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4 Tips for Generating More Non-Dues Revenue from Advertising

Written by Elizabeth Bell on March 19, 2019 at 12:22 PM

Pickled foods standing in a row

If you’re from the Midwest, you probably know someone who loves pickling anything and everything. (Or maybe you’re that person?)

The picklers I know are all about pickling – from eggs to cukes to fruits. (Come to think of it, it might not just be a Midwestern thing – Portlandia’s “We Can Pickle That,” anyone?) There’s always a waste to prevent or a profit to be made or a gift to be given when you know how to pickle.

And, it’s not too hard to do: If you’ve got pots and jars, something to pickle, stick to the process, and invite a few taste testers, then you’re golden.

You’re now totally confused about why we’re talking about pickling in an advertising post. Well, maybe preserving food or other perishable items in brine isn’t your thing, but is extra profit for your organization your thing? Sure it is, so you can apply these same principles (the principles of pickling) to advertising at your organization.

By investing in quality digital advertising space, making engagement growth a priority, promoting your space, and striking a good advertising balance, you can increase exposure for your own initiatives or bring in more outside sponsorship, all leading to additional non-dues revenue.

Related: 5 Steps to Create a Sponsorship Program That Increases Non-Dues Revenue

You ready for those four tips? Dive in.

1. Invest in quality digital advertising space.

In pickle talk, this means you’ve got the right equipment in a kitchen with lots of counter space. You need tongs, clean jars, a pot of hot water, oven mitts – you get it.

In advertising and non-dues revenue speak, you’re going to want beautiful, functional online spaces for your advertising, whether it’s by email, on your website, or in your online community. In our digital age, online advertising is the best way to get your content and sponsors’ content in front of your member or donor base.

I’d say there are three factors that qualify a channel as a “quality online space”: high traffic, beautiful and functional design, and targeted content. Let’s explore a bit about each.

High traffic

You want your channels to be well-trafficked. You want high participation and engagement. Advertisers prefer a billboard on a busy highway than a billboard on a dead-end dirt road.

If you’re advertising on your emails, do you have good open and click rates? Sometimes, all you need to do is revamp your subject lines. If you have an online community, this doesn’t mean that posts or discussions are the only things that equal traffic. Even if you have lurkers, they could be downloading resources and logging in like crazy – totally valuable from a potential advertiser’s perspective.

Beautiful and functional design

A beautiful channel that’s easy to use and engage with will help you out a lot with increasing traffic, but aesthetic appeal isn’t all that matters. Invest time and effort into making your channels user-friendly.

If you don’t have someone on your team with user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) design chops, consider hiring or consulting with an expert so your website and online community really glow.

You may not have to bring outside people in for help with email design: We’ve got 17 tips for the non-designer on how to make your emails appealing and totally clickable.

Targeted content

This word is music to an advertiser’s ears: “targeted.” If you can offer targeted advertising capabilities to advertisers, displaying certain ads based on members’ data, they’ll love it. Think of how social media networks allow advertisers to choose who they’d like to show their ad to based on demographics, interests, engagement.

These capabilities allow advertisers to get the most bang for their buck. Say they want to advertise a certification program – you could target this ad only to those members who’ve indicated interest in this type of certification (which you know from their past data), and then show them the ad where they’re most likely to see it: Your website, automated emails, or online community.

On top of that, you can use marketing automation to retarget advertisements. If a member is halfway through registering for an event that you’d advertised in an email, but then dropped off without completing the registration, you could retarget the ad to them by displaying it on your website on their next visit.

Read more: Why You Should Be Segmenting Your Members By Data Rather Than By Type

2. Make engagement growth a priority.

What will potential advertisers or your marketing team want from the advertising spaces you’re offering? Eyes! Eyes and engagement so that they can get the most value out of the money they’re investing in promotion.

(Pickle talk: You’ve got a bunch of friends and family who just can’t wait until you send that group text announcing your thirty-five jars of famous pickled beets are ready and available.)

So, if you want to increase the interest and investment in your available advertising spaces, make increasing engagement a priority. For example, if people aren’t opening the emails you send, have you considered creating responsive workflows with marketing automation, so that members receive content on things they’re interested in? The software takes their engagement level into account, so you’re focusing your efforts on those who will be most receptive (again, that tailored content coming in clutch when pitching potential advertisers).

Engagement is a much bigger topic than I can cover here, but luckily for you, we’ve got tons of other resources on the blog, like the post below.

Read more: 4 Steps to Create Your Omnichannel Engagement Strategy

3. Promote, promote, promote.

Once you’ve beautified your channels and amped up your engagement, it’s time for a little advertising of your own. You need advertisers if you want to make a profit off this venture (or, you can advertise your own content – both approaches work).

In pickle-speak, this means that you’ve got a nice haul of summer produce to pop in the jars – something to pickle. Am I saying advertisers are summer produce? Of course not… or am I? You decide.


If you’ve got the stats to back up your claims, you can prove to potential sponsors and advertisers that what you’re offering is coveted real estate. You know what they say: Location, location, location. How can you prove to potential advertisers and sponsors that yours is the location to choose?

For example, the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA) created an advertising kit to send to advertisers, showing them what they had available and including stats about its member engagement and demographics. In a year, the ad space in their online community daily digest emails, weekly e-newsletters, and discussion pages brought in nearly $14,000 in additional revenue.

“The success with advertising has been huge for us. It frees us up to do other things.” – Kristin Wells, Events and Business Development Manager, MSCPA

Read the full story: MSCPA Case Study

4. Use judgement for how much advertising is too much advertising.

This is the caveat to everything I’ve said so far. When you’re advertising to your members, you don’t want them to ever feel bombarded by promotion. Since you own the space, you can limit what you include and how much advertising you allow. If members get frustrated with the advertising, that will have an inverse reaction on engagement, which will have an inverse reaction on advertising interest – it’s a tension you’ll need to manage with care.

Pickle talk: You understand the process in all its finesse and delicacies. Anyone can pickle, but not just anyone can be a pickling expert. Mastering advertising in your online spaces will take some trial and error, so don’t worry if it takes time to get it right.


To help, think through the advertising space you have and what your members want – will this be a valuable resource to them? Have you allowed promotion in the past? If not, maybe start small.

For example, MSCPA restricts advertising just to sidebars and top banners in their online community, and one ad space in each weekly newsletter. The nice thing about this type of approach is that the rarity of the ads can increase their value – people may be willing to pay more if the spots are limited.

Your goal should be to make the best use of the space you have without overwhelming your members, while still providing them value, and bringing in helpful non-due revenue for your organization.

Read more: Where Do Associations Get the Most ROI From Private Online Communities?

Pickling and Advertising: They Can Learn a Lot From Each Other

By this time, you’re either feeling really hungry, or a bit nauseated thinking about pinkish hard-boiled eggs floating in jars. Either way, you’ve learned a lot about pickling AND advertising. Your next step?

Consider where you’re doing well or not so well in each of these four areas. If you can get to a good level on each of them, you’re well on your way to increasing your non-dues revenue. Take it from the National Association of School Nurses (NASN): They placed ads in their community and generated an additional $110,000 in non-dues revenue since starting a partnership with Association Revenue Partners.

Now, go get yourself a crunchy dill and sit down to do some advertising planning.

Oh, but before you go, we also put together a success kit on advertising and sponsorship, which is available below (no email needed). You'll find tons of helpful resources to jumpstart your efforts. 

Get My Success Kit

Topics: Engagement, Marketing, Member Communities, Member Experience, Member Engagement, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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