To Boost Global Membership, Get Flexible

Strict membership categories and dues structures don’t work for everyone. For your global members, consider flexible options, like income-adjusted pricing or low- or no-cost membership.

Whether your association has a global presence or is looking to expand internationally, you’ll need a strategy to recruit, retain, and engage members who will likely have different needs and backgrounds than members in your home country.

In the November/December issue of Associations Now, I explored how U.S. associations can grow in another country with the support of a local chapter. That tactic seems to help associations gain a foothold to fuel global expansion and membership growth.

But associations should also be mindful of economic conditions that might make membership dues prohibitively expensive for many international members.

“Dues rates that are typical for a U.S.-, Canada-, or Europe-centric association are not accessible to someone living in an emerging country,” says Jen Alluisi, CAE. She’s an account executive, program director, and director of education for the Custom Management Group, an association management company whose clients have an established international presence. “What I have seen are international associations who are trying to get professionals [in other countries] engaged by giving them access to some member benefits at a flexible, reduced, or free rate.”

Many associations rely on economic data gathered by organizations like the World Bank and World Health Organization to set international dues that account for income differences and other economic factors, like inflation.

“Many associations have said, if you are a resident or practicing professional living in a lower- or middle-income country, then you qualify for a special and reduced rate,” Alluisi says. Examples include the Optical Society of America and Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

In addition to offering flexible dues, associations might want to try a few other recruitment tactics to lure international members:

Free or alternative membership categories. Creating a free membership category, or giving members access to pay-as-you-go or pay-what-you-can membership, adds greater flexibility and choice for international members. If you decide to go the free route, Alluisi says it’s important that members click “renew” annually. “Complimentary memberships should always require a recommitment,” she says. “Even though it doesn’t cost the member anything, having them renew tells the organization that this is an active and engaged individual.”

Flexible forms of payment. Access to banking and credit can be another issue, depending on the country a member lives in. Fortunately, Alluisi says, technology now makes it easier to send and receive payments via mobile devices. “Our colleagues in Africa are accustomed to operating in their local economy through prepaid cellphones that transfer money,” she says. Payment preferences are also evolving with technology. The global messaging app WeChat, which is popular in China, has a mobile payments feature known as WeChat Pay, and WhatsApp says it’s experimenting with a similar form of peer-to-peer payment.

Digital-only access. Associations should also take inventory of current member benefits and services to see if there’s room for a discounted “digital-only” membership. Alluisi says digital resources are often the most accessible and appealing options for global members. There could also be ways to convert legacy association products into digital versions. One example is an association’s print magazine, which could be converted into a digital PDF and posted online rather than delivered by mail, a method that can be ineffective or expensive, depending on the country.

Have you had success recruiting international members? What strategies or tactics work best? Post your comments below.

(JM_Image_Factory/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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