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Demonstrating Membership Value

Lori Halley 05 October 2011 2 comments

“Membership growth…shows strong signs of a rebound from the severe effects of the multiyear recession," according to the recently released 2011 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report by Marketing General.  Of the 650 associations who participated in the annual survey, “49% said they recorded an increase in members over the previous 12 months, the highest percentage since the inception of the Benchmarking Report in 2009.” In addition, the report also found that “renewals were also up from prior years with 32% of respondents saying they had an increase in overall continuation rates.

While the study offers “positive indicators” that membership rates are stabilizing or on the rise, the report alsoreveals the impediments to growth facing many associations and other membership organizations. The diagram below (from the study) demonstrates how these challenges have impacted membership growth or decline over the last five years.

It’s not just about products and services – it’s about VALUE

So why are some associations able to retain members and even grow their membership base while others are struggling? In her article, “How to Build Membership Relationships That Last,” in ASAE Associations Now magazine back in August, Sarah L. Sladek reminds us that it comes down to a “common ailment: failure to deliver member value.” She notes:

Your members are looking for benefits that add value to their businesses and lives, not merely a basket of products and services. They also want experiences that give them a sense of belonging without leaving them feeling like they've had to earn the privilege. That's the essence of outcome-based membership. Here's how to start moving your association toward it.

In the article, Sladek describes three categories that associations struggling to increase membership fall into:  

  1. Scrooge Associations: that nickel-and-dime members
  2. Milk Associations: that offer little exclusivity or access (why pay for the whole cow when you can just pay for the milk?)
  3. Antique Associations: that have renowned brands, but they are in decline because they are no longer relevant

She admits that for these organizations, fixing the problems won’t be easy, but offers some great advice on how to bring value back to membership and respond better to member needs through using a member benefits matrix which she outlines in the article and includes in her new book: The End of Membership as We Know It. (Note: we'll be reviewing this book in a future post, so stay tuned to the Wild Apricot blog.)

What would your members say?

In a recent aLearning Blog post, Ellen Behrens posed some great questions that associations and other membership organizations should ask themselves if they're wondering if they are offering member value:

If there were an online forum for reviewing associations, societies, institutes, councils, and other non-profits, what would former and current members be posting about you?!?

 …Would they recommend others join? Or would they warn other people against joining? Why?

…What would they say about volunteering? Membership benefits? Educational experiences?

  • “I spent three hours a day of my own time on Project X for this association and then they completely ignored our group’s findings and recommendations… that’s the last time I do that!!”
  • “For $200 a year I get a magazine. Everything else is geared to attending face-to-face sessions I can’t afford to attend. This is my last year as a member. I can get a magazine for a lot less money.”
  • “They have some of the best educational sessions I’ve ever attended. If you haven’t been to one, go! They’re a little pricey, but you’ll get a lot out of them.”

If your organization is wrestling to understand how you can be more “value-focused”, the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report and these two posts offer a feast of food for thought. You can download the complete study here.

We’d love to hear about your organization’s challenges as well as any solutions you’d like to share. Tell us how you are building engagement and demonstrating value to your members in the comments below.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 05 October 2011 at 9:24 AM


  • Ellen said:

    Sunday, 09 October 2011 at 2:33 PM
    Thanks so much for the mention, Lori! It's not surprising that many organizations (especially professional and trade associations) are seeing an increase or stabilization in memberships.

    When the economy is in trouble, and jobs are on the chopping block, people tend to turn to the spaces where they can network and enhance their skill sets. Professional and trade associations are great ways to do that. For less than the cost of a university course, a person can join an organization and get connected to thousands of people and dozens, if not hundreds, of opportunities -- not just job leads, but opportunities to volunteer and gain experience through the organization.

    Hopefully organizations are taking advantage of these new opportunities: setting up mentoring where no programs might have existed; creating programs and avenues for online discussion on topics new members will especially find helpful.

    But along with the good comes the tricky. Because many new members might be stretching their dollar as far as they can, we shouldn't assume these new numbers will translate into additional registrations at conferences and live events. Instead, we need to be ready to reach out via the Web to embrace every member who can't be there.

    Or they'll be quick to decide (as I noted in my blog) that they can get a magazine (or access to experts via LinkedIn, blogs, online reports, etc.) for a lot less than the membership fee they just ponied up.

    Thanks again for the link -- and for giving us all much more to think about!
  • Lori said:

    Monday, 10 October 2011 at 9:28 AM
    Ellen: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and practical advice.
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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