The Future of Membership Dues and Categories?

January 29, 2014
By Beth Brooks, CAE

Last week I attended a meeting of my peers who are outside of Texas. The other Executive Directors of state Society of Association Executives (the Alliance) get together twice a year to plan our collaborative work and share ideas. We are all in the same job, just different states.

The meeting also gives us a chance to hear what each other is dealing with, and there was one common theme this year: membership dues and categories.

It appears that almost everyone is having the discussion of traditional and emerging membership models. When you look at emerging models, there are lots of questions to ask. For example, what kind of information and benefits do your different types of members want and how do they want to receive them? If you can segment different groups of members, can you determine what they want?  If you currently offer individual memberships would a hybrid of organizational and individual membership dues work? 

Do you have members who just want information (like legislative and regulatory updates) or do you have lifelong learners who want education? Maybe you have both established and aspiring leaders who have different needs?  Think about students and young members – what are they not using that you offer and what do they really need?

What about basing membership on tiers of benefits and involvement. Think about one tier being the basics like on line access only; the next one has the basics plus some enhanced access, and the top level has all of your benefits offered.

Discussing with your board why your members join could be a great eye-opener. You’ll need to be armed with data about your members plus information from member surveys. You’ll have to do some research before the discussion begins with your leaders.

Just because you offer a long list of benefits does not mean that everyone wants or utilizes all of them. Would your organization grow if you offered options /levels of membership?  This is not an easy discussion or decision. But the outcomes could change your organization for the better.

If you didn’t hear Sheri Jacobs at our annual conference, she has a new book out called “The Art of Membership” with a lot of good reasons why you, your staff, and your board need to seriously be looking at your membership models.

No matter what your position is in an association, I urge you to get to know your colleagues in other states like I have. Whatever you are dealing with, whether it is membership, education or legislative issues, it is probably something they are facing too.

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