Best Practices

11 Unique Non-Dues Revenue Ideas in a COVID-19 World

Deedre Daniel
Deedre Daniel
2020-10-30

I launched a speaking career in January of 2019. I did all of those annoying but seemingly necessary, “We can’t pay you, but the audience will be filled with people who can pay you,” speaking gigs with the expectation that things would finally take off in 2020. It seemed to work. The first few notes of success started to play at the top of the year. Suddenly, emails filtered in, and the phone rang with real, paid speaking engagements. (Insert your favorite song about money or success. This is a Mad Lib. Not an editorial note for myself.) Now cut that song off right at the best part.

Timing is everything.

Even though we are social distancing, I feel closer to people than I have in a long time. I’m not alone. Globally, we are all going through the same thing. It is the strongest collective consciousness I have felt in my lifetime. It is affecting us in very different ways, though. Economists frequently mention the “K shaped” recovery. There have been extreme winners and losers in this COVID-19 game, and many more businesses are at the table nervously eyeing their chips. As the late great Kenny famously said, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

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Associations and their meetings and events buddies are receiving much of the bad COVID-19 dirty hands. Boards are nervously eyeing their members, and that prized dues revenue. Whose idea was it to move to a free membership model? Why did we try that other thing that cost us more money than it made? Hours quickly add up as everyone looks for quarters under couch cushions. Don’t bother. There is a coin shortage.

Before I tossed aside all the comforts and trappings of a steady corporate paycheck, I ran the GEICO affinity marketing division for eleven years. A chunk of the $50 million marketing budget I managed went to non-dues revenue for associations. Teri Carden, the brilliant founder of Non Dues-a-Palooza, asked me to create a video for her site about other ways associations can pull in new revenue. Some of the non-dues revenue ideas I offered are below and are ranked in order by ease of execution:

  1. Pet Insurance: With so many people homebound, pet adoptions skyrocketed, and Chewy’s stock price soared during the first six months of the pandemic. Your members already had pets before the pandemic, now even more do. Healthy Paws and Nationwide offer excellent policies that will protect your members from unforeseen vet bills, which can often rival human medical expenses. These companies already have an affinity marketing model to pay you for every member referral you send their way. Side note: Your members may want to bring their pets with them to your future conference. Start planning for that now.

  2. Legal Shield: This one is also already set up to pay you a referral fee when your members purchase the service. Legal Shield is a solid benefit, especially if your members need help writing letters to bill collectors, drafting wills, or desire a second set of eyes to review contracts economically.

  3. Identity Theft Insurance: ID theft continues to be a problem for consumers. Get paid while they receive peace of mind.

  4. Wholesale Benefits: Telemedicine, 24 Hour Tech Support, and Cyber protection. You can buy these benefits in bulk for pennies per member and sell them for a steep mark-up.

  5. Ride Share Programs: Lyft took a punch in the face from COVID-19, and I am sure is hungry for some new opportunities. They have a few association partnerships already in place, so you don’t have to spend time explaining what an association does. ;)

  6. Retail: – business clothes, home office furniture, computers, etc.

  7. Master Classes: Partner with online learning resources to provide different courses to your members. Don’t stick to typical association topics. Your members are human. What do they need? What do they want? Maybe they want to learn a new language, French cooking techniques, or how to play the bass guitar. Put a revenue sharing program in place for the tuition fees.

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  1. Grocery/Meal Kit Prep/Restaurant Delivery: Blue Apron is the gold star of meal kit delivery services. Other services are hungry for new business. Is there a way to generate some revenue for you with a referral program?

  2. Word or Time Tax: It’s like a Walk-a-Thon, without the exercise. Ask your members to pledge, or gather, donations for every bad word habit they are trying to break. These could be filler words (like, um, you know) swear words or overused and annoying ones like “pivot” or “unprecedented.” You could also use this model for excessive cell phone usage for “non-essential” activities.

  3. Create Online Dating Events: Many of your members are lonely. Why not help them find love while charging an online event fee?

  4. Host a Movie Premiere Party: Hollywood is in pain, too. Help them disrupt the traditional distribution model. Why not try hosting large scale watch groups in the thousands? Get your entire organization to watch a new movie at the same time. What if multiple associations did this all at once? You could lead the way with a new model.

You know you need to innovate, but you have Boring Bob and Bashful Betty on your board. They dodge new non-dues revenue ideas like they are avoiding adult fliers while they walk down the Vegas strip. Bob has analysis paralysis and wants you to spend valuable time creating another one-inch- thick cost-benefit report. At the same time, Betty is paralyzed by fear and clinging to the past. She steers the conversation around all the experts she knows who claim life will return to the way it was—as soon as a vaccine is ready. They have held you back for too long already.

Most of us don’t work at those progressive unicorn companies that embrace and celebrate failures as part of their innovative cultures, but you also know there will not be a parade in your honor for just sitting there. Now is the time to try new things, take a few risks, and break things. No one will fault you for trying.

Timing is everything.

Deedre Daniel is the founder of The Interesting Conversations Company® and inventor of The Very Interesting Game™. When COVID-19 hit, she modified her card game to use on Zoom and other platforms for virtual team building sessions, happy hours, and big game shows. She spends her time doing what she loves: Helping people to think creatively, laugh, and form stronger bonds with others – even remotely. Her book, “How to be More Interesting Than a Cell Phone,” will be out soon.