Should You Waive Fees for New Members?

Many associations are wondering what to do about membership dues during the COVID-19 pandemic. As you consider that question, remember that what works for one association won’t necessarily work for all.

The National Limousine Association announced at the beginning of April that it would waive fees for new members because of the “devastating effects of COVID-19.” NLA President Robert Alexander said the decision was based on a desire to help the entire industry weather the crisis.

Before the pandemic, Alexander said, NLA might have streamed a members-only live webinar on, for example, how to apply for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program. Now members who have joined for free can participate because there are no barriers to entry.

“We’re hoping that if they find value in what we’re doing, they’ll stay and become full-fledged, dues-paying members,” he said. “We want to support them in the long run.”

The decision to temporarily offer free membership—from April through June—has yielded an uptick in traffic to NLA’s website, a significant increase in Facebook followers, and excellent feedback overall from new and existing members. “Our videos are being viewed twice as many times as we have members,” Alexander said. “It’s working.”

But what works for one association does not always translate into results for another association. Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group, recommends that organizations consider their “gut intuition” and brainstorm to determine whether waiving member fees is right for them by considering a whole list of options. Then, before making a significant change that could affect the organization financially, she advises collecting other data points to inform the decision.

Jacobs set out four steps as a roadmap to a decision if you’re considering a dues waiver in the current crisis. You can use the same process to weigh any substantial organizational change.

Take a quick survey. The response rate is usually good because members want to share, and they also want to know what other members are doing. Ask: How have your business operations been affected? How long do you expect the financial impact to last? What are your pressing concerns?

Think it through. Ask yourself what the financial implications of waiving member fees are and what the long-term effects will be on your organization.

Take risks, but plan for mistakes. Try to get comfortable taking risks, but go in knowing that missteps may happen. If the idea works, great. If it doesn’t, learn from the mistakes. Celebrate both, and appreciate what you’ve learned.

Make it sensible. Before you make a decision, be prepared to demonstrate that doing nothing was a bigger risk and have the data and due diligence in place to back up your decision once you make it.

“The bigger risk is sitting there and doing absolutely nothing. By showing that you are not averse to risk, you’re demonstrating leadership,” Jacobs said.

Echoing former ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, who died earlier this year, she said, “If you’ve seen one association, you’ve seen one association.” She added, “Even if there are similarities in your organizations, do your own due diligence.”

(Kritchanut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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