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Affinity Programs: 4 Tips for Making Them Work

By focusing on member experience, associations can build a program that boosts membership value and provides resources that improve members’ personal and professional lives.

If done right, an affinity program serves as a revenue stream, a retention tool, and a boost in membership value. But what really entices members? Not just a bunch of random, irrelevant discounts. An effective affinity program targets members’ specific needs and provides legitimate value.

“What can you be doing as an organization to help, support, care for, and connect more effectively with your audience?” says Brian Haney, CAE, founder and vice president of The Haney Company, a financial services firm that advises associations. “Whether or not it makes money or lends itself to affinity, don’t be tone-deaf. Really lean in empathetically. Then build a strategy around how to enhance that moving forward.”

Use these tips to develop an affinity program that suits your members.

Identify Your Members’ Needs

While affinity programs can be an effective revenue stream, Haney says associations should create one only through the lens of the member experience. When you offer something that members truly value, the revenue will come.

How do you know what they’ll value? You probably have a sense of member needs already, but a survey that asks them directly will give you more insight. If you want a broader view, go beyond members and survey your entire industry by partnering with a survey or market research firm.

You can also consult with your most active members and use them as a sounding board for ideas. If your most engaged members are on board, they’ll become brand ambassadors when your affinity program launches.

Emphasize Your Value Proposition

Effective communication is critical to a successful affinity program, Haney says. If your program’s offerings don’t seem to fit the association’s purpose or value proposition, members may not trust those products or services. Make sure that you clearly communicate how the elements of your affinity program are connected to your mission.

Haney provides an example: Let’s say that members flock to your association because of its successful advocacy efforts. A deal on insurance in your affinity program might feel “off” to your members—they may believe they’re being sold something rather than receiving a valuable benefit.

“The first thing I think is missing here is not that it isn’t beneficial, but there’s probably a brand disconnect,” Haney says. “I would safely say that good affinity and bad affinity is probably as much a function of marketing and communication as it is the actual product or service you’re offering.”

Explain clearly how your affinity program offerings tie to your industry, fit into your association’s value proposition, and improve the member experience. The message can be as simple as: “We know you’re in an industry that’s struggling in these areas, and we want to be a resource for you. That’s why we’ve developed this program and brought it to you.”

“That’s very different than just saying, ‘Hey, we’re bringing this to you’ without that framework,” Haney says. “You’re doing the same thing functionally, but the messaging is completely different.”

Find the Right Partners

Before enlisting affinity partners, associations can do a couple of things to make sure they’re connecting with the right companies:

  • Make sure potential partners understand your industry and your association. Can they tailor their offerings to your members’ specific needs?
  • Ask potential partners for examples of their past successes, failures, and learnings to understand their experience with affinity programs. The more experience, the better.

“Do your due diligence; really dot all your i’s and cross your t’s upfront before you even go to launch,” Haney says. “Don’t rush it because you need revenue or you don’t want to be late to the party. Get it right; don’t get it quick.”

Perform an Affinity Analysis

To stay on top of member needs, periodically do an affinity analysis to review how members are using your discounts and benefits. Members’ needs change as their lives change—the pandemic, bringing the rapid shift to remote work and virtual events, being a recent example. It might be the time to offer deals on financial literacy programs or remote work training, but reconnect with your members first before offering common solutions.

“Solutions that seem like they’re this macro-level fit for everybody aren’t,” Haney says. “If I rolled out Zoom to a plumbing association, they are going to tell me, ‘I don’t care.’”



(Kodochigov/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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