A Realistic—and Achievable—Approach to Revamping Membership Levels

How do you take a time-consuming process like updating membership models and make it manageable and simpler to accomplish? One association found a way to streamline the process and get it done.

It’s no secret that updating membership level structures is a complicated process with lots of moving parts. The American Library Association’s membership team came up with a way to make it more manageable—and achievable. They decided to take a phased approach.

Right now, ALA has 11 membership types which are “very complex and very confusing,” said Melissa Walling, CAE, ALA’s director of member relations and services. “Now is really the time to make membership as easy as possible for people to get in the door and start enjoying membership,” she said.

Lots of companies are offering membership models now—e.g., Netflix, Amazon, Walmart—and they are very easy to understand, with one or two levels. “You clearly know what you get, when you’re going to get it, and you can just pay and join,” she said. “People look at membership differently now, so we need to be nimble.”

In the first phase of the work, Walling’s team is focused on simplifying and consolidating categories. They are collapsing ALA’s 11 membership categories down to five and renaming some to make sure they are correct and have up-to-date terminology.

In the second phase, they will look at basic and enhanced membership models where people can upgrade their membership each year by bundling some additional membership benefits. “We felt like we weren’t ready to tackle that all at once, so we decided on a phased approach,” she said. They are hoping to roll out the first phase early next year.

Redefining Membership Types

The current dues structure is based on who members are and where they work to define the membership type. For example, non-degree holding librarians historically were referred to as “library support staff” and that is no longer the correct terminology, she said. In the updated membership models, there will be a professional membership category, one for library directors and master’s degree holders, and a category for all other library workers and international members.

The membership team is also focused on engaging the library community, whether someone is a formal volunteer at a library or someone who just generally likes libraries and their mission. Those kinds of disparate membership types will be rolled into one category: advocate. Walling said the term “advocate” reflects those members’ commitment to advocating for ALA’s mission even though they are not library professionals.

Communicate Member Value

For the beginning stages of the work on the first phase, they worked with a consulting firm to recommend some of the models along with financial modeling. A couple of the memberships will increase in price, and they will have to account for some loss, but also some gain in membership. They are in the process of determining what affordability looks like for members and are looking at other library associations and some of their state chapters to see how others are pricing.

Streamlining membership levels “helps us better explain and communicate the value of membership,” Walling said. And that makes it easier and quicker for members to join.

The phased approach also adds a layer of realism to the process, and Walling credits ALA’s membership committee for understanding that it does need to be an iterative process for something as complex as updating membership types—it doesn’t have to be everything all at once.

“We acknowledged where we want to be, but recognized we couldn’t get there in one year,” she said. “But we can’t afford to keep waiting.”

(anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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