Money, Money, Money, MO-NEY

I tend to believe that if the same topic or issue or idea or person or whatever keeps showing up in your life, you should probably snap to: something is trying to get your attention.

For me, lately, that’s been the concept of non-dues revenue. I heard a good presentation on this, received an opportunity from an association colleague, presented on this topic myself (and will be doing so again in a week), had the chance to visit one of our non-dues revenue partners at their home office, and of course, this morning there was a Bisnow event on this issue (that I couldn’t attend – anyone go? how was it?).

Here’s the thing: as associations, we can get revenue from two places – our members, and people who aren’t our members.

According to continuing research out of Decision to Join (none of which I can find now that I need it, of course, but updates appear in Associations Now all the time), members whose employers pay their dues remain likely to drop membership if their employer no longer pays. That can come as a result of employers cutting costs, or as a result of people losing their jobs – and with reported unemployment hovering around 9% and real unemployment probably more in the 20-25% range, that’s a lot of people.

That leaves us all looking for alternative sources of revenue, both from an altruistic perspective (we want to burden our members as little as possible, while still providing products and services that meet their needs) and pure self-interest (you never want too much of your revenue coming from any one source – too risky).

That’s where non-dues revenue comes in. But it’s not all created equal. It comes down to a value calculation: is the amount of effort required, both from the association and the non-dues revenue partner, commensurate with the value everyone will receive? And “everyone” includes the association, its members, and the partner.

It’s easy to be distracted by promises of lots of cash from something that has NOTHING to do with the purpose of your association. Or to make a bad calculation about how much time something is going to take, or how much revenue it’s going to return. Or to try to squeeze a partner too hard. Or become myopically focused on the association’s (revenue) needs and not think enough about what the nice partner who’s giving you all that money needs.

But the best partnerships, the ones that endure and make everyone happy (as opposed to making everyone annoyed and pissed off), are the partnerships where everyone’s needs are being met, not necessarily equally but certainly equivalently. Which is a great thing to remember when a vendor comes dangling a shiny new opportunity in front of you – or when you’re doing it yourself for a potential corporate supporter.