What is membership? It turns out there is a wide range in how associations define what membership is. This may be completely unconscious and after decades baked into the culture. Or it may be a hot topic as plans to change the strategic plan are made and innovations are discussed. It’s worth thinking about the kinds membership and worth deciding where we want to be. Here are the three categories of membership that I hear members express:
Membership is a Subscription
In some associations membership has become a way to price or bundle products and services. Full members get this while online members get a smaller portion of this. Pro members get this while regular members get that. Think Amazon Prime. You can buy products and services from Amazon a la cart or you can use as many of their services as much as you want with Prime. While Amazon calls their Amazon Prime buyers members these individuals have actually purchased a subscription. Some associations act, sound and look like they are fulfilling subscriptions, continually adding up the value of the individual benefits to make sure the bundle is priced right.
Membership is a Structural Skeleton
In most associations we view membership as a structure. We provide the platform for members to learn and to meet each other but it is up to them to engage. Online communities are set up. Drinks are served at networking sessions. Courses are formed. In this scenario we create the place and then we hope the members will join in and make it come alive.
Membership is a Community
In some instances we see membership as a full-fledged healthy community. Membership is something that members feel they belong to and proud they belong to. They feel at home. Someone has taken the time to nurture the culture of the community. With a certain set of understood expectations the group becomes self-moderating and helpful and the cycle grows stronger. Here leaders don’t just provide the framework or the platform for members to ask questions, learn and meet each other; instead they are in the thick of it making connections, listening to members, looking for hot topics and addressing them.
The good news is if our association acts more like a subscription or skeleton model and we want to take it to a community model the opportunity is ours. Members can tell us exactly how to do this.