Monthly Membership Makes Joining “As Easy As Possible”
In July, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America launched a monthly, "join now" dues rate of $39. Since then, about 40 percent of new members have chosen the monthly auto-renewal plan. The new dynamic is "how everyone deals with the internet now," says one ACCA exec.
If I wanted to know how much it costs to join your association, could I find it easily on your homepage? If not, what are you trying to hide?
Take a moment to visit the homepage of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and find the cost to join. … OK, did you do it? Did you count how many times you saw “$39”? If you’re lazy, the answer is three. Now click one of those three “join now” buttons and count the $39s again. Three more times on the join page, with five “click to join or renew” buttons.
Kevin W. Holland, senior vice president of business operations and membership at ACCA, calls this “getting in everybody’s face.”
This, friends, is what monthly membership looks like.
In June, I suggested that monthly dues and automatic credit-card renewal are the perfect pair, each suited to the other and creating a new membership context: “Members join and are charged monthly until they request cancellation. There is no cycle. You’re a member until you’re not.” When I saw ACCA’s new offer in July, I was excited to see monthly auto-renewal in action.
“That’s sort of how everyone deals with the internet now,” says Holland. “We’re an organization of small-business owners, so for a lot of our members it’s more of a personal money decision than it is a corporate decision. You’re talking about low sums of money and someone’s doing an impulse buy. What we’ve found that works for us is someone comes to our site, and, if they’re looking for something specific or they want to get a piece of information, it’s very easy to get it now, at 39 bucks.”
The advent of a monthly membership offer at ACCA happened, as Hemingway once said, gradually and then suddenly. For years, Holland says, ACCA had grappled with a cumbersome dues structure that tied membership in the national organization with membership in its local and state chapters, though those only covered about half the country, resulting in “hundreds of different dues variations.”
In March, the ACCA board decided to “rip the Band-aid off” and remove the requirement to join both national and chapter organizations. “It would be better for the local and state associations if they could focus on being a good local and state association and if the national association could focus on being a good national association, and we don’t handcuff contractors and say you have to join at all these different levels,” Holland says.
The new dues structure, which ACCA calls “open membership,” created a single annual dues rate of $450, which was about the average dues level across the membership, and it also opened up the opportunity for the $39 monthly rate. The new rates were instituted June 30—a turnaround of 75 business days, if you’re counting—and were also paired with a new website, customer-relationship-management system, and marketing automation system. “It was the most exhausting three months of my life,” Holland says.
But, as with a lot of change in associations, much of the plan was prepared by the time the board gave its final approval. Holland says he drew on experience from an on-demand video subscription service that ACCA had previously offered, and the evolution of ACCA’s benefit and product lines gave the organization reason to believe monthly membership could work.
“As a national organization, yes, we do some in-person meetings, but mostly we are an online organization,” he says. “Everything is on the website, and we want to make it as easy as possible for you to make that decision.”
Pairing the new offer with a new CRM and marketing automation tools internally has ACCA excited about the possibilities for more targeted analysis of member engagement.
“Now we know more about our members, and will know more about our members, than we ever did before,” Holland says. “And it’s not just to sell things. It’s also to engage them as members. So, if a member clicks on an article in the Insider [email newsletter] … then they will get something early next week saying, ‘Did you know you could also watch this video on this topic?'”
Meanwhile, monthly members will present a new array of membership metrics to track, such as month-to-month renewal rate, monthly members’ length of membership, how many members have dropped and later come back, and even how many times those “boomerangs” have left and come back, if more than once, not to mention analysis of what monthly members buy, attend, or engage in compared to annual members.
“There’s a whole bunch of metrics there that are going to be fun to look at over the course of the year, to figure out what the right metrics are and what they mean,” says Holland. “I love good data.”
The big question, of course, is if monthly membership will work. At ACCA, signs are good so far. Holland says new member signups from July 1 through September 30 were up 60 percent compared to the same period last year, web traffic was up 40 percent, and sales were up 10 percent. About 40 percent of new members are joining on the monthly plan. Most existing members are staying on annual dues, though they can convert if they’d like to. The association’s goal is 5,000 member companies; it has about 4,000 now.
Success with monthly membership for ACCA, though, might not guarantee success for another association. Holland says the conditions must be right for an association to try it.
“You would need to have a certain kind of member,” he says. “I don’t think you’re talking about organizations with very large members paying large dues. ‘Join now for $8,000 a month!’ That’s not really going to work. It needs to be something where you are able to put a flat fee. … And I think you have to be the sort of association that actually does provide information, knowledge, or value of some type online. If you’re just an association that does lobbying or just does standards development or does things that take years to develop or you do one or two things a year, you may have a hard time with this.”
That’s where ACCA is focusing now. It has the products and knowledge resources that make $39 sound appealing, but the staff knows turning them into loyal members means providing value both right away and on a continual basis. “Our focus is on getting a lot of value, getting in everybody’s face, so they see what we’re doing, creating new publications, creating new online training,” he says. “We’re just trying to keep giving the contractors what they need, which is information on how to run their business more profitably.”
Could monthly membership work at your association? How would your dues need to be adjusted to make an effective low-fee “join now” offer? What challenges do you think other associations might face in adopting a monthly membership plan? Share your thoughts in the comments.