aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Free Course = Revenue

Posted by Ellen on December 19, 2009

How can that be? How can offering something that will cost you money to create bring in revenue if you offer it for free? Wouldn’t you  have to charge something to recoup that investment?

Not necessarily.

Of course, folks like Jeff Cobb have been advocating free learning for some time(see especially his Mission to Learn blog on this topic if you haven’t been there yet), but this particular angle occurred to me while reading the October 2009 issue of T+D, covering the ASTD BEST Awards (I’m trying not to rant this year about not having association learning awards) (and, yes, I’m still catching up on reading. Takes awhile for magazines to get to me on the road).

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DTT)’s US member firm, Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries developed a new hiring approach because it was experiencing attrition costs in excess of $8 million each year.

This made me think of associations on several levels.

Even though we know that gaining new members costs us more than retaining members, do we know the real cost — in dollars — of losing those members?

Unless the members you’re losing are “checkbook members” — paying dues only, without investing in any other activities, services, or products — you’re losing more than just dues.

Here’s an Example

Let’s say you’re a trade association and you lost 20 members last year. Since the membership is comprised of institutions rather than individuals, you lost an average of $500/institution in dues ($10,000).

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You also lost whatever those institutions and members pay for additional products, services, and programs. Leaving certification programs and revenue aside, you still offer an array of reports, educational events, and other things members purchase.

It all adds up. An online course here, a book there, two conference registrations. Even if all your lost members contributed each year was an additional $500, that’s still another $10,000 you’ve lost.

That’s $20,000 in revenue you now have to get back somehow!

And that’s on top of the expense you’ll have to put into attracting 20 new members to replace those you lost (marketing materials, mailing costs, etc. etc.).


Let’s say you could develop a tutorial or short alearning course that you would offer FREE (yes) to members only, and that course would cost you $1000 to build. And let’s say that the course is so on-target, so desirable, and so specific to your members that it alone could be one key reason your members continue to renew.

[You see where I’m going?]

Yes, you’ve nearly doubled your losses — or have you?

What did Deloitte LLP gain from their investment? They shaved nearly a full percentage point from the number of lost recruits from the previous year.

Doesn’t sound like much, but if even — in our case — one member is retained that would have been lost, you’ve covered the cost of the course you built. Every additional member retained is icing on the cake.

In this case, the free course to your members ended up costing nothing to build while increasing your revenue.

Tell me about a better investment than that and I’ll ante up.

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