A Business Development Framework for Your Association
Who is responsible for your association’s business development efforts? That is a complex question with answers that can vary across associations depending on factors such as your available resources (financial, personnel, technology, etc.), your risk tolerance, and the extent to which you are staff-driven vs. volunteer-driven. As a starting point to organize and manage your business development activities, I propose a three-level framework of strategic stewardship, business line development and management, and product development and management.
At the highest level, your board and your CEO set the direction and overarching objectives for your business development strategy. It should have at least a three-to-five-year horizon and support your association’s strategic plan. Stewardship also looks at mission alignment to assure you don’t chase dollars just for the sake of generating new revenue. And finally, decisions at this level include consideration of priority areas where your association has unique or specialized solutions and potential external partners who can help you deliver on these priorities.
Business Line Development and Management
This level reflects focused topics within the overall business development strategy and starts to flesh out opportunities to accomplish one or more of your association's strategic priorities. Here you look at the content or technical expertise you can exploit that links together a collection of related products or services. You can also explore existing and potential relationships you have with external partners and funders or the need to monetize through fee-for-service. Typically one or two members of the senior staff leadership team own this level.
Product Development and Management
At this level, you drill down to specific products or services within a business line that delivers a set of benefits to members, key stakeholders, the public, or another constituent group. In some cases, the product development team hands the product off to another staff person who serves as the long-term product owner. The product owner, often a manager or director, is often supported by operational experts such as finance, marketing, event planning, or communications. The product owner should monitor where the product is in its life cycle and be prepared to refresh the offering or sunset it when it no longer delivers value.
Business Line-Product Example
Going back to the variation in how associations are structured, you may find that business development requires a matrix approach that brings together individuals from several departments. Doing so maximizes available talent, builds a well-rounded and robust offering, and discourages isolation, siloes, duplication, and disjointed work products. Beyond the matrix approach, consider opportunities to educate the entire association about your business development priorities and provide regular updates to all staff to build awareness of new products, changes to existing products, or the approaching conclusion to a product or business line. By having this broad and inclusive approach, everyone in the organization will start to feel some level of ownership in business development.