When It’s Time to Ask Members to Start Paying

New organizations sometimes face an uphill climb in gaining traction. Should the priority be building support for the industry or raising revenue? Food-and-beverage trade group FaB Milwaukee tried a free-to-fee approach.

What comes first, the membership or the dues?

For many new associations, this can be a challenging question. It might make sense to let the organization gain a foothold first, or it you might want to put a dollar value on your offerings from the beginning.

One Milwaukee food-and-beverage group chose to do the former, but it recognized when the moment came to ask members to start paying their way. Here’s how its plan worked:

About the group: Last year, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Milwaukee 7, which encourages economic development across a seven-county area, jointly started FaB Milwaukee—a group representing food and beverage industry manufacturers throughout southeastern Wisconsin. They intended the new group—as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted—to formalize a collaborative approach already being taken. Since its launch, FaB Milwaukee’s goal has been to encourage the investment of capital in food businesses in the region—whether through expansion, relocation, or startup businesses.

Next steps: According to the Milwaukee Business Journal, the group is expanding its efforts beyond simply encouraging growth in the region and is now a membership organization. To correspond with new membership fees (which vary based on organization size, though professional memberships are available for $100 per year for those not connected to a member company), the group is rolling out a series of member benefits, including a career center, closed community, and directory listings.

Why now? The group’s executive director, Shelley Jurewicz, told the Business Journal that this will help make the professional group sustainable. “We have been convening a large group of diverse employers in this industry for more than a year,” she said. “Now those companies are formally investing in the infrastructure of this organization to sustain the network.”

The organization is expanding its reach in other ways as well—working with local schools to build training courses for budding food entrepreneurs.

How do you know when it’s time to create a dues structure? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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