A New Membership Model Proves Its Value

Some organizational soul searching uncovered an outdated, cumbersome membership model that needed to be revamped. The reinvention focused on enhancing inclusivity and offering ways for members to engage on their own terms.

A lot of associations are reassessing their membership models and realizing they are outdated and—perhaps even worse—confusing. The National Speakers Association reached that conclusion after some reflection.

“It was a more of a traditional model, based on your level of experience, as opposed to how you want to engage with NSA,” said Mary Lue Peck, NSA’s president and CEO.

The group conducted qualitative and quantitative research and analysis of the marketplace—both nonprofits and for-profits—to gauge what they were doing. “Essentially, membership is the ultimate subscription business, and more and more companies are trying to get into the subscription business,” she said.

NSA’s purpose is to help thought leaders build better speaking businesses and be better speakers. Like many associations, it traditionally put a heavy emphasis on membership recruitment, but didn’t always see the results they wanted.

Peck talked to a lot of potential members to figure out what was preventing them from joining, and she kept hearing a similar story. People said they tried to join when they were new to the field and didn’t think they met NSA’s qualifications. By the time they had the qualifications, they decided they didn’t need the group.

“We put up a door saying, ‘We don’t want you,’ which is the opposite of today’s culture,” Peck said. It also was at odds with the community NSA serves. “Having a membership model that was exclusive didn’t align with a lot of our members’ values,” she added.

Public speakers are solopreneurs and struggle to make it, so putting up walls between them and the tools NSA provides was counterproductive. “If our mission is to empower professional speakers, then we have to provide tools to prepare people at all levels,” Peck said.

Three Ways to Engage

Peck’s team identified three primary ways for professional speakers to engage with NSA: learn, subscribe, and join. The membership model essentially treats those engagement levels as a progression. For the “learn” component, NSA allows potential members to access certain resources for free.

Then, when they are ready to become a professional speaker, they can subscribe to NSA for a monthly fee. Those who are assessing the profession and aren’t sure if they want to commit to it completely can maintain that monthly subscription, which provides access to more resources, the digital magazine, and recordings of NSA’s monthly business and speaker series. When a subscriber is ready to fully join NSA, the organization offers three levels of membership based on how they want to engage.

Peck said NSA learned a valuable lesson during the pandemic. The group put out a lot of digital offerings and didn’t know if members would be ready for a higher level of digital engagement.

“Not only were they ready for it, they embraced it and asked for more,” she said. The team realized they could offer more supplemental chances to network virtually throughout the year, not just once a year at the annual summit.

“Let’s keep them active all year round,” Peck said, “because the more engaged your members are, the higher your renewal rate.”

Before embarking on a membership transformation, “make sure your organization is ready for the change,” she said. It is an emotional journey, especially if your members are highly engaged, like NSA’s.

“You can’t talk about it enough,” Peck said.

(anilakkus/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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