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A key ingredient in the 'secret sauce' of successful associations: Creative approaches in revenue development and diversification

A key ingredient in the 'secret sauce' of successful associations: Creative approaches in revenue development and diversification

We all know about the many pressures and challenges facing associations today: delivering a value proposition appealing enough to justify membership, revenue development and diversification, nimble and effective governance and decision-making structures… the list can be daunting. 

Unfortunately, for far too many in the association sector today, simply keeping the lights on is an everyday and uphill challenge. However, the story is not all doom and gloom. There are associations out there that have been able to adapt and find creative approaches to not just survive – but thrive – despite operating in an uncertain and volatile social, economic and political world.

What is in the “secret sauce” of their success? How do some associations manage to make membership and participation a must-have while for others, members could take it or leave it?

Whether through organizational design and strategic positioning, nimble governance and decision-making or engagement of members in an effective, meaningful and ongoing way in the work of the organization, there are many examples of innovation happening across the association landscape.

This post will focus on revenue development and diversification — a key ingredient driving success for many of the leading associations I have worked with.

Innovation through revenue development and diversification

Whether the goal is to enhance your association’s advocacy or government relations impact, or to develop and deliver that new online education platform, generating the revenue to enable an organization to deliver excellent value without always resorting to raising membership dues can be central to its ability to succeed.

What if you could increase member value and build revenue at the same time?

Following are a couple of examples of how some associations are seeking to deliver stronger member value through revenue development and diversification.

For-profit subsidiaries

Some associations are thinking outside of the box by creating for-profit subsidiaries that align with and fund their organization’s mandate. Although there are many examples, one that has made the news recently is the Canadian Medical Association’s financial services arm, MD Financial Management.  This company was created in 1969 in response to members’ needs for secure and structured retirement, investment and savings plans. Sold last year to Scotiabank to the tune of $2.5 billion, these funds may be used to benefit members in other ways, with some recent news reports suggesting some may be used to support policy and government relations efforts to influence the national conversation around healthcare.

Tangible value through member services

Whether it is through career counselling, advisory services on legal or regulatory issues or affordable support for small business in areas like recruiting talent into the sector and into the members’ workplaces, associations are continuously seeking ways to up the ante in providing value that has a positive impact on members’ careers and on companies.’ bottom lines.

Group buying or large-scale procurement, a concept that’s been around for decades, is an ever-increasing component of the trade association landscape.

Within this model, the association leverages the volume of member companies to access discounted third-party services for them in areas like call centre support, billing and administration. These services may be “white-labeled,” which means that although it is provided by a third party, the association (or the individual member company using the service) can brand it as their own.   

The profits generated from these offerings can be returned in savings directly to members or may be invested in the association’s other value-generating activities.

 About the author


Carol-Anne Moutinho is principal, strategy and organization design, with The Portage Group and brings over a decade of research and planning experience working with associations in areas that include strategy, organization design, governance and membership model development. A skilled researcher and facilitator, Carol-Anne’s sessions include real and relevant case studies and examples and focus on engaging participants in sharing their own experience of what works – and doesn’t work – in their organizations.

Join Carol for an interactive workshop “Best-In-Class: Ten Better Practices Employed by Today's Leading Associations" at the CSAE 2019 Conference in Vancouver this October. Read more:



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