A Different Kind of Buyers' Guide

How NACUBO's revamped buyers' guide brought increased revenue and member value.

If you are looking for an organization that's pursuing creative and effective new revenue streams, the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) is a good place to start. And while it is doing many interesting things, one idea in particular seemed well worth sharing.

The story, as told by Bill Dillon, senior vice president, administration and finance, began with the "Campus Buyers' Guide," a page in NACUBO's monthly magazine where advertisers could have their names and contact information listed.

Bill questioned whether the page was useful to his membership—either business officials or supplier corporations. For instance, under "architecture," there was only one listing. In addition, the page wasn't creating noticeable income for the association.

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Bill knew that he could go to an existing vendor of online supplier guides, but he didn't find the loss of control and share of revenue attractive. His solution was a bold one. Rather than continue what wasn't working or go with existing alternatives, NACUBO would build something that more precisely fit its members' needs and also serve as a profit center. This was a fine idea, but the existing budget had to be met, and the association did not want to put capital into building the site.

The solution came in the form of collaboration with a tech-oriented company. NACUBO would determine the content of the new site, decide how it should be structured, and arrange to have the site populated. The tech company would handle building and maintaining the site. Revenue would be shared.
NACUBO then held a variety of focus sessions and conversations with member employees. What did the university business officials want? What did supplier businesses need?

The result was a searchable database, called the Campus Business Portal, with four major groupings (campus operations, finance and accounting, technology, and management) and appropriate subgroupings. The final list included approximately 70 categories, described using names that the business officers thought were relevant.

Three Radical Departures

What They Get for the Money

NACUBO's Campus Business Portal offers three listing levels for participating companies. Here's some of what's offered at each level; for a full description, visit www.nacubocbp.com/supplierservices.php.

Basic: Free first listing, $100 each additional; includes company name, address, phone, website, and short description.

Gold: $300 first listing, $85 each additional; includes Basic benefits plus expanded description, contact person email, and priority placement in search results.

Platinum: $2,500 first listing, $65 each additional; includes Basic and Gold benefits plus microsites, client case studies, document attachments, and banner ads.

With a structure in place, NACUBO moved forward with populating the site, departing radically from most existing commercial alternatives.

First, NACUBO charges nothing for a basic listing. Since the site exists primarily as a member service, it was essential that every relevant company in America and Canada that wanted to be listed, and was appropriate, could be.

To accomplish this without undue cost, after vetting applicants, NACUBO gives them a username and password. Each company is then responsible for listing its own information and updating it as needed.

Beyond the single free listing, companies can upgrade for more visibility, to provide more content, or to add additional categories. According to Bill, "Small players might fit well in a single category but larger companies find it cost effective to join at one of the higher levels, such as gold or platinum, which provide for multiple categories and more exposure at set fees."

A second departure from most commercial alternatives allows corporations to identify if they are women or minority owned. This is of great importance to many business officers, since they may have federal mandates or internal requirements for supply-chain diversity.

The most dramatic difference involves the flow of funds. NACUBO negotiated a percentage of revenue that is well above the market. Secondly, it receives all payments, only then forwarding a share to the tech company. Between this and the complete control of site structure, NACUBO has created an exceedingly desirable business model.

Although recently launched, the site is already profitable and a valued resource for members and their employees. Now you tell me, is this a savvy association, or what?

Andrew S. Lang, CPA, is with LangCPA Consulting LLC in Potomac, Maryland. Email: [email protected]