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Association Membership: What You Need to Know

Author: Sayana Izmailova
July 15, 2022
🕑 6 min read

Are you thinking of starting an association?

There are associations out there for every profession, interest, and hobby under the sun — dentistry, social activism, knitting, you name it! But if you can’t find what you’re looking for in your area, then that’s a great reason to start one yourself.

Since associations focus on serving their members, most operate on a membership model — this is one of the most important things you’ll need to think about when starting your association.

To help you implement a membership model with confidence, we’re sharing answers to some of the most common questions people have about association membership. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about starting a membership program and setting it up for success.

And when you’re ready to dive into the nitty-gritty of starting an association from scratch, be sure to check out our article How to Start an Association Step by Step.

What Is a Membership Association?

A membership association is a nonprofit organization that brings together people who work in the same industry or share common interests and goals. Members typically pay a membership fee (though some memberships are free) in exchange for access to member benefits, resources, events, and community support.

Starting a membership association is a great way to build a community of like-minded people who help each other and work together towards a shared goal.

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

What Are the Benefits of Launching an Association Membership Program?

A successful membership program can have a tremendous impact on the growth and longevity of your organization. Here are just a few of the benefits it can provide:

1. Reliable revenue through membership fees

Subscription based goods and services are all around us (think Netflix, Spotify, etc.), so your members won’t mind paying a monthly or annual membership fee. Your organization will, in turn, have a consistent source of revenue you can depend on. To make the most of your membership model, be sure to include different tiers and prices — this ensures that members get exactly what they need from their membership and have a better experience with your organization, increasing their chances of staying with you for the long run.

2. Creating a community around your organization

Many organizations have free membership tiers and some don’t charge any member dues at all. This is because your members can do so much more for your organization than just generate revenue. Engaged members become volunteers, donors, and advocates. They can create positive change in your industry, find new opportunities for growth, bring in new members, and improve each other’s member experience.

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3. Partnership opportunities

Associations thrive when they take advantage of opportunities to partner with other organizations and for-profit corporations. One of the most valuable benefits you can offer to your partner is exposure of their brand to your members. This can be in the form of promotional materials and/or discounts on their goods and services. Therefore, the larger your community of members, the better your chances of securing a partner or corporate sponsor.

4. Opportunity to expand your reach

As a nonprofit organization, your goal is to advance your mission and reach as many people as possible. Having a membership program will help you do this through member referrals, partnerships, and other opportunities to grow your community.

What Types of Services Do Membership Associations Offer?

The services offered by membership associations vary based on the type of association (professional, trade, interest-based, etc.), but here are some of the most common member benefits you can consider including:

  • Educational courses, videos, articles, webinars, and other resources
  • High-quality industry news and research findings
  • Networking opportunities and social events
  • Professional development and training
  • A mentorship program 
  • A job board
  • An online community space where members can interact and support each other

How Can I Create a Membership Program?

When you’re ready to create your association membership program, take the following five steps:

1. Assess Your Resources

Take inventory of your internal capacity to run a membership program and think about how much you could realistically offer to members given your current resources. Remember to choose quality over quantity — it’s better to offer a few truly valuable member benefits than lots of mediocre ones. Plus, you can always expand and add more services as your association grows.

If you’re not already planning to invest in membership management software (MMS), this is definitely something to look into. It will help you automate many of the administrative tasks associated with running a membership program and let you focus on creating high-quality offerings and engaging with your community.

Read More: Your Ultimate Guide to Membership Management Software for Your Nonprofit

2. Establish Your Audience

Think about the people your organization will serve. Create an ideal member persona and answer questions like:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they value?
  • What are their goals?
  • What challenges do they face?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you create value-packed member benefits that are tailored specifically for your audience and help solve their unique challenges. More importantly, knowing your audience and their needs will help you market your membership to them more effectively.

3. Determine Your Membership Model

How you structure your membership can have a big impact on your ability to attract and retain members. Here are a few things to consider:

  • How many membership tiers will you have? What will you base them on (career level, access level, number of benefits, etc.)?
  • What will you name your membership tiers and how will you price them?
  • Will you offer a free tier?
  • How often will you charge member dues (monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.)? You can also let members choose their preferred frequency and offer discounts for longer intervals.
  • Do you have a plan for how and when to upgrade members from one tier to the next?

At this point, it’s also important to think about the logistics of your membership program. For example, how will people pay their member dues and how will you deliver their member benefits to them?

Once again, a membership management software tool can help tremendously with this. With an MMS, your members’ level of access to your online community or content platform will automatically reflect the membership tier they’ve selected and whether or not they’ve paid their member dues.

4. Create Initial Content and Offerings

With your audience in mind, start creating content and finalizing the member benefits for each of your tiers. This can include things like email sequences, articles, videos, ebooks, courses, and webinars. At the same time, start publishing related content on your social media to garner interest and establish your online presence.

At this point, it’s perfectly normal to feel like you’re doing a lot of work without any return on investment — it will take some time before you start attracting your first members. Just remember that it’s much better to have everything ready to go before your membership program goes live, than to start accepting members and have nothing to give them.

5. Market Your Association Membership

To help get your membership program off to a great start, create a comprehensive marketing plan and take advantage of multiple promotional channels. For example, you can:

  • Send an email to everyone in your network and ask them to spread the word about your new membership program
  • Create flyers and get permission to post them in relevant areas like college campuses and local businesses
  • Partner with similar nonprofits or relevant for-profit companies who have the same target audience
  • Publish valuable content on social media
  • Publish a blog and attract visitors to your website
  • Use paid advertising on social media, Google, radio, or print

The Easiest Way To Start a Membership Association

As we’ve already mentioned, one of the best things you can do for your membership association is invest in membership management software. It can help you:

  • Build a professional website with member-only areas

  • Process member dues, donations, and event registration fees

  • Maintain a contact database

  • Send automated emails and newsletters

  • Engage with your community

  • And much more!

Here at WildApricot, we’re proud to be the number one membership management software used by thousands of small to mid-sized membership associations. With our all-in-one solution, you can get set up and start using each of the above features in a single afternoon!

Click here to learn more or sign up for a free 60-day trial.

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