A Real-Time Dues Increase and New Membership Model Success Story

Two challenging membership dilemmas—raising dues and a new membership model—ended up working out very well for the Alpaca Owners Association. Consistent messaging, volunteer support, and member buy-in all played key roles.

The Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) restructured its membership with a significant dues increase this year. The best part? Members understood the reasoning for the change and voted for it overwhelmingly. Here’s a closer look at how it happened.

A Transparent Process

AOA came together as the result of a merger in 2014. At the time, dues was set at two levels—$15 and $115—with nothing in between. Even then, the benefits available at the $15 level resulted in a loss. AOA’s board and the previous executive director had tried to raise dues and failed. A main obstacle was that AOA’s bylaws required that any membership fee changes of more than 10 percent must go before a membership vote. Not surprisingly, members were opposed to any changes.

When AOA Executive Director Robin Gifford came on board in 2019, one of the first things she did was conduct a membership audit. It was clear the current fees could not sustain the organization. She knew it could do better, however the previous board and other members kept telling her, “We’ve tried this before. You will never be able to change it.”

Gifford was determined. She sat down with her team, and they spent months reviewing the details. They made a persona for the typical member. “Everyone will say there is no typical member,” Gifford said, “but there kind of is.” She and her team looked at member engagement levels. For example, some AOA members raise alpacas for their fleece, while others raise them for competition.

So, Gifford and her team started to sort member types based on their interests and did not attach any money to the different types. Then they turned it over to AOA’s volunteer membership committee, who looked at the categories in terms of business models. Gifford’s team and the membership committee wrestled back and forth for several months and settled on four new levels and benefits based on value with fees to support each level.

The current dues structure is $20 for youth, $50 for primary, $150 for corporate, and $200 for business/show. Just looking at those levels of engagement was meaningful and valuable in terms of benefits, Gifford said. They sent the new structure to the board and the board accepted it with only minor changes. Then, the moment of truth: It was time to send it to members.

Getting Member Buy-In

AOA had done its homework. The group went to every show, every event, and talked about what was going to happen. “We all had talking points; we were all saying the same thing,” Gifford said. They held virtual online meetings so members could come and ask questions. They had a dedicated email where members could send questions. By the time the vote came around, “it was as if it had already happened,” Gifford said. The new membership structure passed with overwhelming support. Beyond strong buy-in, AOA also had more members renew than in any other year before.

The key to AOA’s success was listening to what members value, bringing in engaged volunteers—in this case, the membership committee—for transparency, and communicating value frequently through various channels.

“We thoroughly engaged so many members in the process, it reinvigorated the membership as a whole,” Gifford said. “Long-term members are re-engaging, and newer members are stepping up. It’s been a win-win.”

(MayaCom/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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