Do you really need a new membership model? : Associations now

By Lisa Boylan / October 5, 2021
(tomertu / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Changing membership models is a long process that should not be taken lightly. There are several things that need to be considered to determine if a change is necessary. A membership pro offers her ideas on a hot topic.

Is it time to update your membership model? This is a popular question on the minds of many membership professionals and is reflected in recent data. Forty-five percent of associations considered a new membership model in 2021, up from 40 percent in 2020, according to Marketing General Incorporated (MGI) 2021 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. This is a small but noticeable increase.

But before embarking on a new membership model structure, Camille Sanders, CAE, Director of Marketing and Membership at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, recommends taking a step back to see if you really have any. need. “Because you obviously don’t want to fix what’s not broken,” she said.

Look at the big and the small picture

Before you start the process, take a look at where your association is. Is membership growth stagnating? Are there retention issues? Dive into member data to identify performance gaps or if there are target market needs that are not being met. Explore data, especially engagement data, from both members and customers.

It is also essential to look at membership fees, as this will show whether you are meeting your association’s goals or if there is a deficit in membership revenue. “Analyzing membership growth and retention can seem daunting to many association professionals because not everyone is an expert in numbers,” said Sanders. Leveraging the expertise of the association’s finance team can help analyze revenue trends and financial modeling to see if a new membership model is the way to go, she said.

Then, it is a good idea to conduct a qualitative analysis by interviewing or organizing focus groups with association management, segments of volunteer groups, non-member clients and members. The purpose of these assessments is to determine whether the features and benefits of the association’s current membership model meet the high priority needs of the target audience.

Ask what members like

“When you talk about a change in membership model, you’re basically talking about re-evaluating how individuals are able to find value in your organization,” Sanders said. For example, a multilevel membership model structure provides different levels of access to different types of membership.

There could be a more expensive category, where members get a full range of benefits, and a cheaper category that only provides digital access and online resources. “The cheapest category might be more appealing to people who don’t need all of the bells and whistles that come with the next level,” Sanders said.

Another compelling reason to look at a multi-level structure? Associations experiencing an increase in membership over the past five years, and those showing growth in new membership and renewal rates, are more likely to have established a multi-level membership structure, according to MGI report.

A tiered membership model “really works to eliminate this one-size-fits-all approach to membership,” Sanders said. A tiered approach gives members the ability to personalize their experience. But associations “have to be prepared to speak uniquely about the value of each different level depending on who you’re marketing,” Sanders said.

We all know that associations have been pushed into an environment where they have to reconsider the way they do business. “People don’t need or want things they needed or wanted just two years ago,” Sanders said. This means that associations must adapt and react to the market as it currently stands. Looking at current membership models and deciding if they are still effective is a good place to start.


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