Operationally and structurally, associations are very different from for-profit companies, but there’s one concept that every business, regardless of target market, operational structure or industry wants to master: How can we generate revenue while we sleep? Tech companies have largely demystified the passive revenue problem and it’s rooted in advertising. Digital advertising is beneficial for host platforms and advertisers alike for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to audience experience, an onslaught of ads interrupting engaging content is less than ideal. For that reason, paid ads may not be the best non-dues generator for associations, but there are countless passive revenue building opportunities that are ideal for member-based organizations like professional associations. 

Mitigating Risk

Diversified revenue generation strategies not only help to secure your organization’s financial future, they can actually lead to better member experiences, which will ultimately reinforce your main revenue stream - dues attributed to member growth. New initiatives lead to broader marketing touchpoints and audience reach potential, which can result in more members, even if membership growth isn’t the main goal.

Naturally,  association leaders may be cautious about spending resources on unproven and  potentially unstable tactics. The goal of a non-due revenue stream is to boost an association’s profile and success, but it often requires a little bit of initial financing and a lot of testing. Luckily, there are a ton of non-dues revenue ideas out there that associations can experiment with, many of which are digital and zero-cost.

Read on for our complete list of revenue-generating ideas to try within your organization. From gated content to interactive events tactics, there are a lot of great tactics to try that will bring substantial value to your organization without onboarding a single new member. 

  1. Sell e-books. For industries like tech, engineering and medicine that are always updating standards and knowledge bases, opportunities to publish valuable paid content via ebooks are endless. They can be shared for free for members of certain levels  or behind a paywall for your lowest tier members or the general public.
  2. Tier your speaker strategy. You’re already bringing in great speakers to share insight on topics your members care about. Open that access up to the general public via paid, tiered models for engaging with your events. 
  3. Provide access to in-depth, gated content. This can include newsletters, podcasts, curated content guides, tutorials, how-tos, e-books, magazines, etc.
  4. Engage in affiliate marketing relationships with your top recommended vendors. If you’re already recommending professional products and services to your members, see if you can set up a revenue share based on the new traffic you send to those vendors. Make sure your revenue-generating recommendations are qualified to ensure your reputation amongst the community continuously meets your high standards.
  5. Initiate a sponsored content program. Businesses in your industry understand the authentic connection and influence you have over members. Leveraging that influence to incorporate sponsored content from companies in your industry brings more value to your members and extra revenue to your organization.
  6. Launch learning initiatives such as virtual classrooms. This idea is especially applicable to associations in industries marked by benchmarking or continued education to maintain licensure. If you can provide easy, engaging and affordable ways to maintain credentials, you’ll have members coming back for more month after month. Plus, word will spread that your content is a great continued education resource, leading to attention from even more engaged professions in your industry.
  7. Consider an a la carte membership model. Offer members the opportunity to scale up and down based on their current needs. When they’re job hunting, they may need more resources than they do when they’re happily humming along at work. This is an idea borrowed from the “freemium” model popular in SaaS products - if it’s easy and affordable to get a foot in the door and see real value in your organization,, members are likely to tier up as your relationship grows.
  8. Turn in-person event content into paid digital content. Chances are you operations are structured around a few key annual events that require massive amounts of planning and effort to execute. The benefits of that work don’t have to end with your closing keynote. Invest in the infrastructure to record and package the sessions into digital modules that you can sell again and again.
  9. Consider creative uses of communal channels. There’s a growing trend on social media where organizations are creating paid, highly curated community groups. Think LinkedIn groups or slack channels full of professionals not just in an industry, but in a specific niche, or with a specific set of knowledge. Start thinking about creative ways to create communities like this. You can monetize these channels on the member side, but the possibilities with sponsored industry content and native advertising are also ripe with potential.
  10. Monetizing your member data. Data on specialized groups is extremely valuable to for-profit businesses in your industry. They can leverage information about your members to create better products and services, conduct market research, and generate intelligence on the workforce. The possibilities for packaging ans selling member data are endless, but you’ve gotta collect the right information first. 


Excited by this article and want to learn more about key strategies for future-proofing your association? Register now for our fully digital conference on December 2 - 4 .