Three Ideas for Adapting Your Membership Model to Changing Times

Membership model changes are front of mind for many associations. And if your organization does decide it’s time to update your model to better serve members, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Get some expert insights.

A lot of membership professionals are wondering if it’s time to update membership models. It is a popular topic of discussion on ASAE’s Collaborate network [ASAE member login required], and recent data backs it up. Forty-five percent of associations have considered a new membership model in 2021, up from 40 percent in 2020, according 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report by Marketing General Incorporated (MGI).

I spoke to several membership experts over the past few months to learn more. Here are some top insights they shared.

Member Needs Have Changed

When the pandemic hit, members turned to their associations to get immediate help and information to navigate the crisis, which was a main factor in increased engagement. But the situation is more complicated: Engagement isn’t enough, and there needs to be a focus on retention and renewal.

Before the pandemic, 81 percent of CEOs said that younger members were not interested in traditional membership models, according to Associations Laboratory’s recent Looking Forward Solutions 2021 study [registration required]. Between 2019 and 2021, most associations did not substantively change their membership models, said Dean West, FASAE, president and founder of Association Laboratory.

“Membership as an offer is suffering because, overwhelmingly, most associations don’t have a different model now than they had a year ago, but their members’ needs are different,” he said.

That means revamping stagnant membership models is essential. Now that traditional boundaries and relationships have been disrupted, associations have the freedom to reinvent themselves in ways no one could have imagined.

A Phased Approach

Diving into updating your membership model might seem a little daunting because it can be a complicated process with lots of moving parts. That’s why the American Library Association’s membership team came up with a way to make it more manageable—and achievable.

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.

In the first phase of the work, Walling’s team 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 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 in early 2022.

Tiered Membership Models

If you’re looking to give members more options and price points, a tiered membership model, which provides different levels of access to different membership types, might be a good option. There could 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,” said Camille Sanders, CAE, director of marketing and membership at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

A tiered approach also gives members the opportunity to customize their experience and “eliminate that one-size-fits-all approach to membership,” Sanders said.

Another compelling reason to look at a tiered structure? Associations experiencing membership increases 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.

“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.

What is your association doing to update or change its membership model? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

(Gajus/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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