“How do we know what membership model we should move our association to? What model is best for our members and best for the association? What are the pros and cons of each for our association?” These are the questions I’ve been asked quite a lot lately.
While I have not yet conducted member model research specifically (although it can be done) I have heard some overarching member opinions about the various membership models.
Associations with organizational membership do best when they have an account-management-like orientation
- Associations with organizational membership have a tough time with list hygiene. Some of the members who most need the associations services report not getting any of the association messaging and members who do get the messaging sometimes report getting lots of messaging that doesn’t pertain to them. Organizational membership, with it’s multitude of contacts, all of whom focus on different responsibilities, can make it really difficult to get the right message/tool/benefit to the right person at the right time. Add in a high turnover industry and list hygiene becomes a real nightmare.
- Engagement can get tricky too because many times the membership is paid for by a department and a budget not controlled by the person getting the most value from the membership. The purchase decision is out of their control as is purchasing add-ons and perhaps getting member service.
- Members also say they wish they could get the benefits of the association into the hands of others in their company but they can’t because they don’t have the time, it’s too difficult or the others don’t see the value. In other words there are so many more members the association could serve but our contact can’t make that happen for us with their resources.
- The associations that seem to be winning with organizational membership have an account management focus. Like an ad agency they, have representatives dedicated to each member account and these folks closely manage and personally serve their accounts.
Associations with individual membership may run into a pricing problem
- In member interviews, so far, I have rarely heard members talking about the individual membership structure and when they do they focus on money. They may say something like this, only one of us in the department can afford to be a member so I forward newsletters and things on to everyone else, when I remember.
Associations with too many types of membership create confusion
- In organizations that have multiple types of membership like individual, organizational and online membership, the issue becomes one of complexity. Members complained of not knowing what they could access with their membership. Some members could get everything and some just a few things. It created a ton of complexity and confusion.
Moving from one membership model to another is a huge project. There’s the preparation, research and planning, board approval, work in the AMS and on the website to accommodate the new model, not to mention all the member outreach. Perhaps this is one of the biggest projects an association can embark on so we want to get it right.
If your association is thinking about moving to a new membership model and you wonder what makes the most sense to members let’s talk about how to ask them. I may be able to help!
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