5 Steps to Leverage Your Certification Programs to Grow Non-Dues Revenue

Have you ever wondered whether you're maximizing your association's full revenue potential? If you only depend on membership dues, you have significant room for growth. In fact, associations across industries are looking to leverage a wide range of ways to grow their non-dues revenue, from sponsorship to holding conferences and other events.

Increasingly, professional development has entered that arena as well. Especially certification programs have gained steam as professional, trade, and governmental associations offer to share their expertise in exchange for sign up fees and tuition. By adding a tangible component to the vague concept of professional development, these certifications are sought after by your members and offer a great opportunity for growing non-dues revenue.

But are you maximizing your opportunity in that area? How can you leverage your certification programs for optimum non-dues revenue growth? Here are 5 steps that can get you started, and help secure your financial future.

1) Find Your Professional Niche

First things first: don't offer professional development opportunities that your audience could also find elsewhere. As an association, you likely have a unique niche that attracts your members over other associations within their general industry or profession. Certifications are your opportunity to leverage that niche.

Take marketing as an example. Plenty of marketing associations offer professional development opportunities to help their members increase their expertise. But when the Internet Marketing Association offers a certification in exactly that, the fit is too good for members not to pay attention.

Stated differently, your certifications have to be unique to reliably produce non-dues revenue. Otherwise, you compete with other organizations in the same niche for the same audience, actually spending more resources on promoting your professional development than bringing in revenue.

2) Research Audience Demand

Once you've found your niche, it's time to inform yourself about your audience. Within your area of expertise, which specific subjects are most relevant to your audience today? What types of skills and knowledge do they need to succeed in their profession, both now and in the future?

To stay with the above example, the Internet Marketing Association might be well served to start offering a certification in the rising field of Inbound Marketing. The more specifically your professional development opportunities align with audience demand, the more likely they will become to produce reliable revenue.

You can gauge audience demand through a variety of sources. Your members are a receptive audience, and polling them might be a good start. But it also makes sense to research larger trends beyond your current membership. More comprehensive quantitative and qualitative research will require an initial investment, but one bound to pay off once your certifications begin to produce revenue.

3) Build a Certification Database

A single certification might be relatively simple to handle. But as your association grows, it won't be enough to actually make a difference in your non-dues revenue. So you begin to offer additional professional development opportunities - and that's where confusion can set in too easily.

How can you make sure that your members and any other potential participants can easily find your survey when they need to? It's a seemingly simple question, but one that quickly becomes complex once you offer multiple certification and development options. Put simply, you need to make sure that as content breadth increases, user experience doesn't suffer.

That might seem easier said than done. But it is possible. All you need is the right technology and digital setup to organize your association's opportunities for you. That way, you can pay sufficient attention to each individual certification, while also managing the overall organization and member experience for all professional development options you offer.

4) Promote Your Certifications Beyond the Association

When it comes to certifications and professional development in general, be careful not to limit your potential to existing members. Doing so significantly reduces your potential audience. Instead, build a plan to promote each program you offer to other professionals in your industry, as well.

This plan will most likely require at least some initial investment. It's easy to reach members through newsletters or individual emails. For external audiences, you might need a more comprehensive strategy that takes advantage of multiple marketing channels. But that initial investment is worth it, especially considering that the revenue potential for your certifications increases drastically.

The American Marketing Association, for instance, claims 30,000 members as its own as the largest professional organization in the industry. And yet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number is outpaced tenfold by advertising managers alone, not even account for the various other types of marketing professionals in the country.

A strategic promotional approach to those professionals in your industry not currently connected thus has immense revenue potential. And it also serves another goal: those satisfied with your certification program might just look into a membership to take advantage of other benefits in the near future.

5) Ensure a Smooth Audience Experience

Finally, don't underestimate the power and necessity of making sure that in addition to the development substance, the experience is above par. Your audience needs to not just love the content you serve, but also the way in which you're presenting it. That means finding the right delivery mechanism and platform, and ensuring a positive experience from the moment they sign up.

How robust and intuitive is your online registration system? Is your payment processing system connected to it, and is it easy to use with a variety of payment methods? How easily can members get the receipts they need for reimbursement for any certification programs their employer pays for?

The answers to all these questions relate directly to your audience experience. Survey your members about their experience, and make improvements where needed. Don't be satisfied with your professional development offerings until your members are, as well.

Are You Ready to Leverage Your Certification Programs for Non-Dues Revenue Growth?

A significant number of associations now use certifications and other types of professional development programs to grow their non-dues revenue. These opportunities hit the sweet spot in providing a tangible benefit for members and non-members, while still supporting your association's growth goals.

But to get to that point, you have to get the details right. As more associations begin to offer these programs, yours should stand out about the rest. With the 5 above steps, you can make that happen. You need a strategy, but you also need the right platform for your needs. Browse our website to learn about our opportunities, and how we can partner to help you maximize your non-dues revenue growth.

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