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Recruiting Intelligence

Reviewing the Leading Education Associations

In the business world, companies measure their influence and success in financial metrics: revenue growth and profits. Add share price and market capitalization as measures for publicly listed companies. The education world is dominated by not-for-profit and public universities as well as a large number of non-profit education-related associations. This Intead Insight looks into two, admittedly crude, measures of influence for the non-profit education world: revenue generated by leading non-profit education associations and social media presence.

We, the Intead founders, used to live around Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, where there are whole buildings occupied by education-focused associations. We also experience, as a company, the large number of associations seeking our membership dues and conference sponsorships. Despite our clear company focus on helping universities optimize and strengthen their international student enrollment, we struggle as we evaluate the number of association conferences we should attend and sponsor.

We looked for research and reports on the importance of various education associations in the education field. Not much to be found there. We resorted to one simple (objective) measure -- the required 990 tax filings by non-profit associations -- as a measure of pure gross revenue of education associations. We are not trying to attempt a comprehensive survey, but we picked a number of the high profile and well-respected associations. Whether revenue alone reflects influence and significance can be debated but we considered it an interesting starting point. We also wanted to give you some perspective on domestically focused associations (Graph 1) and a certain number of international education focused non-profit associations (Graph 2) in the education field.

We found out that standardized testing fees such as SAT, TOEFL and ACT are certainly a big revenue driver for a few education non-profits. ETS is generating more than $1 billion in revenue with those $20 to $50 exam fees. I made several contributions to that revenue stream with my son's recent SAT and ACT tests. By the way, we are double counting revenue between College Board and ETS since College Board pays $200 million to ETS for their testing service and those funds are counted again in the $1 billion revenue total.

Among the international education associations, the Institute of International Education (IIE) is standing out as the revenue leader. It is noteworthy that in 2011 two-thirds of IIE's funding was provided by the U.S. and other government entities including Education USA and Fulbright scholarship funding. We were surprised to notice that NAFSA, which has such great visibility in the international educator world, and WES (World Education Service), are of similar size with $16 and $15 million of revenue respectively.

If you believe that money matters, the Gates Foundation is an important entity to mention nowadays for the education sector. The Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundation, which manages the assets of the Gates' and a large part of the Buffet family's assets (Warren Buffet, the successful Bershire Hathaway fund manager) has annual revenues equal to several billion dollars. Among this foundation's many funding priorities, it designates roughly $500 million annually to education initiatives in the US.

Finally we charted the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn presence for the associations mentioned in this Insight. We believe social media is a critical marketing channel for international activity today. And we advocate strongly for the intelligent use of analytics to measure the reach and effectiveness of any social media effort. In fact, the availability of analytics as part of digital marketing is what makes it so incredibly valuable. Over time, digital marketing allows organizations to understand how valuable any online and print marketing initiative is and efficiently capture leads. With this value in mind, we caution against using "likes" and "followers" as any real measure of digital marketing success. Effective analytics go far beyond this crude measure. And yet, we all like to compare these figures and it gives us all a level of satisfaction to see our organization gain social media followers. So we offer Graph 3 below: a comparison of social media followers by association.

The upshot: non-profit associations are a critical part of our education landscape. The two main differences between non-profit and for-profit entities are the ownership, preferential tax treatment and the organizational goals. Shareholders and owners of for-profit entities are looking to receive a return on their invested capital. The non-profit world frequently has less quantifiable financial goals. As a result, success and influence are much more difficult to measure in the non-profit world. Yet every organization has an imperative to keep their respective stakeholders happy, manage resources responsibly and carefully.

Graph 1

Graph 2

Graph 3

Source: Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn April 2013


Topics: Insights