Empathy and values. Those are the two key words to keep in mind when you consider building a non-dues revenue program for your association to be sustainable and provide growth over the long term. Associations are not businesses. Sales are not their reason to exist, but they do need the revenue to support their missions. For these reasons they often recruit outside business entities for support. Also, it’s why the team selected must bring a “soft” understanding of your ecosystem to the monetization model for you to achieve success.
How Outsourced Sales Provide the Underpinning to Association Missions
Associations need healthy budgets to succeed in their stated missions. Many associations have low dues that alone aren’t enough to sustain and deliver optimally. Non dues revenue and sales programs are opportunities for “found money” that can support association programs and deliver value to members. Enlisting a partner/expert to manage and execute can help associations overcome significant inherent challenges versus trying to do it all internally:
- One is a workforce challenge. Associations are forever trying to do more with less and the pandemic only exacerbated that reality, including staff turnover. Outsourced partners take on several roles or equivalent positions for an association, while managing the program and serving constituents.
- Another is an “internal-team-as-order-taker” challenge. Often internal teams simply rinse and repeat previous years’ activities rather than strategically building and improving. As a result, there is no growth, and often there is decline. The association may wonder why.
- A final challenge is being too close to the situation. A partner that understands and fills gaps can act as an advisor to provide fresh perspective and professionalization, while unlocking the association’s potential.
Do Not Force Fit Just ANY Sales Model into YOUR Association
It may seem like associations that share common characteristics such as size and sector would operate the same way, but they don’t. Each association has its own culture and personality that plays an outsized role in its management. Whereas one association might be eager to embrace a paradigm shift (a huge indicator a program will succeed), others are reluctant to sincerely consider the upsides of committing to change, even for their own sake. “We won’t do that, because we’ve never done that.”
Non-dues revenue programs that include engagement with your market should be deftly customized. They must be singularly created with empathy, aligned with your unique culture. They should channel the goals of executives and board leadership. And they must also be viewed through the lens of your internal staff. Adding these elements will ensure that program messaging and activities will be welcomed as a positive, not the opposite. Applying soft touches that align with your association’s values safeguards against negative perception by the recipients – who are indeed valuable stakeholders in your special community.
Customized Programs Require Change Management
Change isn’t easy in any organization, especially if an association has operated in a certain way for a long time. But you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! There are a few steps smart partners will take to earn credibility and trust.
- Address past practices — partners should understand the how and why of past traditions (such as comps, discounts, structures, collections policies and cycles) and the impact on revenue. Identify new, efficient improvements to processes, timelines, and structures, and better outcomes that can be achieved with change.
- Integrate with the culture — partners should act as an extension of your staff and work within your internal/external sphere in an engaged, caring, and connected way.
- Demonstrate improvement and report it — expect accountability, and sharing of progress, improvements, wins – small and large, early and often.
Gray Areas are Where Success Lies
Finding a partner that understands the importance of the soft side of sales is the key to building a long-term sustainable program. When conducted through the lens of empathy and empowering your unique values, the customized program will truly be your program. You will succeed at a higher level, enabling you to focus on your association’s true reason for being.