A Lesson in Revenue and Retention

By: Andrew S. Lang, FASAE

An education program launched to address a building-industry downturn reaps big returns for the Marble Institute of America.

In my search for additional revenue activities of interest to associations, I have always looked for something new or different. This time I'm revisiting an older story, but a few things have changed to provide a new and valuable perspective on this revenue driver.

In my May 2010 column, "New Revenue Plus Member Satisfaction Equals a Win/Win," I wrote about a program developed by a trade association, the Marble Institute of America. At the time, MIA members, who are purveyors of natural stone, were suffering badly due to the drop-off in new-home construction and the simultaneous reduction in premium remodeling of existing homes.

In response, MIA developed a program that enabled its member companies to gain credibility—and hopefully sales—by providing authoritative but inexpensive continuing education to prospective customers who were members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), and others. Members of those associations were also suffering economically, but they still needed to earn a certain number of continuing education units per year in order to maintain their credentials.

At the time it was a clear win-win. MIA members who participated took on the role of knowledgeable information providers and developed valuable business contacts; AIA, ASID, and NKBA members had a way to inexpensively satisfy their CEU requirements. In addition, MIA was generating a modest amount of net income as a result of the program—MIA members pay a fee to serve as presenters—and was increasing member loyalty among those who took part.

But two years later, is the logic behind the program still sound? Has the bottom line continued to improve?

According to MIA Vice President Jim Hieb, the program is working better than ever. Hieb first addressed income: Total gross revenue, while still modest, was projected to reach $42,500 this year.

Gross Revenue From Marble Institute of America's Education Program

2009:

$9,500

2010:

$21,000

2011:

$25,000

2012 (projected):

$42,500

Hieb adds that the costs related to providing educational materials have continued to be handled by volunteer committees, with top management spending only a small amount of their time on oversight.

However, Hieb says that because of increased enrollment, MIA is now spending $7,000 a year on a consultant to administer the program. The result is only a $10,000 net increase in two years. Not so much. "So where is the real success?" I asked.

I could practically hear Hieb smiling over the phone. "In 2009, we started with 10 MIA member companies in the program, with a total of 10 speakers covering 10 locations around the country," he says. "We now have 75 members involved, including three of our largest, with more than 225 speakers covering 147 locations.

"While this growth has been taking place, we have still been able to raise our speaker enrollment fee from $250 to $350 in 2011, and our annual renewal fee from $250 to $350 in 2012," he adds. "Clearly members truly value this program."

Hieb says 10 percent of MIA member locations around the country are now involved in the program, including approximately half of the board of directors' companies.

Then he delivers the real bottom line: "We are experiencing a 97 percent retention rate for members who are involved in the program. If that by itself were not enough to make the program worthwhile, we have found that several of the companies involved are contributing additional financial support in the form of sponsorships and the like that they have never contributed before.

"Frankly," Hieb says, "with this program we have been able to prove the value proposition of membership in the MIA in a way we were never able to do before."

A nice little chunk of net income directly from the program, additional sponsorships from enthusiastic members, and a glorious retention rate: This is a program worth emulating.

Andrew S. Lang, CPA, FASAE, is with LangCPA in Bethesda, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Andrew S. Lang, FASAE