A Better Alignment of Membership and Certification

For one association's new two-tier membership offer, the deciding factor between the two options is a member's desired engagement with one primary activity: certification.

“New Membership Structure Press Release” is a very niche genre. It doesn’t even have quite the same following as, say, Star Wars fan fiction. But, as a devoted follower of association membership strategies, I got some geeky excitement last week when I read about the new tiered membership offer at APICS, an association for the field of supply-chain management.

It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to see how associations design tiered membership packages. Sometimes they’re of the “bronze, silver, gold” variety; other times the packages are built around a handful of major types of member activities.

In APICS’ case, the focus is clear: certification.

Its new membership structure, launched July 20, offers two packages: Core and Plus. There’s really no mistaking who each is aimed at. From the press release:

  • “APICS CORE – This membership package is for individuals not actively pursuing an APICS credential. …
  • “APICS PLUS – This membership package is for individuals actively pursuing an APICS credential.”

Well, there you have it. So, how did APICS decide to make certification the fulcrum for members to choose between its new membership options? “The data drove us there,” says Jim Pavletich, CAE, vice president, membership and customer experience.

“Our data was showing that people were coming into the organization to take advantage of the discounts for the certification products and services, and then once they earned it, they were, to some degree, at a certain percentage, stepping away from the organization,” he says. “And what we tried to do is [determine] what can we do to stop the churn of the 13,000-plus members we’re gaining each year but we were also losing as a result of attrition.”

Pavletich says APICS membership retention rate in the past had been down around 65 percent—an affliction not uncommon among associations with one particular program that stands above the rest. APICS offers three certifications for its industry: Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM), Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), and Certified in Logistics, Transportation, and Distribution (CLTD). The challenge APICS faced was in designing a membership package that better fit the behavior patterns of its members, though this was just one part of a broader membership strategy to shore up retention and keep the organization growing, Pavletich says. (See sidebar for more on other elements of the strategy.)

APICS quantified its members’ interest in certification as a result of adding a simple yes-or-no question to its join and renewal forms last year: “Are you interested in actively pursuing an APICS certification?” (The question has since been changed to a multiple choice selection to ask which one.) It found 70 percent of members were interested in certification.

The association’s previous membership package for individuals included several benefits related to certification, but by clearly carving out one package tailored to certification-seekers and another for non-seekers, and promoting them as such, APICS hopes that members will find the packages more in tune with their desired levels of engagement, Pavletich says. Annual individual membership dues were previously $200; the new packages are $180 (Core) and $220 (Plus). Core members get a 10 percent reduction in dues that might be more palatable since certification is not a driving factor for them, while Plus members get a premium package aimed at supporting their certification goals.

Pavletich says he hoped members’ stated interest in certification would equate to corresponding engagement with the new membership model.

“Again, we were asking the question, ‘Are you interested in certification?’ And what we were hearing was 70/30,” he says. “I know from having been around the world enough times that people don’t always put their money where they say they will put their money. So, I was thinking, let’s be conservative and we’ll put this model in place that will allow for even a 50/50 split—again the $180 and the $220—to keep us revenue neutral.”

It is, of course, early, with just a few weeks of joins and renewals in since the July 20 launch (APICS follows an anniversary-style dues cycle). Pavletich says 780 members have joined or renewed since then, with 500 at the Plus level and 280 at Core—a 64/36 split. The long-term effect on renewals will take a year or more to take shape, but Pavletich says he likes the early start.

“The purpose of the new member strategy wasn’t to increase member revenue but to increase member engagement, slow the attrition, and help the organization to grow by simply keeping the members that we had,” he says. “So, the fact it has come out to 65/35 I’m very pleased with.”

What primary benefit does your association offer that could be the central focus of a multi-tier membership package? Has your association faced the challenge of engaging and retaining members who join for one specific (time-limited) purpose? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.


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

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