How to Secure Extra Fundraising Revenue for your Association

By Craig Grella, Salsa Labs

While dues are certainly a key component of any association’s financial stability, the leaders at your organization — particularly those who work in finance and fundraising — understand that dues alone are not enough to keep an association afloat. 

With an increased need for engagement that emerged during the pandemic, more associations turned to alternate sources of funding than ever before. Between changes in members’ income and what they’re willing to pay for, building a strategy for generating a steady stream of non-dues revenue has quickly become crucial for all associations.

Lucky for your team, there are plenty of options for developing a steady flow of non-dues funding. You simply need to find the strategies that your unique audience finds valuable and inspires them to engage. Here are four different sources of funding that can be adapted to appeal to your audience and that we recommend you pursue:

  1. Optimize your online donation page.

  2. Host a virtual event.

  3. Accept advertising from sponsors.

  4. Produce premium content.

Aside from membership fees, there’s a lot you can do to generate interest and funding for your association. Not only will new opportunities improve your non-dues revenue streams, but offering the most value possible to your audience is what will make your association stand out and pave the way for a larger membership base.

1. Optimize your online donation page.

One of the simplest ways to expand your fundraising is to start with your website. Just like any other organization that fundraises, your association should feature an online donation page for those who want to contribute, whether that’s a member who wants to make extra gifts or a non-member who wants to fund your work without committing to a membership.

Even if you already leverage an online donation page, optimizing it so that it drives higher conversions is one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to secure additional fundraising dollars

You’ll want to optimize your page so that it prioritizes ease of use and drives donations to completion, and here are a few easy ways to do that.

Limit the number of fields and elements.

Salsa’s guide to fundraising strategies for nonprofits estimates that today, more than 65% of organizations are still using a donation form that requires at least three clicks to complete. The longer it takes someone to fill out your form, the less likely they are to do so. Limit the number of fields to the essentials, like name, contact information, and payment details. 

By that same token, limit the other elements you include on your donation page — anything that distracts the user lowers the likelihood of a completed form.

Ensure it’s accessible.

You’ll want your donation form to be accessible to those with hearing, visual, and other impairments. According to the official Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) that most organizations follow, that means taking actions like:

  • Ensuring your page elements have a sufficient contrast ratio. Can users read your text against your background? Poor contrast can render your donation form unreadable for those with vision impairments. With exceptions for larger text and purely decorative text, your text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 against your background. For a frame of reference, the highest contrast ratio is black text on a white background, with a ratio of 21:1.

  • Marking required fields with multiple visual indicators. Organizations tend to use colors (often red) to mark required fields and make them stand out. However, users may have trouble discerning colors, which is why you’ll want to use multiple visual indicators like an asterisk or the word “required.”

Fundraising software that enables you to customize the colors, fonts, and other essential page elements makes it incredibly easy to optimize for users of all abilities. Follow along with the standards set by the WCAG and make necessary changes to improve your giving fields for users who may have difficulty interacting with your donation page.

Split test different forms.

The optimal donation page varies for every organization. Split testing (also called A/B testing) allows you to test individual elements of a page to determine which drives higher conversion rates (AKA more donations). 

You’ll produce two (or more) versions of your donation page with only one difference per version. This could be a: 

  • Different title

  • New form field

  • Different image

  • Different color combination

  • New phrase on the submit button

Then, send different versions to different portions of your audience to determine which converts the most donors. You can take the data you gather to rework your main donation form to mirror your winning design from the split test.

Drive users to your donation form across promotional materials.

When you’re satisfied with the look and feel of your donation form, direct users here using well-placed donate buttons across all of your marketing materials. The right fundraising tools will allow you to embed clickable donate buttons and calls to action across your site. This includes within your site’s menu, underneath individual blog posts, and in the footer — wherever it stands out and fits naturally. 

Take a look at this example from the Organization for International Change. They’ve placed a donate button front and center on their homepage. Plus, they included another convenient one in the navigation bar so users can navigate to the donation page from wherever they are on the site:

Beyond your website, include donation buttons across your emails, social media posts, and all other digital marketing materials. That way, users will know exactly what next step they need to take to support your association when they encounter your promotional materials.

2. Host a virtual event.

One study found that roughly 90% of association executives consider live events very valuable to the success of their organizations. Meanwhile, 66% of small membership organizations identified events as a primary revenue source, second to membership dues.

With many places still enforcing social distancing guidelines, some associations are sticking to the virtual space to continue hosting their events. The benefits of going digital expand beyond the current landscape, though. Hosting virtual events offers widespread accessibility for members who aren’t in close proximity to your association and would be unable to attend an in-person event. 

To leverage the opportunity, let’s dive into three specific types of virtual events that can bring in additional revenue for your association:

  • Virtual conferences. Web Courseworks dives into virtual conferences for associations in its complete guide, explaining that they’re one of the most comprehensive virtual events that feature both educational presentations and member engagement opportunities. Many of the elements will emulate traditional conferences, including keynote speakers, panels, networking opportunities, and product tabling and exhibition.

  • Webinars. Webinars are educational presentations during which users can submit their questions and comments to industry experts. You can offer training sessions to provide members with opportunities to advance their careers. These offerings also represent a great opportunity to keep members in the loop about industry updates and trends. Once your live webinar wraps up, consider offering it on-demand, so anyone who was unable to attend can purchase access and still benefit from it.

  • Virtual networking events. Association events are heralded for their networking opportunities, so emulate that in the virtual realm. Online networking events enable association members to join together in a shared passion. Invite people to join a video conference call. Then, get the conversation flowing using icebreaker games and asking industry-specific questions. Afterward, share the guest list with participants so that they can leverage the connections they formed.

Each of these is a valuable opportunity to generate non-dues revenue and deliver additional value to your audience, effectively inspiring current members to renew and prospective members to hop on board. While you might reduce or eliminate the registration fee for members, you can charge a slightly larger registration fee for non-members to attend. This transforms it into an opportunity to introduce prospective members to your community and show off the value you provide to members.

3. Accept advertising from sponsors.

Offering advertising opportunities to organizations and companies allows you to form valuable partnerships, secure another revenue stream, and position your association as having valuable connections that can benefit members. Associations commonly line up sponsors for events, but there are other locations where you can offer advertising space.

Some other natural places where you can offer advertising space to your sponsors include:

  • Social media. Your social media pages are a great place to share video ads and other forms of marketing for your association’s sponsors. Only offer social media advertising if you have a strong following. Otherwise, the fees might not be worthwhile to potential sponsors and likely won’t result in an effective revenue source.

  • Website. Your association’s website is the online hub of your content. It’s where members interact with your association the most, so try offering digital banners to sponsors.

As long as the ads are honest and valuable to your audience, your members likely won’t find them useless or spammy. ISAE’s article on association sponsorship sales explains that it should be a win-win-win situation. The sponsor, member, and your association should all benefit. So be sure to fully research the organization before you accept a sponsorship. Ensure you trust the potential sponsor and that what they have to offer will be valuable to your members and association as a whole. Further, don’t line up so many ads that it becomes annoying for your audience. 

By carefully choosing who you accept sponsorship money from and where you promote them, you’ll present valuable opportunities for your members and form lasting partnerships with valuable organizations within your industry.

4. Produce premium content.

Offering premium content to your audience can generate non-dues revenue, while showing non-members the value of joining. Doing so can also position the association as the go-to source of valuable information within the industry.

Regularly share publications, created by leaders within your industry. A few types of impactful content that associations commonly share with their audiences include:

  • Educational programs. The main driving force for a member to join an association is the opportunity to advance professionally. In an increasingly competitive job market, members want to ensure they’re up-to-date on the latest sector information and have the best credentials available. Between certifications, training programs, and accreditations, educational opportunities can be powerful revenue generators for your organization. Generally speaking, members won’t mind paying a small fee for access to valuable programs.

  • Videos. Video content is growing increasingly popular for all industries. You don’t need professional equipment or talented actors to create videos that stand out and produce value for viewers. One great source of video content is the on-demand webinars that we discussed earlier. Simply publish them on your site and monetize them. While you may offer this content for free to members, you can still generate revenue when they access the content by accepting advertisements from sponsors.

As you come to understand your audience, you can expand to other types of content depending on their interests. For instance, consider starting podcasts on the latest industry news or publishing publications on evergreen topics that will remain relevant for years. In any case, any content you offer should be valuable for your audience. Most people won’t mind paying a fee if it means hearing from knowledgeable experts in their field. 

Historically, associations have primarily relied on membership dues to support their work. To prepare for instances of membership declines and economic turmoil, these organizations have gotten more creative about identifying and developing sources of non-dues funding.

While the non-dues opportunities we covered are all valuable, don’t start implementing them all at once. Try one or two at a time so that you’re able to devote your full attention to each strategy. As you grow comfortable with each one, start expanding your offerings. Soon enough, you’ll have a steady stream of non-dues revenue that allows you to provide unmatched value to your members.

About the Author

Craig Grella is a Content Marketer at Salsa Labs, the premier software for growth-focused nonprofits that combines CRM and engagement software with embedded best practices, machine learning, and world-class education and support. In his role, he serves thousands of nonprofits and advocacy organizations across the U.S.

Craig focuses on digital strategy using email marketing, online advertising campaigns, SMS campaigns, CRM management, reporting/analytics for KPIs, and more. He’s also the founder of Think Big Campaigns, a full-service consulting firm that specializes in political consulting, digital organizing, and issue advocacy.


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