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  • Writer's pictureColby Horton

In Search of Non-Dues Revenue: 6 MarComm Opportunities to Diversify Your Revenue Streams

Like most successful businesses, smart associations must look to diversify their revenue streams. That’s where non-dues revenue comes into play. Let’s take a look at a few marcomm-focused non-dues revenue opportunities for associations of all sizes.

It’s no longer a secret that revenue from membership dues cannot sustain an association’s overall value proposition or keep the organization afloat. And that revenue certainly can’t cover an organization’s operational expenses, including member benefits administration, advocacy efforts and continuing education opportunities. In fact, on average, revenue from membership dues make up only 39% of an association’s total revenue.

During periods of stable and flourishing economic growth, association revenue has typically focused on membership dues and annual conference registration revenue. But the past year has taught us that these revenue streams are not enough to preserve an organization’s vision over the long-term. Although traditional revenue streams are starting to come back, associations spent most of 2020 creating and innovating non-dues revenue (NDR) programs to stay afloat.

Like most successful businesses, smart associations must look to diversify their revenue streams. That’s where non-dues revenue comes into play. And the more you fully develop a strategic non-dues revenue program, the more fiscally sound your association will be - both short- and long-term.

In reality, non-dues revenue falls under two distinct categories: internal and external. Internal revenue is earned from products, services or programs sold to members (or non-members, if your association is so inclined). External revenue is created from vendors, sponsors, advertisers or partners. The good news is that no matter the size of your organization, you have opportunities to take advantage of both types of non-dues revenue.

What’s the No. 1 reason small and mid-sized associations struggle with creating NDR opportunities? After talking to so many associations, we’ve come to realize that there are two main reasons: lack of bandwidth and lack of resources. But for the most part, associations of all sizes and structures already have the necessary tools and resources to start a strong NDR plan. In fact, smaller associations may have an advantage when it comes to external revenue as many industry vendors are looking to reach a more targeted audience directly.

Regardless, let’s take a look at a few marcomm-focused non-dues revenue opportunities for associations of all sizes.

Email Newsletters

Email’s reign is more powerful than ever thanks to a couple of recent events in the digital marketing space. First, Google’s plan to phase out support for third-party cookies has put even more of an emphasis on the importance of first- and zero-party data. Brand marketers, agency execs and email marketing experts say email marketing has already reaped the benefits of the decision, even though the cookie removal has been delayed until late 2023. And so, even more importance has been put on contextual advertising - that is, the process where a promotional message is matched to relevant digital content. E-newsletters is the ultimate space to take advantage of premium, contextual advertising.

Your association’s e-newsletter could be the best source of non-dues revenue for your organization. Think about it. Your association is probably already publishing some type of email newsletter to communicate with your members on a somewhat consistent basis. Tastefully integrating one or two sponsorships into your newsletter is a no-brainer and better positions your organization for higher non-dues revenue.

Or, to add significantly more NDR, consider sending a unique email blast to your list on behalf of a single sponsor.


Your members are busy, and their time to digest association content is shrinking. That’s a resounding reason why associations are starting to jump on the podcast bandwagon.

While podcasting started in the early 2000s, the medium has seen a drastic growth in the last few years. There are over 80 million Americans that listen to weekly podcasts. In fact, on average, podcast listeners consume 7 shows per week. Associations are certainly taking notice of this exponential growth.

While podcasts supply a way to drive content, engage members, and allow associations to truly be the “voice” of an industry, they’re another way to generate non-dues revenue.

While strategizing about the goals of a podcast - new or old - sponsorships should be a part of the conversation. Let industry suppliers sponsor a particular episode. Have your host devote 30 seconds to telling the supplier’s story. Include the supplier’s logo on promotional pieces. Or consider having the supplier take part in the podcast, as long as what they are saying is relevant to the content you’re presenting.

Either way, a podcast provides valuable digital real estate that can turn into an additional source of non-dues revenue.

Social Media

It’s no secret: your members are hooked on social media. In 2020, over 3.6 billion people were using social media worldwide - an average of 144 minutes per day. By 2025, that number is projected to increase to almost 4.41 billion. And associations work hard to establish and maintain a social presence across multiple channels.

Information included on your social platforms doesn’t have to be 100% devoted to association and industry news and events. Allow your sponsors to include a promotional message in your social feed. Post relevant videos from industry suppliers. Host a sponsor survey on your social channels. Let one sponsor take up a little real estate on your social media cover photos. Charging a premium to be a part of your organization’s social feed equals more non-dues revenue for your association.

Website Retargeting

An association’s website is a key component of an organization's overall brand equity. They serve a critical role in how the industry perceives the association. And now, thanks to site retargeting, the reach of the association’s brand goes well beyond the initial website visit.

Leveraging an association’s first-party data generated from website traffic, site retargeting allows an organization to continue to reach a site visitor even after they leave the organization’s website. Think about when you search for an item on Amazon, leave the site, and suddenly, you’re served an ad for that item as you move to other sites on the Internet. That’s site retargeting. And thanks to this innovation, associations can create similar messages for visitors that bounce from the organization’s website.

Or, to generate non-dues revenue, that traffic can be monetized by allowing sponsors to purchase retargeted impressions. Instead of site visitors seeing association-specific messages on other sites, what if they saw sponsor messages instead? Regardless of organization size, there will always be a percentage of impressions that can be allocated to sponsors. And those paid impressions generate valuable non-dues revenue.


According to Madgex Labs, the online learning market is predicted to reach $325 billion by 2025. Today more than ever, associations are turning to producing webinars as a way to help advance the education of the industries they represent.

Sponsored webinars can be a driving force of non-dues revenue for associations. Scour your list of suppliers and sponsors and look for industry professionals with something critical and relevant to teach your members. Give them a chance to hold a webinar for a fee. Note: make sure the content they present provides relevant information and doesn’t turn into a sales pitch.

Because of the intimate engagement with association members, webinars are one of the best ways for advisers to see meaningful ROI; thus equating to higher premiums and even more non-dues revenue for your organization.

Association Data

Data is the most valuable asset of any organization. The smart use of data can have a profound impact on all sectors of an association - membership, marketing, communications, meetings, education, and advocacy. And, this data creates new opportunities for outreach, driving both growth and retention. But it can also have a profound impact on non-dues revenue.

A growing number of associations are monetizing their data. And we’re not talking about selling membership lists to third-parties. Instead, they are monetizing their data in the form of benchmarking data, market intelligence, data analytics, and custom research. In fact, a report by Avenue M Group found that 25% of associations earn revenue from benchmarking data and 19% derive revenue from selling market intelligence.

Final Thoughts on Non-Dues Revenue

Embracing non-dues revenue streams is a great way to keep membership dues competitive, while covering expenses needed to to run your organization. With the future of traditional revenue streams still up in the air, challenges remain. But with these challenges come new opportunities. The search for NDR shouldn’t be likened to finding a needle in a haystack. Most associations have ways of generating such revenue through innovating existing marcomm efforts. Through these strategies, associations can ensure continual financial stability and subsequent fiscal growth.

How Can We Help?

Association Briefings has a team of association-focused experts excited to help your organization generate non-dues revenue from a variety of marcomm-focused initiatives. Reach out here to get started.


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