Makin’ Money by Taking Charge of Your Association’s Licensing and Branding

By Lucie Voves, founder-president, Church Hill Classics, Danbury CT
Association Trends Magazine - September 2007

There is growing awareness of the value and earning potential of offering licensed and branded merchandise. Beyond the opportunity to generate additional nondues income, assns stand to gain free "guerrilla marketing" exposure with each logo and insignia-branded piece of merchandise sold.


Members in many assns are motivated to purchase everything from key chains and golf shirts, to membership credential frames. Often vendors, service providers and members who want to demonstrate their connection with the assn or industry group will seek to purchase these items.

Often, an organization's administrators or committee members order caps, mugs and crystal awards without much thought to carrying costs or labor requirements to manage such a program. Today, assns are beginning to see the potential value of licensing and are seeking vendor partners who can manage their branded product programs.

Last year, the American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons, Chicago, sold 105 customized certification frames for $15,000 at retail. "It is useful to bring in a vendor who understands affinity marketing, who is able to analyze what might work well amidst our membership, commensurate with our brand and image," executive director J.C. "Chris" Mahaffey, MS, CAE, said.

"Otherwise, this could be a time-consuming situation with risk of failure and money wasted. The vendor is responsible for the marketing program here and all of its costs. Under the auspices of our assn, many of our members are motivated to order copies of their credentials in customized, logo framed presentations. Indeed, this development yields newfound royalty revenue for our organization," Mahaffey added.

When an assn is considering a vendor relationship, ask to review case studies and references that demonstrate the vendor's success in building both visibility and revenue for the assn. Identify a party who knows how to conduct the proper demographic research to develop a group's channels and qualify merchandise that will sell throughout the assn's circle and outreach. Look for vendors who will handle the program and inventory on your behalf, so you avoid making a significant upfront investment of money or resources.

With an eye on generating income and profitability, it is not necessarily an issue of whether an assn has a large or small membership. Depending on the marketing artistry and talent of a vendor to field effective merchandise, a small assn could make a proportionately large amount of income, while it is conceivable a large assn would make proportionately less. Merchandise variety, quality, pricing, communication and presentation all become variables.

It is reasonable for an assn to earn a 15-25% commission or royalty from retail sales in a "hands off" turnkey program, requiring minimal or no assn resources. For an assn buying the merchandise at wholesale and managing the program internally, it is reasonable to expect a 50% profit.

Church Hill Classics is a provider of customized frames for diplomas, credentials, documents and related items. Lucie Voves is a recipient of the 2007 Trailblazer Award from the National Assn of Women Business Owners, and 2006 Torch Award from the Better Business Bureau-North American Council. She can be reached at