purchasing organization can add a marketing and procurement lifeline to your Association, and with the right partner, you can find a one-stop-shop for an affinity program and member insights that will get your Association on the fast track to a healthier bottom line.

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