Be Adventurous

Get creative with your non-dues revenue strategy

By Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE

CEO Letter JanFeb 1920x1080

Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE President & CEO, Association Forum

Members are the lifeblood of every association. Gone are the days when your membership dues can serve as a main source of revenue. Quite simply, members have too many options available. While some might view this as the glass half empty, we say the glass is half full because it facilitates a culture of perpetual learning, growth, agility, creativity and innovation.

The fundamental nature of member engagement has evolved. We must evolve to stay relevant to members and as an industry. Increasingly, associations realize that membership dues alone are not enough to sustain activities. More associations are augmenting their business models to include additional creative and innovative sources of revenue to deliver member value.

However, this requires resources—non-dues revenue resources. Non-dues revenue can be defined as any revenue stream that isn’t earned from membership fees, such as conference exhibiting and sponsorships, print and digital advertising, room rentals, education and publishing. So how can you take the “common” benefits of our associations and turn them into revenue opportunities?

George Washington Carver said: “When you can do a common thing in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

In this issue of FORUM, we will focus on looking for sources of revenue beyond membership dues. For example, an important function of associations is to create content and be thought leaders in a given field. Why not leverage your content for sponsorship opportunities? Jason Meyers, senior director of content strategy at SmithBucklin, covers all of this in his article, “The Sponsored Content Conundrum.

It can be rather daunting to be on a perpetual pursuit of new revenue streams. In some cases, it’s a matter of leveraging the assets right in front of you.

Association Forum represents nearly 1,700 associations in Chicagoland. Chicago is nationally known as the hub for healthcare and medical associations. Three years ago, Association Forum brought together a multi-disciplinary community of healthcare and medical association executives to discuss common issues, facilitate industry collaborations and establish stronger networks. Engaging the providers’, patients’, consumers’ and practitioners’ voices at the table has created a powerful vehicle to bring our community together in a dynamic and transformative dialogue. The premise is that by working together, we are likely to be more successful. This initiative has generated new revenue sources and partnerships. It is helping us diversify our revenue base to be less reliant on traditional streams of income. This is the power of engagement!

While this example requires considerable planning and staff time, not all creative revenue opportunities do. When you’re looking for low-cost ways to raise money, leveraging volunteer hours is often a viable option. In this issue, you can read a Q&A with the National Concierge Association on all the ways they raise funds at a national and local level.

Again, sometimes the best opportunities are right in front of you (or down the hall in the empty conference room). Association Forum’s Conference Center is used to host workshops, SIGs, committee meetings and everything in between. When we’re not using our space, it’s available for rent. We’ve posted our space on a sourcing site for room rentals and we see weekly bookings. Now, instead of our conference rooms sitting empty a few days each week, we have a steady revenue stream and are starting to develop new business relationships.

One of Association Forum’s core values is to embrace innovation. We encourage you to be adventurous and get creative with your non-dues revenue opportunities. Step outside the box a little. You never know what you might find. Look outside of your current offerings. The world is not changing. It has changed. As we say, all ideas are good ideas until proven wrong.

We’d appreciate hearing your ideas and sharing them with members. If your association has found success in a creative non-dues revenue source, let us know! Send an email to Based on your responses, we might create an online community for you to share with each other or through social media. We’d love to hear from you!    


About the Author

Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE President & CEO, Association Forum

Related Articles

Businesswoman standing on flying money with binocular searching for opportunities. Earning money concept. Vector illustration. Content monetization concept.

Finding Hidden Gems: Strategies for Non-Dues Revenue with Association Content

Your association already has resources that could be generating extra non-dues revenue. You just need...


Are We in a Direct Mail Renaissance?

Direct mail is having a resurgence and could help your association compete for new members,...

Sponsorship ideas represented by hanging lightbulbs

Six Winning Sponsorship Ideas for Your Next Meeting

Employ one of these creative sponsorship ideas that has worked for fellow association professionals.