New Membership Model Sparks Growth
In 2020, the Association of School Business Officials International added a new membership category that allowed an entire school district to join under one membership. Despite the potential risks, the model has helped ASBO significantly grow membership and expand engagement.
In 2018, the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) International faced declining membership numbers. School business officials were retiring or changing jobs, and their replacements had never heard of the association.
“We were starting from scratch on a regular basis,” said Jackie Wallenstein, director of membership, engagement, and outreach at ASBO. “We had to keep building new relationships with prospective members.”
To reverse that decline, the association began exploring new membership models. For example, ASBO knew through research and data that some school districts had multiple individual members who attended conferences and participated in its online community. Retention rates in those districts were higher because ASBO had built relationships with multiple individuals.
“We also realized that of the 13,000 school districts across the U.S., we only had members in 2,000, so there was a lot of market potential,” she said.
That data and growth potential helped ASBO make the decision to introduce an annual school district membership category in 2020. And it paid off: ASBO more than doubled its number of paying members from March 2020 to March 2023, growing from 4,009 to 8,049.
Here’s a closer look at how understanding the landscape, digging into the data, and factoring in nondues revenue helped ASBO navigate the risks and launch a successful membership model.
Know Your Audience
Before adding the category, ASBO ran a member analysis to understand how many districts had ASBO members. If only current members with multiple people from the same district switched to district membership, there was a potential for revenue loss in the first year.
“District membership costs less than two individual memberships, no matter the size of the district,” Wallenstein said. “So, we wanted to understand how much we might lose if members switched to a district membership and paid a lower amount in dues.”
ASBO also investigated how many new district members it would need to make up for the potential loss. The association compared this number to the number of school districts in the U.S. without ASBO members—80 percent—meaning that the potential gains outweighed the risks.
“You need to know your potential market,” Wallenstein said. “We didn’t own the market yet, so even if we had multiple people in each district switch to a district membership and lose money, we knew that we didn’t need to bring in as many new members and new districts to cover that expense.”
Do Your Research
ASBO originally planned to launch the model at its 2020 annual conference in Nashville. Though that didn’t go according to plan due to COVID-19, the association did hold a pilot program, starting with districts that already had multiple members.
“Personal outreach has been a great tool to encourage districts to sign up,” Wallenstein said. “We provide clear explanations about the benefits, the pricing, and the process for getting their staff set up.”
In addition to examining data and conducting research, Wallenstein recommends seeking advice from fellow association peers.
“When looking at potential losses, analytics, prices, and modeling, it’s important to talk to other association professionals and review the models they use,” Wallenstein said. “Do your networking research. Your peers may offer different perspectives you hadn’t thought about.”
Consider Nondues Revenue
ASBO priced the school district model as a loss-leader knowing that it would generate other nondues revenue from the additional members.
“The model opens membership to all employees in a school district department that performs school business functions,” Wallenstein said. “So, more people than just the top school district official have access to our publications, resources, and online education to grow professionally.”
In tracking how much nondues revenue comes from individuals who were not members prior to their district membership, ASBO has seen increases in webinar participation and education subscriptions, as well as greater participation in online learning and in-person conferences.
For example, one local district was able to send 10 people to ASBO’s conference last year in Oregon. Since those individuals were already members, it wasn’t a financial burden for the district to get them involved.
“The school district model has helped empower everyone on these teams, because they all have access to our materials,” Wallenstein said. “Since launching this model, members have told us how much their team appreciates having the opportunity to be included and use the benefits.”