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Is it The End of Membership As We Know It?

Lori Halley 02 November 2011 2 comments

I was introduced to Sarah Sladek and her book – The End of Membership As We Know It – through an Associations Now article that I referenced in a recent post on Demonstrating Membership Value.  So when the ASAE offered me a copy of the book, I jumped at the chance to review it for Wild Apricot blog readers.

The book starts with a reminder about the history of and reason for associations, then brings our current reality into focus through a frank and compelling overview of the state of affairs for associations:

“the dominance that associations once celebrated is now crumbling. ...Demand is weak, competition is up, and your association’s value is going down like a bad real estate investment.  There’s only one way out of this mess: outcome-based member benefits.”

Sladek notes that associations need to face and focus on the two key factors impacting them right now: technology and demographic shifts. As she noted in an earlier book, The New Recruit: What Your Association Needs to Know About X, Y & Z, associations need to realize that an entirely new approach is required to engage and recruit Generation X and Y members.

"Association Must-Haves”

“This book explores in greater detail new membership models and definitions of membership," and outlines "three components to consider when rebuilding your association.” Sladek suggests that the following elements (or lack of them) will determine whether your association is capable of making a return to dominance.

  1. Niches: “Niches are what all successful products and services have in common without exception. ... This isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. Seek to be meaningful to someone – not everyone – and the rest will follow.”
  2. Culture:  “Culture is like personality. It’s the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, experiences and habits that create your association’s behavior and ways of working.” “there are red flags to watch for: high turnover among staff, volunteers or board; negative feedback; emotional outbursts; no-shows” Younger generations are driven by personal happiness. They refuse to engage in anything negative, challenging or draining of their time and energy. They will also refuse to engage in a culture that isn’t open to them.” “Bottom line: You must eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive to engage your next generation of membership.”
  3. Dues:  “How do you prove the value of a membership in your association...What’s the cost-to-value ratio?”

Practical Tips and Tools:

This book offers a wealth of practical tips and tools. In “Association Life Expectancy,” Sladek shares a formula for measuring “your association’s expected life span.” You can analyze your own data to check and see how many are nearing retirement age. In addition, there is also a “Member Benefits Matrix” you can use to “measure the success of your membership benefits.”

Building a Next Century Association

As I noted in my Halloween post, "change can be scary." But Sladek acknowledges:

with the right vision and structure in place, your association can evolve and realize its full potential again. This book was designed to equip you with the information and ideas needed to rebuild your association.”

But never fear, membership is not dead! Sladek insists that associations and other member-based organizations need to change their thinking and membership models and adapt in order to survive and thrive.  In “Redefining Membership,” she offers a snapshot of what she sees as the five emerging membership models. In addition, she closes the book with the 5 steps “your association needs to do to flip its fortune” and offers a “membership building plan” template.

The End of Membership As We Know It offers a lot of solid advice, great examples and helpful tools to help you in “Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century.”

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

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 02 November 2011 at 9:30 AM


  • Mitchell Allen said:

    Thursday, 03 November 2011 at 7:29 AM
    Lori, one of the things I've always enjoyed about Wild Apricot is how relevant and timely its articles can be OUTSIDE of the non-profit industry. This post is an excellent example.

    Based on your review, I think I would get a lot from this book. So would anyone else who is thinking of creating any type of community - free or paid!

    My only reservation is the focus on these so-called Gen-X and Gen-Y demographics. Is it the case that the declining demand is a reflection of the aging "Boomers"? If so, is there any point in addressing that? I always feel that publications targeting our younger generations tend to be dismissive of their forebears.


  • Lori said:

    Thursday, 03 November 2011 at 8:56 AM
    Mitchell: The book isn't targeting younger generations, and this certainly isn't the only issue Sladek raises. As I noted in the post, she offers a number of ideas on how associations can "rebuild" and provides great examples to demonstrate how associations can "add value to the lives of your members" regardless of their generation.
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