December 22, 2014
Guide to justifying "free"

http://www.associationtrends.com/Images/News_images/trendsattends.jpgAt a recent session of the Applied Knowledge Lunch Series in Washington, the 2009 Non-Profit CFO Lifetime Achievement winner, Moira Fathy Baker, National Science Teachers Association, discussed how free resources can impact nonprofit membership, and also what NSTA is doing to leverage the power of a zero price.

How free resources can help build revenue stream and not affect nonprofit revenue streams. Fathy Baker explained that free resources are against the traditional business model (since organizations still need to pay staff, rent, electricity, and other overhead). But, giving some free access to content draws people in and educates them on the value of the association. By letting the public access free content, NSTA attracts new members, increases business and enhances its mission.

The radical change to business models brought by the Internet means restructuring assets – including the content that has been bringing value to members for years.

Do people who have accessed a free product in the past ever buy anything? YES! For example, Fathy Baker reported that people who have used ASTA's affiliated resource, www.SciLinks.org, or read ASTA’s journals or participated in one of the association's free events went on to contribute nearly $585,000 to the organization’s bottom line last year. And that was only the direct revenue: Fathy Baker estimated that the free resources led to more new members than ASTA’s direct-mail marketing.

Also, when a member of the public uses ASTA's free resources – typically science teachers who can get free resources like lesson plans, journals, and SciLinks – he or she is added to NSTA’s weekly newsletter. The newsletter list not only serves as a valuable vehicle for getting ASTA’s name out in front of more people, but also as vehicle for third-party advertisers. Those advertisers grow more interested in the newsletter as the e-mail list grows, and the revenue increases from there.

Give us our magazine! When NSTA surveyed its membership about replacing its journal's printed version (published nine times per year) with an e-version of the same content, 80% demanded that NSTA continue printing. Not only are older members loyal to the print version, younger members wanted to keep the print edition, as well.

In addition to the Applied Knowledge Luncheon Series, West, Lane & Schlager also co-host the CFO of the Year Awards luncheon with Tate & Tryon. Fathy Baker received the honor last year (see "Science Teachers finance executive wins top CFO award,”, 12/17).

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