How can membership organisations generate revenue without relying on membership fees? Gordon Glenister explores alternative income streams.
Membership revenue – once a stable and sizeable revenue for most associations – is no longer the situation for many. Although a high margin product, increasingly members are being very demanding about the value they receive. Renewal rates are dropping in many sectors.
So how do you look at other ways to generate revenue?
Firstly, it’s imperative that you have an understanding of your members’ pain points and how you will solve them; obvious stuff really but you would be amazed how some membership bodies lose sight of this. Before embarking on a new commercial strategy, you should think about your different membership profiles and what they value most. Here are a few options to consider.
It’s imperative that you have an understanding of your members’ pain points and how you will solve them.
Events and sponsorship
I was the Director General of a trade association for many years and we generated a sizeable revenue through the launch of a new trade exhibition. We partnered with an event organiser and shared the profits, but we also made it a member exclusive event and therefore drove additional membership.
In previous years, where we partnered with existing shows, we would ask for an endorsement fee along with a stand discount for our members. This could be sizeable and linked to meterage sales. Selling sponsorship for events, particularly award events, can be lucrative and should be linked to a bundle package which includes a table or a number of tickets too – this also helps you sell the venue out. I used to sell the goody bag sponsorship too, for example you get to put a gift in the goody bag and get two tickets for a set fee.
A little piece of advice is to ask a potential sponsor what parts of a package they value most – in essence they want exposure, exclusivity and tickets for their employees or clients. We would always make sure sponsored tables had the best positions at the front. We would also provide gifts for sponsored tables and host pre-drinks in a different location to other guests.
For many, education is a major revenue driver, so have a look at what you can now do internationally with an online module or look at licensing your education to overseas partners. The benefit with online education is that once you’ve created the programme, it can be a higher margin than using trainers which also require venues in which to run them. OnDemand webinars given by experts can drive additional revenue and are often a perfect funnel for membership too
Do you have a membership printed magazine or online magazine? Selling advertising isn’t easy but you could offer a package at the beginning of the year to your suppliers that includes a series of advertising options; for example advertising all year, with a free blog and two email marketing campaigns, even a white paper option. The idea is that you sell it once and provide a whole range of products together. You can also offer an insert option in the magazine, which could include a supplier’s mini catalogue.
Creating an exclusive community within the broader membership can also work well, for example a VIP club, president’s or patron’s group. I created a patron programme for my previous association and provided two VIP dinners per year at the House of Commons and private members’ clubs. We also included places on our education programme, branding on emails and on our website. We set a maximum limit for the community at 20 members from both channels of the membership and the term was for two years.
Having an eCommerce or retail online shop can also be a great revenue driver. This could be an academic bookshop, a range of branded merchandise or an exchange marketplace where members could buy and sell industry relevant kit.
Hosting a job board can be a great way to increase membership by offering an exclusive free posting of jobs for members only, or a different rate for members. Membership association job boards can be linked to other aggregators and it can drive considerable traffic to your website.
I am also a podcast presenter and some of the big ones can attract sponsored interest, but you have to get your audience up before interested parties come knocking. My podcast package allows a member to sponsor a programme for as little as £500.
Lastly, member relevant services can be a way to get a rebate, for example an industry relevant insurance product. This can work but only if it’s really promoted at every opportunity.
Gordon Glenister is an experienced leader and membership specialist. He now runs his own consultancy offering a range of solutions for membership bodies. He is also the global head of influencer marking at the Branded Content Marketing Association. www.gordonglenister.com