Five tips for nonprofits who want to grow non-dues revenue, corporate sponsorships, and new business

After working in sales at a global consumer electronics company for a dozen years, it was time to switch gears. So I moved from the corporate to the nonprofit arena.

Now that I’ve been with Raybourn Group International for three years, I’ve learned a lot about my client (the Vacation Rental Managers Association or VRMA) and their unique industry.

During this time, VRMA’s non-dues revenue grew from $235,000 in 2012 to $460,000 in 2014. And, with just over half of 2015 remaining, we have already surpassed the 2014 total by $5,000, putting us on track for an even better year.

What’s the secret to our success? I’ve met and talked with hundreds of hospitality professionals, vacation property managers, suppliers, vendors, and other industry service providers. If there is one thing I’ve learned about business development on either side of the corporate/nonprofit fence, it’s that good customer service is good customer service. Period.

So if your nonprofit association is looking for ways to grow non-dues revenue, here are some suggestions:

  • Know your prospects, customers, and business partners. Learn their business goals and challenges. Be aware of their yearly budget cycles, when sales are most likely to fluctuate, and other financial constraints. Put yourself in their shoes. Once you truly understand their goals, you will know (1) what motivates them and (2) when the time is right to talk about a business opportunity.
  • Have a clear, well-defined and well-advertised corporate sponsorship program with various tiers of benefits and price points. VRMA, for example, has gold, silver, and bronze levels of sponsorship. But even with complex sponsorship programs and a greater number of price points, understand that one size will not fit all.
  • Be creative! Be flexible and willing develop custom opportunities tailored to your prospect’s unique business goals. Some prospects may not have deep pockets, but they are a great fit for your mission and members. If you work with them during their lean years, they will be more likely to continue or increase their support as they grow. And they will appreciate the fact that you went above and beyond to meet their needs.
  • Listen when your prospects talk (because, if you listen, they WILL tell you what they want and need). Keeping in contact with prospects several times during the year, not just when you want to sell them something.
  • Always return phone calls and e-mails, preferably in 24 hours or less. Always leave an out of office message for your e-mail and voice mail when you are on vacation or traveling on business.

What are your tips for growing non-dues revenue for your trade association or professional organization?