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3 Secrets of Associations That Generate Substantial Revenue from Their Private Online Member Community

This post is by Joshua Paul, Director of Strategy for Socious, a leading provider of online community software for mid-sized and large associations. He blogs at the Online Community Blog (

3 Secrets of Associations That Generate Substantial Revenue from Their Private Online Member Community
The best kept secret in the non-dues revenue world is the potential for online revenue generation. Typically, association executives only think of online advertising when it comes to using their web properties to generate revenue. To most membership organizations, advertising looks like a “river of nickels” when compared to revenue from events, dues, and educational program. This paradigm sends online revenue programs to the backburner of organizations that have limited resources to pursue non-dues revenue.

It is time to change all of that. The truth is that membership organizations that make their online community strategy central to their organization’s membership management operations are already seeing revenue streams that are significantly impacting their financials.

I have previously written about how an online member community’s vendor program can be structure to maximize revenue. The basic idea is that your online community software features combined with the built-in partner management tools enable your organization to offer sponsorship packages that provide much more value to vendors and your membership than anything they have seen before. Members will get more value from their membership and your sponsors will pay more to be closer to their target audience.
Here are three under-the-radar tips for how to create measurable non-dues revenue from your private online member community and its built-in vendor programs:

Think Beyond Advertising
Display advertising has always been, and will always be, part of an association’s non-dues revenue mix. However, in the past 10 years the options that associations have available to them have grown significantly.

Here are some of the other revenue options built-into online community platforms for associations to offer their partners:
Dedicated Blogs
Guest Posts on Main Blogs
Controlled access to discussion forums and listservs
Dedicated vendor discussions
Dedicated email sends
Email newsletter or other message sponsorship
Listserv email sponsorships
Market research surveys
Online community and event mobile app advertising

Along with providing more value to your members and partners, thinking beyond website advertising also give you flexibility in attracting a wider array of sponsors through various combinations of the opportunities above.

Win/Win Sponsorships
Members don’t care about or want to see advertising. Your sponsors, like many businesses, see very little return on their investment from display advertising on the web.

What if there was a way to make you private social network, and consequently membership in organization, more valuable to your members, while at the same time, making a sponsorship result in more awareness and sales for your partner vendors. This is the mindset and strategy of associations that generate hefty amounts of non-dues revenue from their online vendors program.

When you set up your online community in a way where vendors can engagement members by helping them, everybody wins. Your members get more support, your sponsors get more meaningful access to serve your membership, and your association can charge more for this type of sponsorship value.

Bundle Into Tiers or Provide a Custom Menu
All sponsors don’t come to you with the same strategy, budget, and interest in getting in front of your member community. By having so many ways to provide value to your sponsors, your association has a lot of flexibility to sell more sponsorships at a higher price.

Your partnership team can choose to either publish standard vendor program packages – think platinum, gold, silver, etc. Or they can consult with each vendor to come up with a custom package for a specific vendor that touches on all of the main areas that would cause them to pay a premium for access to your membership. I have seen both approaches done successfully.

You can also combine your online community vendor program with event sponsorships. For instance, with the platinum sponsorship of your annual conference, your partners can get a 3 month pass to participate in your online vendor program. This gives you good reason to raise your sponsorship prices and the real value to explain that decisions to your partners.

Non-Dues Revenue Take Away
Revenue from private online member communities is real. Socious has membership organization customers that deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars in non-dues revenue to their organizations using their online vendor program.

Associations have a responsibility to take online revenue programs seriously. If you implement the right online community platform and the strategy, you can hit the trifecta – significant benefits to your members, value to your sponsors, and revenue to your organization.