Catching Up With Membership Stories, Part 1

One association launched a tiered membership structure. Another was on a 29-month membership growth streak. I followed up with both to see how they've fared since we shared their stories.

We tell a lot of stories here at Associations Now, and perhaps one downside to the pace at which we do so is that we often only catch a glimpse of each one. The associations and people we visit continue growing and evolving every day, of course, whether we’re there to write about them or not.

With that in mind, this week and next, I will share some updates on stories from the past 18 months or so. Several membership pros that you’ve read about here on the Membership Blog or in the pages of Associations Now have offered news on how they’ve fared since we last spoke.

AAM noticed that museums were taking longer to renew in the face of a new decision to make: not just whether to join or renew but at what level.

Today, a look at how a tiered membership structure is performing and whether an association on a membership-growth hot streak kept up the pace.

Tiered Membership Structure at AAM

Then: In the fall of 2012, the American Alliance of Museums unveiled a new, tiered membership structure. It offers member museums the option to join at one of three levels: The Basics, Enhanced Access, or Full Suite of Benefits. Notably, the basic-level dues rate is “pay what you can.” At the time, AAM stated the change was part of a major effort to become a more “inclusive, collaborative organization.” The change was still quite fresh when we shared it here, in “Two Associations Go With Tiered Memberships” and “Membership Memo: Final Countdown.”

Now: Janet Vaughan, senior director of member services, says, “We’re really pleased with the way the new structure is being received in the field. We had a 34 percent increase in museum members in the first year.” This reversed a 12-year decline and exceeded a previous all-time high, she added.

Enrollment in the tier structure has also played out in AAM’s favor, with members joining at the highest tier more often than AAM had projected:

AAM enrollment chart

Among lessons learned from the launch of the new membership structure (which also coincided with a new name and logo, a new website, and a new association management system), Vaughan says, “You can’t communicate too much!” Calls and emails to AAM from members spiked for a few months as members learned about the changes, and AAM noticed that museums were taking longer to renew in the face of a new decision to make: not just whether to join or renew but at what level. “We promptly implemented a process to call museums the month after they lapsed to answer questions and help them find their place in the new structure,” Vaughan says.

Membership Growth at ACA

Then: Last fall, the American Counseling Association had reached 29 straight months of membership growth, from April 2011 through August 2013, a result of careful listening to member needs and feedback. It was part of an overall membership growth trend of 32 percent from 2007 to 2013. In effort to continue improving, ACA also had begun to develop market segments—Traditionalist, Go-Getter, Starving Student, and Value-Driven—through analyzing both demographic and behavioral data about its members and nonmembers. In “Inside a 29-Month Membership Growth Streak,” Denise Brown, senior director, membership relations, said, “Everything now that we send out gets segmented into those categories.”

Now: ACA’s streak continued through the end of 2013, extending to 33 consecutive months of growth, Brown says. January 2014, however, brought it to an end, with a loss of 55 members. (Brown suggested that perhaps my follow-up inquiry “jinxed” her; I accept the blame.) ACA got right back on the growth track again in February, though, with an addition of 89 members.

Meanwhile, ACA has conducted a retention analysis based on its segmentation. “We learned a lot about our members and have identified some valuable information,” Brown says They are seeing the most growth in the Value Driven segment, those members who are experienced and responsive to direct mail but not highly active with ACA. Traditionalists aren’t renewing as highly as ACA would like, and the Starving Students segment “continues to be an area we need to give special attention,” Brown says.

Brown is optimistic that the down month will be only a small bump on the path of continued growth. ACA membership is up 5 percent over this time last year, and Brown says it is on pace to mark a seventh consecutive year of growth when ACA’s fiscal year ends June 30. She also has her sights set on another milestone: 58,700 is ACA’s member high-water mark, set in 1991. With membership currently at 54,800, she believes another 7 percent increase is not out of the question by early to mid-2015.


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!