30 Ideas for Generating Non-Dues Revenue from Online Education Programs

In a brainstorming session, an organization’s culture and history can restrain ideation. But when you get together in an ideation session with people from other associations, you hear perspectives and ideas you never would have considered but now realize have tremendous potential. We witnessed this in October during an ideation session we hosted with Non-Dues-a-Palooza.

If your association is seeking new sources of non-dues revenue, you definitely want to attend Non-Dues-a-Palooza events in the future. In our second ideation session together, we focused on ideas for generating non-dues revenue from online education programs.

30 ideas for generating non-dues revenue

Our group came up with 59 ideas, not including all the “yes and” ideas that stemmed off from them. We’re including a selection here. Perhaps one of them will spark a revenue-generating idea for your association.

Virtual conferences and educational events

#1: Convert popular in-person programs. Create a virtual version of your most popular in-person educational programs. Studies prove that virtual events don’t cannibalize in-person attendance. Instead, you’ll expand your audience.

#2: New topics arising from disruption. For example, a retail association could create programs for store owners who must figure out how to rearrange their inventory due to supply chain challenges.

#3: VIP access to specialized conference tracks. The riches are in the niches. For an additional fee, provide exclusive access to sessions focused on a specific topic, specialty, or emerging issue. Include small group discussion forums—with sponsors acting as facilitators—and one-on-one time with speakers or other industry influencers.

#4: Deeper dives. Ask members to take a hot topic from a conference and develop a deeper-dive virtual event. They can build on the original content with field reports, lessons learned, success stories, and/or contrarian views.

#5: Position-specific virtual roundtables. Variations on this theme include roundtables focused on timely topics, career stage, business size/type. Look for opportunities to host ‘birds of a feather’ discussions and relationship-building.

#6: Get friendly with failure. Attendees filled the room for the Fail Fest sessions at ASAE TEC. Check out this global online (and in-person) variation with a NSFW name. These events get people used to seeing failure as a part of progress and encourage a community culture of risk-taking and experimentation.

#7: Meet the VIP. Provide educational networking at a Meet the Board, Meet the ED, or Ask-Me-Anything session featuring an industry luminary.

#8: Interactive power hours. Host Mastermind-like roundtables focused on work habits and challenges or management and leadership issues for different segments of your membership and/or market, for example, young professionals, emerging leaders, and seasoned leaders. Early career professionals who feel left behind when working remotely would especially value a guided, safe, small group like this.

#9: Learning cohorts. These small member groups meet for several months to learn about a specific industry topic together. You could occasionally mix and match groups for cross-pollination.

ideas for generating non-dues revenue


#10: Learning subscriptions. Many associations offer learning subscriptions that include access to online courses, webinars, and other virtual education programs.

#11: Niche learning subscriptions. Offer a subscription specifically for one job type that provides access to a limited collection of courses, seminars, webinars, and a peer discussion group. You could also add a mentoring option.

#12: Book bundles or Book of the Month Club. Bundle books relevant to a specific topic and offer it at a discount. Sell subscriptions to your Book of the Month Club and offer a book club membership option.

Sponsored programs

#13: Sponsor involvement. You can get sponsors involved as hosts, moderators, facilitators, and presenters for any of the programs we’ve mentioned so far.

#14: Create an advisory council of corporate partners. This group identifies innovative education products your organization could develop and monetize. Revenue partners will appreciate being part of the strategy process and will contribute revenue generating ideas based on their experience working with your members—their customers/clients.

#15: Win-win stories. Invite successful sponsor/member partnerships to tell their story together, each from their own perspective.

#16: Chapter programs. Instead of competing with chapters for sponsors, work together to develop sponsored programs they can present at chapter meetings. Split sponsorship revenue with participating chapters.

#17: Needs for the new normal. Identify sponsors who have the expertise and potential solutions for the member needs and challenges that have arisen during the past 20 months. Present these solutions as virtual events, white papers, toolkits, etc.

#18: Sponsored content hub. This content hub is a year-round marketing opportunity for member vendors. Consider adding lead-generation forms for participating sponsors.

#19: Scholarships for under-represented audiences. Connect with chapters or other local/regional groups to identify potential recipients. Work with sponsors to develop relevant membership or association education scholarships.

#20: Technical seminar series. Vendor members rather teach than sell. Invite them to host a series of product education or other technical support training. This could be part of your year-round content hub, but they must pay to play.

ideas for generating non-dues revenue

Career competencies and credentials

#21: Learning pathways. Develop learning pathways for different levels of experience, for example, recent graduate, first-time manager, and aspiring CEO. Award a digital badge or certificate upon successful completion.

#22: College student credential. Offer a credential that encourages students to prepare for a job in your industry. Design a mix of self-study and virtual instructor-led sessions with an option for mentoring.

#23: Professionals in transition. Host peer discussion groups for laid off and unemployed professionals and retirees. Experts provide practical advice about career options—another job, contracting/freelancing, consulting, and entrepreneurship—as well as financial guidance for their transition.

#24: Interpersonal skills training. Professionals seeking promotion into management or leadership positions, working in a remote/hybrid environment, and entering or re-entering the workforce need to develop and improve their interpersonal skills.

#25: Flashcards. Mobile-friendly flashcards complement an online course or certification study group. Provide the flashcards at a discount when they’re bought with the course or study group.

Corporate training and industry partnerships

#26: Industry education for service/support professionals. Accounting, marketing, HR, sales, and administrative staff who come from other backgrounds would benefit from learning more about their employer’s industry. You could offer this education to the vendor community too.

#27: Corporate training. Sell licensing to companies who wish to offer your education programs as part of their training efforts. You could also customize programs for an additional fee.

#28. Fill the gaps. If another organization has a program that would fill a gap in one of your learning pathways, offer to exchange programs—hopefully you have something they need.

#29: Industry partnerships. Share expenses by working with another organization to develop educational content you both can use.

#30: Think-tanks or hackathons. If companies are all facing the same issue, come together to work on solutions. Award grants to fund experiments. Ask recipients to hold a virtual panel discussion to report on their progress and the outcome.

Host an ideation session at your association with staff from across the organization and a diverse collection of members. Encourage participants to think way outside the box. Imagine how many ideas for revenue-generating education programs you will come up with.

non-dues revenue
virtual education
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