The phrase “culture of revenue” is emerging within associations. Essentially, it means to develop an environment in which everyone across all departments prioritizes the impact revenue has on the association's mission. However, the question remains: Are associations ready to pay the price to turn a "culture of revenue" into a reality?

The word ‘revenue’ is gaining momentum within associations. Although it’s still spoken in a whisper and not a booming voice, associations are increasingly realizing that revenue isn’t just an afterthought – it’s an integral part to fulfilling their missions.

“The number one duty for association executives is to serve your members,” says Erin Pressley, SVP of Education, Training and Events for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “But that doesn’t mean you can’t also generate some profitable revenue in your industry or in your association to help reinvest back into the work that you are doing to serve your members.”

Pressley joined a panel of association and industry leaders at a Professionals for Association Revenue April PopUP event in partnership with Yes&. The discussion focused on New KPIs for Association Business, and it began with a vital question:

How can associations develop a culture where revenue generation is valued across all departments?

Before answering, it’s important to define culture and make clear the intentional approach it requires for organizations to implement and maintain the culture they want. “Words, actions, thoughts, and ‘stuff’ that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued in an organization,” is how author and culture strategist Jamie Notter defines culture.

You say you want a culture of revenue? Here’s a closer look at the four areas you’ll need to focus on in order to achieve it.

Words. Developing an organizational culture that prioritizes revenue health begins by speaking the language of revenue. Association leaders must consistently emphasize the importance of revenue and its impact on organizational growth, which may not feel natural for everyone in the organization according to Robb Lee, Senior VP of Integrated Services for Yes&.

“What I found [when working for an association] was that oftentimes, if I spoke in business terms, for some people, that was a little offensive like they didn’t quite want to embrace that because maybe they felt a little bit guilty about making money versus sustaining.”

Lee suggest tying revenue directly to sustainability by showing the direct impact revenue health will have on your associations programs, initiatives and even staffing. And when new hires join the team, make the revenue priority clear.

Actions. Stating that revenue health is valued by your association must be backed by actions that reinforce its importance. If the intent is for revenue to impact the entirety of the association, then there must be an un-siloed, team approach to revenue and budgets.

Pressley highlights the collaborative work of NRECA where revenue generated by her department supports the crucial work of others that are advancing the association’s mission.

“[My job] is to get people to think we're not out just to maximize Education, Training and Events success, but what we're doing is to maximize the success of NRECA as an organization,” she says. “Being able to explain that they're part of this big, beautiful machine is important.”

Regular meetings involving multiple departments, transparent communication and inclusive budget updates across all departments are actions associations can take to foster a culture that prioritizes revenue health.

Thoughts. Understanding and addressing underlying beliefs is essential to shaping your culture. Lee says it is important to understand the motivations employees have for their work, which may not automatically align with business objectives.

“The interest is often to [work for the association] to effect some change from a societal standpoint. And sometimes that can get in the way of business performance,” he says.

Richard Yep, former association CEO and now consultant with Vetted Solutions, says the same can often be true of board members who serve both as decision makers and consumers of the association.

“It's okay to have boards [comprised] of people who are from the profession, but there may be a need for some other entity that helps support what associations need to do to generate revenue and develop business,” he says.

Acknowledging these underlying thoughts means association leaders can take steps toward improvement. Training in business development and fostering a dialogue that connects revenue to sustainability are two places to begin.

Resources. Finally, providing teams with necessary resources is crucial to cultivating a culture that prioritizes revenue. Yep emphasizes the importance of data analytics in informing decision-making and fostering collaboration.

“You need to be data informed. And I think that when you have a good data analyst who can show people what's going on… it starts to make them think, ‘Oh, yeah, now I see how I'm contributing to this entire pie. I’m contributing to the success that the organization is going to have.’”

Creating a culture that connects revenue to sustainability, growth and impact requires a deliberate effort. Associations say they want a culture of revenue – but it will cost them an examination of their words, actions, thoughts and resources to make it happen.