Talking Membership: 25 Terms Every Association Pro Should Know

A glossary of common terms related to membership that will help you keep up in conversations with colleagues, volunteers, and members.

Do you speak membership? As an association professional, you’d better—and you probably are comfortable with a lot of the common terms that are bandied about in the association community every day. But membership has a cross-discipline jargon of its own that can get extremely specific, and it can catch newbies and even old pros off guard.

Consider this list of membership terms your go-to resource the next time you find yourself struggling to distinguish your retention rate from your churn rate or keep your member segments straight. Like our “Tech Talk” glossary, we hope it comes in handy as you build your association language fluency.

Member Basics

Chapter organization: A break-off organization, tied to either a specific region or an organizational niche, that is affiliated with an organization but brings together a narrower body of members.

Churn rate: The opposite of member retention, this term refers to the percentage of members who have lapsed over a given period.

Code of Ethics

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Code of ethics: A set of conduct standards that association members are expected to follow, based on the association’s core values. Many associations have been challenged to keep their ethics codes up to date as social media has made negative and unprofessional behavior more public.

Dues: Revenue raised directly from membership. Although dues are an important part of many associations’ bottom lines, a key goal of many organizations in recent years is to diversify their revenue streams beyond membership (see “nondues revenue”). Many associations have favored dues on an annual cycle in the past, but monthly or installment dues are becoming more popular.

Exit survey: A survey given to members as they leave the organization. This type of survey is important for improving future offerings.

Net promoter score: A measure of a member’s loyalty to or satisfaction with an association. A term that originated in the business world, net promoter score measures a member’s willingness to recommend your organization, and its products and services, to others.

Nondues revenue: Revenue raised from areas other than membership dues. Associations often generate this revenue through events, learning opportunities, and services targeted at members beyond what a membership covers.

Passive member: A “member in name only” who is disengaged from the association. Membership teams look for ways to encourage participation by these members to demonstrate membership value and increase the likelihood of retaining them.

Retention rate: The percentage of members who have renewed their membership over a given period.

Segmentation: The process of dividing members into groups based on common characteristics so organizations can market to each group effectively and appropriately.

Member Demographics

Baby boomer: A term describing people born between the post-World War II years of 1946 and 1964. For many associations, these members make up their oldest demographic, with many in senior roles and some nearing or at retirement age. A concern associations face regarding baby boomers is “brain drain”—or the loss of institutional knowledge as older members leave.

Generation X: A term describing people who were born between 1965 and 1980, generally representing a middle-age tier of members in an organization. MultiBriefs describes this group, the smallest of recent generations, as hardworking, individualistic, and valuing efficiency in their association relationships.

Generation Z: A term describing people born between 1997 and 2012. This demographic tier is only just now breaking into associations as its oldest members graduate college and enter the workforce. Despite their reputation for heavy social media use, it’s widely believed that Gen Z-ers join associations for face-to-face interactions.


Millennial: Also sometimes referred to as Generation Y, this term describes people born between 1981 and 1996, and it represents people in the early to middle parts of their careers. This generation is considered the first tech-native generation, and associations have faced many challenges reaching this audience over the past decade.

Member Tactics

Content marketing: The process of creating and strategically structuring content (an information resource of some kind) to target a specific audience. This tactic is often used in member contexts to attract and engage new or existing members.

Crowdsourcing: A member engagement tactic that describes a resource, such as a piece of content, that has been collected from a group of people. This approach works particularly well for highlighting member success stories and raising member voices.

Engagement: The process of interacting with a member in order to produce ongoing value for that member. This is a perennial challenge for associations, but it’s a key to attracting and retaining members.

Influencer: A prominent, high-profile voice in a community or field (also see “thought leadership”). The rise of social media has increased the use of influencers for marketing and messaging purposes. Within an organization, individual members can become influencers on a smaller scale; those members are often called “micro-influencers.”

Member Onboarding

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Onboarding: The process of introducing new members to an organization and getting them up to speed. Onboarding is important to ensure members feel equipped to gain maximum value from an organization.

Thought leadership: The concept of introducing and promoting ideas of high relevance to a specific member community. These ideas can be advanced by an organization, through content marketing, or by a leading voice within the community.

Member Tech

Association management system (AMS): A technology tool usually comprising a mix of management elements, such as a membership database, a website builder, communications system (email), finance and payment system, event platform, and more. In recent years, the AMS has become a dominant technology supporting association operations.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software: A technology for managing all of a company’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. Designed to improve relationships to grow a business.

Drip Campaign

Drip campaign: An email campaign that helps ensure engagement with members over a long period by sending a series of messages to their inboxes.

Learning management system (LMS): A software application providing the framework that handles all aspects of an organization’s learning programs. It’s a place to house, deliver, and track an association’s training content.

Private community: A forum or similar digital discussion hub where association members can engage with fellow members on issues relevant to their field or organization. Unlike more traditional social networks, a private community tends to be tight-knit. It’s a key example of a member benefit in the digital age.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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