Membership Perks to Learn From: The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Cumulative Approach

A member society focused on the simplicity and beauty of looking at clouds has some novel member benefits—but those benefits ultimately serve the broader goal of building passion for cloudspotting.

Do you ever look up at the sky, ponder the shape of the clouds, and wonder, “Is there an association for that?”

The answer, it turns out, is yes—well, a society, to be exact—and the organization has an interesting approach to its membership offerings.

The U.K.-based Cloud Appreciation Society (CAS), which first came about in 2005, aims to connect people with their sense of creativity and wonder, according to its founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, an author and cloud educator.

“We’ve awoken people’s connection to the sky,” he said. “I think as children, we naturally develop a connection to the sky, which is related to the invitations to our imaginations—which is what clouds are.” Their abstract forms, Pretor-Pinney said, invites creative minds to find shapes in clouds.

The society has adapted its membership approach over the years, but one thing has stayed constant—every new member gets a membership kit in the mail.

Cloud Appreciation Society Membership

When the organization started, Pretor-Pinney created a physical kit, including a pin and a membership certificate. As is common with other associations, members were also given a number to identify them when they joined CAS.

Initially, the organization was built around one-time membership—that is, those who signed up gained lifetime membership, reflecting CAS’ roots as a general point of fascination for its creator, rather than as an attempt to build a business or professional coalition. (Beyond CAS, Pretor-Pinney is perhaps best known for cofounding The Idler, a popular British culture magazine whose mission fits well with that of the society.)

“You had a number, a certificate, you’re a member, then you were good to go,” Pretor-Pinney said.

Later, the organization started offering a “cloud selector,” a paper-based tool that helps users identify types of clouds.

These objects reflect a sense of whimsy, but they’ve also built passion for the organization’s mission—passion that has driven long-term engagement—sometimes in deeply personal ways.

“One time I was doing a talk somewhere and a couple came up at the end to maybe get a book signed or something like that,” Pretor-Pinney said. “And she said, ‘Well go on, show him, then.’ He rolled up his sleeve, and he had a tattoo with the original cloud that we had on our first certificates.”

Every Day, a New Cloud

The kits are still distributed to members today. But Pretor-Pinney has also updated the organization’s approach, looking to build additional value for members with a yearly subscription model.

At the center of this model is a popular email newsletter called Cloud-a-Day, in which recipients get a new picture of a cloud—whether a photograph or an artist’s representation in a painting—along with a short blurb of text. The newsletter is intentionally structured as a member benefit, rather than as a marketing effort; those are distributed through other channels.

“This daily cloud email never has that—no promotion,” Pretor-Pinney said. “Instead, from that point of view, people know when they open it what they’re getting. And it’s amazing how people have a very different relationship [with the email].”

The result is that the message turns into a distinct member benefit that helps its large audience see the society as a yearly membership worth paying for. (Legacy lifetime members are not required to subscribe to maintain their status as official cloud appreciators, but they’re encouraged to invest in an annual membership.)

Looking for Next Steps

CAS continues to evolve, in part because of changing audiences. For one thing, Pretor-Pinney notes that younger users are less interested in email as a platform, so the organization is working to create educational offerings such as lesson plans for classrooms and home-schoolers.

Additionally, the organization is bolstering its app strategy. The current version, available for iOS and Android, allows members to read Cloud-a-Day emails and detect types of clouds in the sky using artificial intelligence. A forthcoming version, expected to be a major update, is anticipated to build even more social elements, including a way to assess cloud photos that others have taken.

“It’s going to be like Tinder for clouds—swipe right if you think they identified the cloud correctly,” he said.

(As Pretor-Pinney was quick to note, his work at CAS has required him to gain a strong understanding of the digital cloud, which enables features such as those of the app.)

Pretor-Pinney has his eyes on improving value for those interested in taking part in the society, and finding ways to bring new members into the fold. He suggested a junior membership is likely to become an option, and that CAS might work to build inroads in other parts of the world—especially in China, where his work as an author has helped to draw interest to the society.

Ultimately, the organization’s member benefits exist as a means to an end—a group of people who are passionate about clouds, emotionally engaged in their discovery, and embrace a certain philosophy about their surroundings.

“That is actually what drives them,” he said. “The daily emails that they get might justify it when people ask them, but what drives them even more is, ‘I want to be a part of the society that says clouds are beautiful.’”

(my_beloved/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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