“Membership dues remain the largest single source of association revenue, but its share has been shrinking over the long term.” Dues average 41.4% of trade association revenue, according to an American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) report.1

So if membership dues – as a piece of the overall association revenue pie – continue to shrink then what’s replacing them? Obviously, its non-dues revenue – below are some benchmarks and industry information sources that your association might find helpful in assessing and increasing your non-dues revenue levels.

Association Conference and Trade Show Revenues

Conferences and trade shows are the second largest source of revenue, at almost 25%:

  • Registration fees 10.4%
  • Exhibits/booths 9.7%
  • Sponsorship 4.6%

Increasing conference and trade show revenue from your association’s suppliers creates a virtuous cycle:

  • Increased conference and trade show revenue can reduce the need to increase membership fees
  • Lowered or unchanged membership fees can increase the number of members
  • Increased revenue from suppliers can lower registration fees
  • Lowered registration fees can increase registrations
  • Increased conference attendance can allow you to increase the cost of exhibiting

Increase Your Association Non-Dues Revenue By Giving People What They Want – Face Time

“Face Time is Money” is the headline in a Caesars Entertainment advertisement in this November’s Harvard Business Review.

They back-up this claim in the fine print: “Oxford Economics findings show that you are twice as likely to convert a prospect into a client with an in-person meeting.”2

Conferences, conventions, tradeshows, and exhibitions yielded the highest business travel return on investment (ROI):


Other research-based findings you can utilize to market your association’s conferences and tradeshows include:

  • Both executives and business travelers estimate that roughly 40% of their prospective customers are converted to new customers with an in-person meeting compared to 16% without such a meeting.
  • More than half of business travelers stated that 50% of their company’s new customers were the result of tradeshow participation.

You can gather more facts to share with suppliers to your trade association’s members—potential exhibitors and sponsors—in the full 50-page report that is available at no-cost by visiting oxfordeconomics.com/Media/Default/Industry%20verticals/Tourism/US%20Travel%20 Association-%20ROI%20on%20US%20Business%20Travel.pdf

Increasing Other Non-Dues Revenue May Require New Thinking

Conferences and tradeshows are not the only sources of non-dues revenue for associations. A challenge is to find the ones that are the best fit for your member’s needs.

Growing Associations Through Non-Dues Revenue – Is It Time to Re-Think Your Business Model?”, a publication of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE), offers suggestions on how to identify and select non-dues opportunities that will increase your association’s revenue, but more importantly, make membership more valuable.

This book suggests that asking the following questions can help to find non-dues activities that are likely to be a good fit for your association—not just the ones that will produce the most money:

  • What do you want to accomplish through non-dues revenue? Diversify revenues? Serve members?
  • How will non-dues revenue activities further your mission and support your members?
  • What level of financial risk are you willing to take on with a new venture?
  • How does non-dues revenue fit with your strategic plan?
  • Will your members support a new initiative?
  • Are the staff and board prepared to invest resources, including time?

Careful research, hard work, and a little luck should increase non-dues revenue that “advances the mission of your association, raises its profile, and improves its financial position.”

1Operating Ration Report” published by ASAE. Non-ASAE members can purchase the report for $325; highlights of the report can be seen by visiting www.asaecenter.org/Resources/ANowDetail.cfm?ItemNumber=185331.
2 “The Return on Investment of U.S. Business Travel”, prepared by Oxford University’s Oxford Economics USA.