Is Now the Right Time to Raise Dues?

Increasing dues is never an easy decision, but after many organizations offered hardship accommodations to members during the pandemic, it’s an even thornier issue. Membership expert Joy Duling offers some guidance.

When the pandemic hit, a lot of organizations immediately offered reduced dues or dues breaks to members who were experiencing financial hardship. Now, two years in, people are wondering: Is it the right time to raise membership dues?

“When organizations made the decision to adjust prices, they didn’t necessarily give a lot of thought to what would be on the other side,” said Joy Duling, founder and CEO of the Joy of Membership. They did what was needed at the time, but there was no playbook for what should happen next.

“They have to approach it the same way they would approach raising prices at any other time,” she said. The best place to start is to look at all the different benefits that you offer and, knowing that some have been offered in the past year others have not, break that into chunks.

For example, if your live conference didn’t happen, did you offer a webinar series, industry report, or online networking event instead? Break those out into pieces so you can assess what’s been delivered, what’s been put on hiatus, and what you anticipate you will be able to deliver going forward.

“I do believe that hybrid activities and doing more digitally driven activities are here to stay,” Duling said. That means organizations need to think about how to weave those into their value proposition, which will help make the shift in price feel like it’s in alignment with the value that’s being offered.

Messaging Tips

Any time an organization increases prices, they should talk about why the price increase is happening. For example, explain that to provide members relief during the pandemic, you reduced prices by a certain amount, but going forward you are going to step back to the normal pricing structure.

Duling recommends pairing the announcement of the price increase with an enhanced benefit that will get people excited about what lies ahead. It will take the sting out of the price increase, so it won’t seem like you’re just increasing prices and members are getting the same-old, same-old.

“It’s more like: Hey, it’s time to increase our prices, and we’re really excited about what we’re rolling out in the next few weeks and months—and we think you’ll be excited too,” she said.

Messaging for any membership benefits must focus on the value proposition. What is the outcome members want, and how is this new suite of benefits going to help members achieve the outcome they are looking for?

For example, if your members are looking to increase their awareness of industry issues, connect the benefits you’re offering with what they want. Talk about the value of your networking meetings, accreditation process, and how all those things have a financial and professional benefit.

Incentives like locking in pricing for a certain period are also a good option. Or a fast-action bonus like an early bird or VIP admittance to an upcoming event. And the incentive could help with the technology headache of asking members to renew. You’re asking them to jump through a hoop, but you’re making it worth their while by making it fun. “The pleasure has to be greater than the pain,” Duling said.

Despite all the difficulties of the past two years, Duling is philosophical about what’s next. “The collective experience that we’ve all been through has given us all a new perspective on how to create value for members,” she said. “We will all be doing business a little differently going forward.”

(ImagePixel/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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