For most nonprofits, finding and nurturing sources of non-dues revenue is a perennial challenge. One of the most promising practices we’ve seen among our association and nonprofit clients involves collecting and analyzing industry data, and then sharing the resulting insights (usually at a price) with members and other interested parties. Doing so is neither simple nor easy; but when planned and executed well, the effort can not only result in recurring non-dues revenue, but can also help to increase the organization’s visibility and credibility in its industry.
Your nonprofit is hopefully already recognized as an authority in your members’ industry. However, by sponsoring your own research initiative using actual data provided by your members, you could begin producing reports with a quality and scope that make it even more beneficial to members, and far more valuable than any other source.
Producing a well-researched industry report isn’t easy — and that’s exactly why it’s rare and valuable to your members. As a result, it can deliver two very positive outcomes for your organization. First, your research report can help your members make better-informed business decisions and stay competitive. Second, it can generate valuable non-dues revenue for your association. In this post, we’ll share some strategic and logistical tips for generating revenue for nonprofit organizations.
Five association research program best practices
1. Let members guide the way
One of the most effective methods for generating revenue for nonprofit organizations is to structure and operate your research in a way that lets members have a central role in guiding its development. In most industries, companies are constantly looking for fresh and reliable market data that will allow them to understand where they fit in their market, and insights about how their most successful competitors allocate their time and resources. For best results, be inclusive. Make sure to solicit the involvement of the major players in your industry. But at the same time, strive to create a task force that’s broadly representative of the industry as a whole.
2. Give members what they want by customizing your research
More than likely, your members are constantly trying to determine how they stack up against the competition. Your reports can help them by making it easy to benchmark their company’s performance against other industry players. You can also segment your results, so they can quickly compare themselves against their closest peers. You could also create interactive online dashboards to let individual members further slice and dice their own data.
3. Consider outsourcing some or all of your research effort
Some associations create benchmarking and industry surveys annually, using a combination of in-house staff and external partners. The more confidential and competitively-sensitive the data being collected, the more likely the association is to hire trusted third-party research firms to conduct the survey. Doing so can give your members greater confidence in the privacy of any data they share, and also help you avoid the potential for data leaks.
4. Be transparent about what you’re doing — but discreet about your findings
Especially if you’re handling sensitive and confidential data from members, you may want to consider hiring a trusted third-party to do your research. Have your task force develop and periodically review Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) about your research program to ensure the reports are accurate and to give your program credibility. Make sure all research participants sign the SOP. Set up secure portals for data submissions, with encryption and password logins. Restrict access to confidential data to a limited number of carefully approved staff. Establish and follow a clear data retention policy.
5. Flip the script on funding
Typically, most associations conducting research programs have viewed them as cost centers, even though such research could also provide significant value for both members and the organization itself, including:
- attracting and retaining members
- promoting best practices, and
- creating heightened visibility through media coverage
By choosing the right funding model, however, an organization can transform a research initiative into a new revenue stream. Here are some questions to consider that are key to generating revenue for nonprofit organizations:
- What’s your competition? Are there other existing products and data sources (including those from other associations, industry consultants, or government agencies) that can compete with your association’s research program?
- What revenue model makes the most sense? Options include:
— your association funds or subsidizes the research with little or no impact on member dues or fees
— participating members cover the total cost through fees or subscriptions; individual members may pay more for custom research
— strategic partners underwrite your research costs in exchange for recognition and visibility
— your association defrays program costs and generates revenue through annual subscriptions and customized research fees
- Can you package your report for greater relevance and appeal? Explore options like generating customized reports and/or interactive, dynamic online reports.
- What’s your distribution plan? You could offer your findings in forums such as webinars, conference sessions and panel discussions to spur discussion and enhance engagement of participants and subscribers.
- How will you promote your research products? Consider sending custom messages to different membership segments promoting your research and featuring high-level findings in press releases and membership materials. You could also market your reports to other interested parties (such as supply chain partners, consultants, government agencies and educational institutions).
- What’s a fair price? Determine how your research compares to alternate sources, and what value members will place on it. Based on your unique value proposition, decide how to price your program.
In many industries, businesses are desperate for reliable intelligence that will allow them to benchmark their business against their larger competitive environment. Generally, this type of insight is available at a steep price, and one that puts it out of reach for the great majority of businesses.
However, your organization is in a unique and powerful position to meet your members’ needs for market intelligence. At the same time, doing so can help you achieve considerable gains for your organization itself, including a significant source of non-dues revenue for your organization. It can also help you achieve a greater level of visibility and credibility within your industry, which in turn can help add energy around your membership and retention efforts.
Want to learn more about growing your organization? Contact Vault today!