It’s terrific when you can do something for the chamber finances and something for your members. I’m talking about when you can bring in substantial non-dues revenue the kind that builds up the positive feelings your members (and the larger community) have for you, while also providing them with something beneficial. In today’s blog post we’re going to talk about three areas that not only bring in non-dues revenue, they also position the chamber in a beneficial light and benefit members/your community.
Why Non-Dues Revenue (NDR) Is Important to Chamber Finances
Memberships are great but it’s very unlikely you can float the entire chamber budget on membership sales alone. If you did, every time you had an increase in anything, you would have to pass that directly on to the members. That includes staff benefit costs, vendor charges, or even rent on your building. That would be a continual reach into your members’ pockets. How long do you think it would be before they got tired of that and decided to let their membership lapse? Then you would either need to make up that lost member or pass along another increase. It would become a vicious cycle of never having enough.
Non-dues revenue allows you to put your financial eggs in more than one basket. That feels a lot healthier and less prone to risk than tying everything into member dues. For most chambers, their highest source of NDR is event sponsorships. It’s a natural fit since many chambers host large events and those events offer great exposure. However, it’s also another ask of your members. If you come to them before every event, you may create sponsorship fatigue.
Ideas for Chamber Non-dues Revenue
There are a lot of non-dues revenue ideas out there. We’ve written about them in the past. There are affiliate programs you can launch, unique event ideas, and other ways to bring in money. Each idea has its own set of challenges and implementation work. But what if you could launch a non-dues revenue program where some of the work was done by an outside party but all the “glory” and goodwill was given to the chamber? Sounds pretty good, right?
The Problem with Most Non-dues Revenue
If you search “non-dues revenue ideas” online, every vendor selling a product serves up an article about it. There’s certainly no shortage of them. But many of them require three things that make it difficult for smaller chambers to adopt these programs such as:
- Implementation and/or management time, which your staff may not have
- Repeated asks for money from membership. This can make your members feel like the only conversations you have with them involve getting their checkbooks out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
- Marketing. Before you can make money on them, people need to know you’re implementing the revenue streams. Most chambers forget to account for this drain on their staff.
Finding the Right Source of NDR for Your Chamber
We have three ideas, that while not new, do offer a new way to think about non-dues revenue. It’s not just about bolstering the money in your budget. It’s about creating moments between the chamber and its members that feel good. If someone comes to you in your personal life and hands you $500 for no reason, you’ll remember that, right? Let’s see how we can apply that same idea to a few non-dues revenue programs.
There are many chamber currency or community gift card programs out there. Most of them work through recruiting businesses to accept local currency. The chamber then sells the local currency/gift card and it is redeemable at participating merchants. When a card is used, the merchant receives a portion of the payment.
People enjoy this program for several reasons. It creates a currency that can only be used locally so it’s a nice addition to a Shop Local program. It also helps out smaller merchants who don’t want the administrative headache of running their own gift card program. And, finally, it provides additional marketing exposure for the participating businesses.
The largest difference between these local currency programs is in who holds the money. While most currency programs are run by a third party, some of those vendors hold the money and issue the checks to the businesses where the currency was used, while other currency programs place the chamber in charge of distribution. This is a nice touch because unlike most non-dues revenue programs that require members giving the chamber money, this one allows the chamber to be the one with the payments. It feels nice to be associated with a payout for members instead of the other way around. This helps communicate the value of chamber membership in a way everyone can appreciate.
Best Of Contests
A “Best Of” contest is a popular and engaging event designed to recognize and celebrate excellence and achievement within a community. These contests typically focus on various categories or aspects of community life, such as businesses (example: best pizza), services, products, events, and individuals. The primary goal is to highlight and reward outstanding contributions, promoting a sense of pride and unity among community members. But it also generates a huge buzz and friendly competition, not to mention tons of social media content.
When the chamber works with a vendor to do the heavy lifting, the vendor works behind-the-scenes. The event is branded to the chamber and what everyone sees is the chamber. This is a great opportunity to show your members and the community just how much marketing buzz you can create. When businesses win the award, the chamber will be the one to bestow it on them on behalf of the community. That goes a long way to making them feel valued.
Another community builder in the NDR field are chamber magazines. Some chambers create them on their own from start to finish, while others turn to a third-party publisher. Third-party publishers vary on how much of the magazine work they do. Some will handle all of it, while others manage the project and handle the printing leaving the chamber in charge of soliciting ads, interviews, writing content, etc. Which one you select depends on how much time you have to dedicate to the production and how much of the revenue you’re willing to share with the vendor. A traditional publisher will give the chamber about 10%. Managing it yourself will mean a much higher percentage of the revenue going to the chamber.
The benefit (besides more NDR for the chamber finances) to keeping it largely in-house (with the help of project management and printing) is that if you are the one soliciting the ads, those ads can become part of a larger goal conversation for your members. If you hire a publisher to make the calls for you, they don’t have the relationship and will only be calling during a small window of time. Keeping the ad sales in-house means you can do more of what we’re going to talk about below…
How to Smooth Over the Member Money Ask
Many forms of NDR require going to the members and asking them for money. After a while, this can feel to them like you’re one of their teenagers — always asking for something. When this grumbling among your members occurs, it means they don’t feel like your asks have any value. Consider this: imagine you asked them to sponsor your speaker for your biggest event, and it cost them $5,000. That sponsorship exposure then made them $10,000 (attributable directly to your event), do you think they’d be grumbling about how you’re always asking for money?
No. They’d be calling you asking when your next big event was, and what they could do to get involved.
Ideally, that’s how sponsorship works. But it’s not always easy to show sponsors exactly how much business was referred to them through the event. When you can’t easily prove return, you have to “smooth over” the ask.
You do this by having a yearly goals conversation. It takes a little time to create it upfront. You need to design a package of all the non-dues revenue options available. Some NDR you may even fold into tiered dues (if you have them). But the idea is that you have one goal conversation with each member and present them with options on how they can partner with the chamber in the most effective way.
This conversation does several things. It:
- paints the picture of the chamber as a partner in their success
- cuts down on the times you ask your member for money
- shows them all the opportunities they have with the chamber
- opens up the dialogue between you and your member
- clearly illustrates the value behind membership
Then you present an all-inclusive marketing strategy for their membership and the goals of their business.
Does that mean they can’t sign up for sponsorships or other future NDR? Of course not. But it focuses the conversation on what they’ll get out of membership, aligns the goals with their options, and streamlines the ask from multiple times down to one or two per year. That not only sits better for most members but works more efficiently through their budgeting process helping to ensure the maximum investment for both of you.