How to Rethink Your Business Model

With more pressure to generate nondues revenue, leaders have to develop big-picture strategies—and rethink staff-level tools as well.

“Creativity” and “revenue generation” don’t often wind up in the same sentence, unless an indictment is involved. But these are complicated times for associations, and a bit of (legal) imagination is important as they think about how they keep the doors open.

That challenge is one issue I explored in the latest batch of Associations Now Deep Dives, which cover revenue generation broadly and creative approaches more specifically. For instance, I spoke with association experts about the importance of developing new business models that can better respond to the needs of current members, while also drawing in new ones.

That process starts with getting smart about data, according to Vista Cova CEO Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE:  “It’s going to be up to the association to become more fluent in not just how to aggregate [data], but to translate it into implementation for their members,” he said. And that doesn’t happen by accident: You need a plan for what your organization’s goals are, and what data you’ll leverage to meet them. Reaching out to potential new member groups means tracking trend lines about membership and thinking about who’s there and who’s missing; freshening up your events portfolio means looking at recent attendee data and understanding what kinds of sessions, modalities, and experiences they prefer.

You have to do more than just talk about innovation—you have to have a formal process around it.

Chris Vaughan, Sequence Consulting

“You have to do more than just talk about innovation—you have to have a formal process around innovation, where you cultivate and test ideas,” Sequence Consulting’s Chris Vaughan told me. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future, but you can take small steps, and diversify your efforts instead of putting them in one basket.”

One thing I didn’t address in the article: The importance of that process to be efficient and accessible to multiple teams within the association staff that has to implement the strategy. Luckily, a few experts recently covered that ground: The latest episode of the Association Tech Insider podcast, produced by the ASAE Technology Professionals Advisory Council, is a rich discussion of some of the tools available to build efficiencies in data analysis, lead-building, and communication around nondues revenue.

The guests, ASAE VP of Enterprise Sales John Bacon, MBA, and Navigate founder Carrie McIntyre, assembled a spreadsheet listing some available tools, many of them free or freemium, that can assist during the process. Among them are Hyperbound, which allows users to roleplay sales calls at various levels of difficulty; data analysis tools like Domo; project management tools like Teamwork; and everyday efficiency hacks like Magical, which produces templates for commonly used emails.

All are worth experimenting with, but as Bacon stressed during the conversation, the best tools for your organization are ones that are fit for your organization’s needs and which people are actually going to use; there’s little point in signing everybody up for a hyper-robust platform like Salesforce if users are too overwhelmed by the options to make use of it. The current economic environment demands that leaders get out of their old ruts and look for new ideas; part of that will be helping your team find the best tools to do that work along the way.

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