Helping—and Keeping—Members in Hard Times

Whether due to job loss or career transition, your members might face times when it’s difficult to pay dues. Offering a transitional membership category can be one way to retain members through a period of hardship.

Melissa Klingberg still remembers a time when economic and job conditions were not so favorable in the healthcare industry. At the height of the 2008 recession, the North Carolina Medical Group Management Association started to see its membership numbers dip.

Klingberg, executive director of NCMGMA, did some research to better understand why and found that a lot of physician practices and hospital systems were cutting jobs. “At the time, everyone was sort of downgrading,” she says. “Our board was also finding that a lot of their friends and peers were finding themselves without jobs too.”

It was a hard reality that moved NCMGMA’s board to act. It updated the bylaws and created a new member category—a “transitional membership” for active, student, or affiliate members in good standing who claimed a hardship for any reason.

Requests for a one-year transitional membership must be submitted to NCMGMA’s membership committee. Transitional members retain the right to serve on volunteer committees and to vote, but they cannot run for an elected leadership position.

Even today, in a much stronger economy and with membership growing, the transitional category remains. “This was a real no-brainer for us,” Klingberg says. “Our main goal is to be a resource for our members, and we couldn’t do that if we weren’t retaining those who found themselves in this transitional period.”

Klingberg shared three keys to success for any association considering a transitional membership category:

Make it easy. NCMGMA members can apply online to change their membership status to transitional, and it doesn’t require a strict review process. “We don’t require proof of hardship for up to a year,” Klingberg says. “Our job is not to make this membership change difficult. If anything needs to be approved beyond a year, then it’s approved by the board.”

Make them keep some skin in the game. Transitional members at NCMGMA pay discounted dues for the year they claim financial hardship—a savings of $50 off the $150 active member rate. Offering a discount, rather than a free pass, makes it less likely that members will abuse the system, Klingberg says.

Offer a limited no-charge option. At the same time, NCMGMA has a no-charge option for student members who are enrolled full-time or part-time at an accredited university. After the 2008 recession, Klingberg says, many healthcare professionals went back to school to earn advanced degrees and certifications. The free student category worked as a safety net, ensuring that members with limited resources remained members as they worked to shore up their careers during the downturn.

Does your organization offer members help in times of hardship? What does it look like? Post your comments below.

(BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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