Content to Income: Developing Unexpected Revenue Sources

Hamilton_content to income May 31, 2023 By: Kathryn Hamilton, CAE

Associations must look outside of their traditional revenue streams to build new sources of income. Two associations share how free resources developed into successful product lines.

Association revenue doesn’t always come from membership or events. In today’s content-driven environment, there are innovative ways of creating new revenue streams built around free resources proven so valuable that they organically develop into sources of income.

Ten years ago, Cathy Lada, D.Sc., CAE, Lada Consulting, was head of communications at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. ACCE was working with a public relations agency to examine their brand and create resources that helped its members market themselves as good business advocates.

The agency created advertising, messaging, and brand toolkits that were initially free of charge and customizable so that individual chambers of commerce could adapt them for their own needs. Lada said that ACCE soon discovered that many small and medium-sized chambers didn’t have marketing staff or experience in message development, prompting phase two of the initiative.

“Chambers began asking if I could come out to their area to help train chapter executives on how to customize the messaging,” Lada said. “I put together programs in various lengths, from a keynote address to a workshop, and set out on the road for a year. The fee for the program was $1,000, which went to ACCE’s foundation.”

Ultimately, it’s listening to members that can often spur the most useful ideas.
ACCE also began selling marketing collateral toolkits for $395. These included radio spots, print and digital ads, and even billboards, all with different concepts that were both business- and community-oriented.

Ultimately, the long-term campaign created a significant portion of nondues revenue, resulted in the development of several webinars, and prompted the creation of a new category in ACCE’s award program to recognize successful campaigns.

“Chambers really snapped it up,” Lada said. “We didn’t know the need was out there.”

Product Expansion

At NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, an idea that formed in its foundation’s research agenda quickly expanded into a multifaceted product line all focused on the same topic.

“Our foundation considered commissioning a primer on how to build a private equity fund for real estate investment,” said Jennifer LeFurgy, Ph.D., executive director of the NAIOP Research Foundation. “Initially, our more seasoned research committee members didn’t see the need for it, but our young professionals really latched on to the idea and propelled it forward.”

LeFurgy said it was the type of practical information those newer into the industry could use, and the NAIOP Research Foundation published a 2019 report that helped demystify how to form and operate a fund. The response was enormously positive, and soon after NAIOP published a hugely popular two-part magazine piece that expanded on the topic.

Both of those resources were free, and remain so, but interest in the topic continued. That’s when NAIOP’s education department developed a seven-module on-demand course as a valuable roadmap to help fund sponsors, investors, and other industry professionals gain an understanding of the complex topic.

“The course launched mid-year 2022, and we’ve already had 125 registrations generating more than $42,000. That’s a significant portion of our course revenue goals, but more importantly, it shows that our education is relevant and reaching an interested audience,” said Megan Rooney, CMP, vice president for education at NAIOP.

The synergy ACCE and NAIOP experienced could be replicated in other associations if content developers from across departments talk and share the topics that grow in popularity no matter the medium. Ultimately, it’s listening to members that can often spur the most useful ideas.

“Our young professionals really believed in the need for this type of content and helped sway the decision-makers,” said LeFurgy. “From there, it has expanded tenfold as one of our most popular topics across several platforms.”

Kathryn Hamilton, CAE

Kathryn Hamilton, CAE, is vice president for marketing and communications at NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.