From Standards to Solutions: How SAE International Multiplied Non-Dues Revenue by 10X

Nonprofit Business Model
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Sae International

How an Innovative Nonprofit Business Model Drove Growth for SAE

SAE International, a pillar in the automotive, aerospace, and off-road industries, faced a challenge familiar to many established nonprofits. While their reputation for technical standards and publications remained strong, their traditional membership-based revenue model limited them. They sought to expand their influence and diversify their income streams beyond membership dues.

The Roadblock: A Fragmented Industry Landscape

Their existing B2B model, focused on niche company affiliates, presented limitations. The broader industry lacked a central hub for collaboration, particularly in the crucial realm of pre-competitive technology development. Areas like autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity demanded industry-wide agreement on best practices, but fragmented communication between competitors hindered progress. This hampered innovation and delayed the implementation of crucial safety standards.

The Solution: Leveraging Strengths with a New Nonprofit Business Model

SAE International, in partnership with Sequence Consulting, embarked on a journey to unlock their untapped potential. They utilized the “Way to Play℠” framework, a strategic approach focused on identifying unmet market needs and leveraging unique organizational assets. This framework proved instrumental in guiding them towards a new and innovative nonprofit business model.

Untapped Strength: A Trusted Convener for Collaboration

Extensive research revealed a hidden strength within SAE – their exceptional ability to convene industry stakeholders. For decades, they had fostered connections within the industry, bringing together engineers, executives, and researchers from diverse sectors. This unique ability to create a neutral platform for collaboration presented a distinct advantage.

The Innovation: SAE Industry Technologies Consortia

Capitalizing on this strength, SAE established the SAE Industry Technologies Consortia (SAE ITC). This 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization, operating alongside C3, provided a safe haven for public and private entities to collaborate on pre-competitive technology development.

Nonprofit Business Model

A Comprehensive Ecosystem for Innovation

SAE ITC went beyond simply offering a platform for collaboration. It became a comprehensive ecosystem for innovation. Legal, marketing, data, and launch support services were readily available to consortia members, accelerating the implementation of innovative ideas. This holistic approach streamlined the process, fostered collaboration, and empowered members to bring their groundbreaking technologies to market faster.

Results: A Thriving Hub for Innovation and Growth

The “Way to Play℠” process and the creation of SAE ITC proved transformative for SAE. It helped them discover a lucrative opportunity to generate non-dues revenue by leveraging their unique strength as a convener. This newfound clarity fueled significant investment in SAE ITC, paving the way for rapid business expansion.

Quantifiable Success

    • 10x Growth: In just three years, SAE ITC experienced phenomenal growth, expanding tenfold to a $6 million enterprise, demonstrating the power of a well-designed nonprofit business model.
    • Industry Leadership: SAE ITC became home to thirteen industry consortia, tackling critical challenges across various sectors. 
    • Financial Sustainability: Within a year, SAE ITC achieved complete financial independence and contributed to a strong net income for the entire SAE organization.
    • A Breeding Ground for Innovation: The consortia within SAE ITC have facilitated the development of groundbreaking technologies, accelerating progress in critical areas.


SAE International’s success story exemplifies the power of a strategic approach to nonprofit business models. By identifying unmet market needs and leveraging their unique strengths, they were able to establish themselves as a leader in facilitating cross-industry collaboration and drive innovation within critical sectors. 

This not only benefits SAE financially but also fosters a collaborative environment that contributes to safety standards and technological advancements across the industries they serve. 

The impact of SAE ITC extends beyond immediate results, paving the way for a future where streamlined communication and collaboration fuel progress across the transportation and technology landscapes.

Takeaways for Nonprofit Business Models

This case study on SAE International offers valuable takeaways for established nonprofits seeking to diversify their revenue streams. The key lies in identifying unmet market needs and leveraging existing strengths. By utilizing a strategic framework like “Way to Play℠,” nonprofits can uncover hidden assets, such as SAE’s convening power. 

This, in turn, can inform the creation of innovative new ventures, like the SAE Industry Technologies Consortia (SAE ITC). The success of SAE ITC demonstrates that well-designed nonprofit business models can not only generate significant non-dues revenue but also foster industry collaboration and drive progress in critical areas.

To learn more about high-growth nonprofit business models, please see the  AARP’s Non-Dues Startup Soars To $43 Million.

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