How to Provide Member Development Opportunities in Your Organization

Membership June 12, 2019

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

Why do people join your organization?

For Liza, the vice president at a small professional association, the answer was mainly new professionals who wanted to meet others in their field and network.  

She was also attracting more students who were interested in the field and wanted to learn from established professionals.

However, she had started noticing that she was having trouble with member retention.

New members were joining her organization every week, but left just as quickly.

When she started talking to some of these lapsed members, many of them told her it was because they were having trouble seeing the value in her membership.

If you’re experiencing something similar, it might be time to take a long, hard look at the member development opportunities you’re providing.

In organizations like Lisa’s, members typically join because they want to grow on both personal and professional levels. They aim to meet new contacts, become leaders in their field, and get involved on a deeper level.

And if these expectations aren’t satisfied, you’re not likely to retain members down the road. 

That’s why creating strong and relevant member benefits isn’t just recommended — it’s vital for your organization’s growth.

You might already be providing benefits like this in your organization.

But if you’re hoping to update them, or want to change up your membership levels, I’ve come up with six examples from real organizations I’ve worked with to give you more ideas.

And if you’re looking for the best way to get new members started, don’t forget to check out our webinar with membership expert Amanda Kaiser on June 24th.

How to Determine the Best Opportunities


So, how do you know which member development opportunities to offer?

As Liza found out, the best way is simply to ask your members.

While the types of member benefits differ from one organization to the next, the reasoning behind them is consistent: your members dictate the development opportunities they’re hoping for.

Some ways you can capture this information include:

  • Ask new members to complete a survey, either online or in-person. Include strategic questions such as:

    • What benefits do you hope to receive through your membership?

    • Describe your ideal member experience?

    • Are you interested in volunteer opportunities?

  • Schedule and run a new member orientation. During the session, create a safe environment that facilitates conversation regarding member development and expectations.

  • Call all members one-on-one at least during the year about their experience.

  • Make membership personal by providing a contact person that members can reach out to with suggestions.

Gathering this data allows you to grow your development opportunities over time while meeting the specific needs of your member base.

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7 Member Development Ideas for Your Organization


When it comes to your member development opportunities, consider first what your association provides that is unique from similar organizations.

The organizations I’ve seen provide the most valuable member development are those who are really in tune with their members’ needs.  

Remember, members don’t join “just because” — they do so because they want to benefit from your value.

That’s why it’s so important that you find the right opportunities and incentives that draw in prospective members and engage current members.

Here’s a list of some of the best member development ideas I’ve seen around.

I’ve also highlighted some great examples from associations hitting the mark when it comes to member development.

1. Get Them Online

In our digital, connected world, a lot happens online. And that’s a good thing, considering some of your members may be limited by scheduling issues or other commitments.

To guarantee every member has a chance to reap the benefits, it’s smart to offer online learning opportunities such as:

  • Continuing education courses

  • Free or reduced registration for webinars

  • Specialized programming

  • Industry-specific credits

Online learning allows members to grow professionally on their own schedule while still remaining connected with your organization. A great example of this member benefit comes from the European Society for Medical Oncology, an organization that offers numerous online learning opportunities for members, many of which involve credits and additional educational courses.

2. Get Them Reading

Access to complimentary professional publications are a mainstay for many organizations looking to boost their development opportunity list. In some cases, access to these publications may not be possible without membership.

One of the biggest draws for members of the Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (PASCD) is their robust offering of free weekly, quarterly, and open-access professional publications. In fact, they use an entire website tab to highlight this benefit!

 member development

3. Get Them Making Friends

Love it or hate it, networking is arguably the bread and butter of development opportunities for membership  organizations. Regardless of your personal or professional status, networking helps members share their skills and connect with others to grow mutually beneficial relationships.

Sure, some of your members may not like to network. (Let’s be honest — I hate it!)

Many find the idea of an in-person networking event nerve-wracking, while others thrive in these social situations. With all that said, there are ways to offer networking opportunities that appeal to virtually all of your members.

These include:

  • Online member directory: Useful for all members and particularly helpful for those adverse to in-person networking, a searchable online member directory connects members digitally. With this tool, members can take the initiative to reach out to fellow members and network as needed and at their own pace.

  • Networking events: In-person networking events can be anything from a pre-scheduled gala to a post-monthly meeting impromptu gathering. While networking-only events are great, giving members time to connect before and after scheduled events also facilitates relationship-building and fosters collaboration. For example, the Career Professional Executives Networking Group is an entire organization revolving around professional networking. The group offers weekly meetings at seven different locations and helps facilitate key introductions among members.

  • Mentorship opportunities: You can choose to create an official mentorship program, or simply start by partnering new and established members to begin the spread of institutional knowledge.

4. Meet Them Offline

Organizations often organize conferences and in-person training for members. These events offer valuable information as well ass social and networking opportunities.

Each year, the Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP) holds the Extension Leadership Conference, which brings members together for two-days of education, inspiration, and engagement. Since in-person training is important to this member base, JCEP steps up to provide this service.

member development

5. Give Them Savings

Membership discounts are a quick and easy way to grow your organization. Just as nonprofits use donation tiers to promote giving at particular levels, associations and other professional organizations may want to follow this same technique as a way to include a variety of prospective members.

Another benefit: providing these discounts may seem like a development opportunity on the surface, but consider that some would be unable to participate in an organization’s entire benefits package if it weren’t for this “perk.”

Chicago Women in Planning and Development (WP+D) use membership tiers to incentivize members of all professional levels to join. Students receive discounted membership ($30) compared to the professional rate ($75).

Keep in mind that discounts don’t necessarily start and stop with membership.

member development

Members of many organizations also reap rewards through discounted events, trainings, and educational resources.

Those benefits are exactly what NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Association, provides members.

 member development 

Read More: How to Host a Virtual Member Appreciation Week in 5 Simple Steps

6. Let Them Share

Giving your members a voice will help them feel like you really care about what they have to say and what they’re concerned about.

Associations and other organizations that serve as a sounding board for members help in the sharing of knowledge among members, while also boosting their exposure. Plus, members published in an organization’s newsletter or online blog can use that experience to expand their careers and meet new contacts.

Here are a few ways you can help develop members by giving them exposure:

member development
  • Highlight members in newsletters — what have they done that’s noteworthy that you can share?

  • Encourage conversations on social media between members — for example, you could start a monthly Twitter chat with a branded hashtag

7. Go to Bat for Them

One of the most successful — and most underrated — membership development opportunities I’ve seen is advocacy assistance.

That’s because if your organization advocates on local, state, and federal levels, you’re intrinsically promoting the well-being of your members.

So, a fantastic way to engage your members through your advocacy work is by calling on them to participate as active volunteers. This opportunity develops a member’s professional exposure and gives them a chance to serve on the front lines of public policy.

A great example of this particular member development opportunity comes courtesy of the Community Economic Development Committee of Michigan (CDAD). Along with a list of other benefits, CDAD members get a chance to dive deep into advocacy work.

member development

And Liza’s story has a happy ending too.

Once she began implementing more ways for her members to connect, such as sending out a monthly member newsletter that highlighted some of their latest achievements and organizing more in-person events, she noticed that her member retention rate skyrocketed.

Regardless of which member development opportunities you choose, the secret in quality options lies in understanding the motivations of your member base.

Once you know what types of benefits they’re looking for, you can fine-tune your benefits and ultimately create a life and career-changing organization where members learn, grow, and thrive!


Read More: 7 Proven Ways to Increase Member Retention Right Now

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