Online education as the path to year-round revenue generation
Updated: Oct 19
Since the pandemic, the business model of Associations has swiftly evolved and undergone significant changes. In this article, Joel-Zvi Chetzroni and John Skinner from our partners at Multilearning explain the importance of diversifying activities to generate revenue and how online education can be leveraged to achieve this goal.
Associations have typically relied solely on their annual or biannual meeting to cover many of their engagement and learning needs while bringing in the lion's share of their revenue.
For most Associations, this is no longer the case.
What is driving the change in Associations' revenue model?
Several factors are forcing Associations to rethink their once-a-year revenue model:
Round-the-clock connectivity: Rather than just 3 or 4 days of engagement and learning per year, members now expect on-demand, 24/7 education, while corporate partners expect continuous visibility and engagement.
Generational shifts: Millennials and Gen Z-ers favour digital and interactive experiences.
Resources and environmental impact: Online activities are more cost-effective, kinder to the planet and easier to organize than on-site activities, whilst hybrid activities can offer your members the best of both worlds.
The post-pandemic: COVID-19 broke down barriers and accelerated digitalization.
As a result, many Associations now feel it is imperative to embrace a sustainable, digital approach, to compensate for dwindling revenue from traditional sources.
What are the positive outcomes of this change?
Association leaders testify that a year-round learning-engagement business model delivers members a more comprehensive value proposition, greater financial stability, and reduced risk.
What types of activities can help Associations move to year-round engagement?
Many existing activities and revenue sources are already year-round or can easily be repurposed: Online courses, webinar series, publications, and some sponsorships and membership fees.
Technology will play a fundamental role here, with its inherent scalability and 24/7, 'always on' availability.
Increase online courses
Many Associations are increasing the number of long (one month or more), online courses they organize. These 'long-haul' activities engage members deeper, translating into more value. In parallel, they are increasing the frequency of shorter (2 to 3-day) courses, which drive regular traffic to their education portals.
Build value around accreditation, to reward your members’ learning.
The European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care (ESAIC) decided to offer Continuing Medical Education (CME) certification for all their educational activities, including for their one-hour webinars, microlearning modules and 3-day courses. In addition, their Academy, targeting the educational needs of their 35,000+ members, brought in exciting new sponsorships - ESAIC example.
Accredited Webinar series
It’s not just Netflix that can make it big through our love of series. Creating a webinar series that is accredited and based on trending topics can generate momentum and expectation. Your audience builds as you go through the series. As they engage live and on-demand, the atmosphere becomes one of excitement and learning.
And, you can give it an eye-catching name, such as the European Society of Gynaecological Oncology’s (ESGO) Master of Disaster webinar series.
Pay-per-view (PPV) for on-demand content. PPV is here to stay, so the challenge for Associations will be to tailor their PPV strategies to align with their unique objectives and member demographics. Shifting portfolios towards these types of activities in an organic and financially prudent way will allow the redistribution of revenue-generating activities throughout the year.
Sponsorship in virtual education
With the Annual Meeting being a primary source of funding, it is understandable that key sponsor relations are largely meeting-bound. The key to building sustainable sponsorship revenue is twofold: following a clearly defined strategy and prioritizing long-term relationships with corporate partners.
A strategic analysis would include questions such as:
How can year-round sponsorship align with the association's overall mission and goals?
What are our sponsorship goals for virtual education and how do we want sponsors to be involved?
What degree of segmentation and targeting will be desirable?
Can our current online education set-up respond to our sponsors’ requirements for education delivery?
Can our current staffing handle the change?
Key stakeholders must understand the need for change and be prepared to make tough decisions.
Education technology, often known as “EdTech”, offers an efficient vehicle for such evolution. The different stakeholders can be brought together in this space to exchange value all year round.
A good-quality LMS*-style platform will give your online education the flexibility and professional “look and feel” you need to attract companies, knowing that their brand is in good hands.
Associations use LMS portals, often termed “Academies”, to create a single environment where members can:
Search a library of all educational content.
Attend live webinars, courses, and hybrid events.
Follow eLearning courses developed by native authoring tools.
Receive CPD or CME certification.
Build discussions, both live and on-demand, around hot topics.
These activities can be included in the sponsorship portfolio, allowing companies to enjoy continuous visibility within an open learning space and associate their brand with the latest topics. Some suppliers will offer extra services such as scientific and educational consultancy and advice on developing sponsorship packages and how best to onboard sponsors.
The Evolution Period
Creating a year-round revenue model may take time but need not cause undue disruption. Successful associations set realistic goals, communicate their vision internally, and track progress regularly to maintain traction, being prepared to change course as they go.
An education-focused approach to year-round revenue generation can bring significant financial rewards, build new partnerships in education and boost member learning and engagement. Bring it on!
*LMS - Learning Management System. A holistic educational portal that allows multimedia content hosting, webinars, live events, and native authoring of learning courses, such as www.multilearning.com.
Examples from this article: