Do You Really Need a New Membership Model?

Changing membership models is a lengthy process that should not be taken lightly. It requires looking at several items to determine if a change is necessary. One membership pro offers her insights on a timely topic.

Is it time to update your membership model? It’s a popular question on many membership professionals’ minds and is reflected in recent data. Forty-five percent of associations have considered a new membership model in 2021, up from 40 percent in 2020, according to Marketing General Incorporated’s (MGI) 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. It is a small, but notable, increase.

But before jumping into a new membership model structure, Camille Sanders, CAE, director of marketing and membership at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, recommends taking a step back to see if you really need one. “Because you obviously don’t want to fix what isn’t broken,” she said.

Look at the Big—and Small—Picture

Before starting the process, look at where your association stands. Is membership growth stagnant? Are there issues with retention? Take a deep dive into membership data to identify performance gaps or if there are any target market needs that are not being met. Drill down into data—especially engagement data—both from members and customers.

Looking at dues revenue is also essential because that will show if you are hitting your association’s goals, or if there is a deficit in dues revenue. “Membership growth and retention analysis can seem intimidating to a lot of association professionals because everybody’s not a numbers whiz,” Sanders said. Leveraging the expertise of the association’s finance team can help with the analysis of revenue trends and financial modeling to see if a new membership model is the way to go, she said.

Then it’s a good idea to conduct qualitative analysis by surveying or conducting focus groups with the association’s leadership, volunteer group segments, nonmember customers, and members. The goal of those assessments is to determine whether the features and the benefits of the association’s current membership model address the high priority needs of the target audience.

Ask What Members Value

“When you’re talking about a membership model change, what you’re essentially talking about is reassessing the way that individuals are able to find value in your organization,” Sanders said. For example, a tiered membership model structure provides different levels of access to different membership types.

There might be a more expensive category, where members get a full suite of benefits and a less expensive category that only provides digital access and online resources. “The less expensive category might be more appealing for people who don’t need all of the bells and whistles that come with the higher tier,” Sanders said.

Another compelling reason to look at a tiered structure? Associations experiencing increases in membership over the past five years, and those showing growth in new members and renewal rates, are more likely to have implemented a tiered membership structure, according to MGI’s report.

A tiered dues model “really does work to eliminate that one-size-fits-all approach to membership,” Sanders said. A tiered approach gives members the opportunity to customize their experience. But associations “have to be prepared to speak uniquely to the value of each different tier based on who you’re marketing to,” Sanders said.

We all know that associations have been thrust into an environment where they have to reconsider how they do business. “People don’t need or want the things they needed or wanted just two years ago,” Sanders said. This means associations must adjust and respond to the marketplace as it stands right now. Looking at current membership models and deciding if they are still effective is a good place to start.

(tomertu/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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