The financial pressures on associations have changed substantially over time leading associations to seek new ways to generate non-dues revenue. When the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) first published its Association Operating Ratio Report in 1953, member dues made up 95.7 percent of the average association’s total revenue. By the time the 15th edition of the report was published in 2016, that number had plummeted to 45.4 percent for trade associations and a mere 30 percent for trade associations. 

In order to remain financially healthy, today’s associations need to be able to identify and develop new sources of revenue beyond collecting dues from members. Continuing education and professional development courses offer great potential for monetization since they can be offered to members and non-members alike. 

The Search for Non-Dues Revenue Sources 

Associations have traditionally relied upon industry events, meetings, and tradeshows to make up their budgeting shortfalls. According to ASAE’s 2016 data, the combination of event registration and exhibitor fees made up about 20 percent of revenue for both trade associations and individual membership associations. Event revenue is actually a bit higher than it appears when sponsorships (almost five percent of revenue) are taken into consideration. 

When in-person events were disrupted by the pandemic in 2020, many associations suddenly stood to lose about one-quarter of their expected revenue for the year. Although hastily organized virtual events managed to fill in the agenda gap, one research report that surveyed over 1000 associations found that about half of them didn’t even attempt to generate revenue from the event. As organizations continue to explore new strategies for monetizing virtual and hybrid events in 2021 and beyond, they need to look at other opportunities to create stable non-dues revenue streams. 

Increasing Non-Dues Revenue with Online Learning  

Online learning programs are ideal candidates for monetization because they are typically something that’s already in place that aligns closely with the association’s greater mission to deliver value to members. These courses are frequently offered to members to satisfy industry-specific continuing education guidelines or allow them to compete certification requirements. According to a recent Community Brands survey, 62 percent of association members cite access to credentialing and certification courses as an important benefit of membership. In fact, they’re often the primary reason people join an association in the first place. 

There is great potential for generating more value from these learning programs. The key is to think beyond the standard “á la carte” style of online education that simply dumps all learning resources into a catalog and leaves it up to the individual learner to find what they’re looking for. By taking steps to create personalized learning pathways around a centralized knowledge hub, associations can improve learner engagement and keep people coming back to the online learning center for additional courses.  

It’s also important to think about how learning resources can be aligned with career development goals. After identifying what positions members would like to attain in the future, they can be connected to the skills training they need to prepare for the next step of their professional journey. 

Translate Higher Learner Engagement into Higher Revenue 

In order to generate sustainable and scalable revenue with eLearning resources, associations need to take steps to keep learning engagement high. A robust LMS platform can use engagement tools like digital badges, certificates, and gamification features to encourage members to sign up for more courses and explore their learning options. That platform should integrate seamlessly into the association’s AMS so learners can easily submit continuing education credits and track their certifications through a single, intuitive interface. 

Of course, all the engagement tools in the world aren’t going to keep learners coming back if the content itself isn’t high quality. Associations can start by securing the best subject matter experts (SMEs) to teach courses or host webinars on vital topics or trends facing the industry. Once they have the quality content squared away, they can work with instructional designers and content creation teams to make sure the material is presented in a way that learners will respond to and absorb. 

For courses that are conceived as live training events, associations need to make sure they’re thinking about how to repurpose those assets as on-demand course material that can be promoted to members and non-members alike. Every piece of content generated should also be connected to related material to create an organic learning pathway. While building personalized experiences around the learning needs of members should remain a high priority, it’s important to give non-members who may be exploring content for the first time the ability to explore interconnected content. 

Another good way to expand a learning program’s reach and revenue is to implement a referral program that encourages members to bring in non-members. Marketing efforts can only reach so far, and a recommendation from a trusted and respected industry peer is often far more effective means of reaching non-members. Referral programs typically give members discounts on learning resources or their membership dues, so their effectiveness often depends upon how much members value those association benefits. 

As this last point drives home, boosting engagement has several self-reinforcing effects on an online learning program. When learners are more engaged with content, they tend to use more of it, recommend it more frequently (and enthusiastically), and respond better to incentives connected to it. Creating an engaging learning experience, then should always be at the forefront of any continuing education program, especially if an association wants to turn their professional development resources into a revenue opportunity. 

Engage Learners and Boost Association Revenue with Crowd Wisdom 

Having the right LMS system in place makes it much easier to build and promote online learning that provide ongoing value for members and generate revenue for associations. Crowd Wisdom provides a centralized learning portal that integrates with leading AMS and CRM platforms to deliver a wide variety of course content while tracking learner progress and certifications. With support for multiple devices, a versatile assessment engine, and an intuitive, customizable interface, this powerful LMS can meet the growing professional development needs of today’s largest associations to keep eLearning revenue flowing. 

For associations looking to expand their learning potential with enhanced course material, Crowd Wisdom’s Content Creation Services team can work closely with internal and external SME to craft informative and engaging coursework that keeps learners coming back for more. To learn more about how Crowd Wisdom can deliver better learning outcomes and generate non-dues revenue, talk to one of our LMS experts today for a free guided demo. 

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