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Attract (and Retain) Members with Customized Membership Models

By Rich Campbell

As consumers, we demand control over when and how we make our purchases. This demand transfers to nearly every aspect of our lives. No matter what activity we engage in, we have come to expect options, options that suit us the best.  Look at how many ways there are to order a coffee, change shipping times/costs, pick the color and size of shoes from a wide selection on Amazon, buy dog food made specifically for my dog with his picture on the bag! And so on........ 

Now let’s transfer this idea to the association world.

Members are consumers. Some of the Engage employees are members of the SLSAE.  Kristen Palm has been a member of BNI, BCBN, CROWN, GLOW, and a couple of Chambers of Commerce. Her husband is on the board of two HOAs. So, as consumers/members, we understand how different organizations can be.  

At a former employer, when Kristen was in BNI, she found it particularly frustrating when she could not transfer her BNI membership to a co-worker.  They had to go through the whole application process again, get approved, and pay the full dues all over.  It really left a bad taste and shortly after, they withdrew two of the memberships.

You don't want that to happen to you. Organizations need to be flexible and understand that customization or customer service is the key to retaining members. Members want what they want, when they want it and how they want it⎯including customizing their membership experience to match their unique needs. 

The market is no longer satisfied with the traditional individual or company-based membership models.
This has challenged associations to re-evaluate their membership models to meet the growing demand for customized memberships. 

“It’s not that traditional membership models are unappealing; it’s the lack of choice that can be problematic. I think the ideal membership model and dues structure would be one that allows members to completely customize their benefits and engagement with the association.”
– Deborah White, vice president of membership and marketing, American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination

Unique memberships
One popular trend is a tiered membership model. In this model, members may choose among levels of membership based on the benefits and services they want. The popular streaming service Sling is a great example of a tiered membership model. In addition to its two different basic memberships, consumers can choose from a wide variety of add-ons to create the perfect plan for them. 

“The tiered membership model serves as a way for members to opt into their desired level of engagement with the organization, giving them greater control over their experience with the association.” 
− Liz Peuster, communications specialist, Electrical Apparatus Service Association, Inc.

How do you apply a tiered approach to associations?
It could look like the following:

Basic Membership: $500/year ----------- Includes the Following:
Member Profile
Monthly Luncheons
Community Forums
Member Directory




Add-On Features
Job posting: $100/year
Continuing Education: $200/year
Advertising/Sponsorship: starts at $100/year, up to $1,000/year
Multi-year basic membership discount: $50 off 2 years, $100 off 3 years






Another trend is a hybrid membership model. This model combines the individual benefits of a professional association model, such as education and certification, with the trade membership model that would give several or even all employees of a business access to the association’s resources. 
The company can have a basic membership with free accounts for all employees and then add-on items for specific employees.

Finding the solution
No two associations are alike and each membership base is very niche.  To determine the right membership model or combination of models for your association, you first need to know what is important to your members.  

“Don’t be afraid to ask members what they want. Use data gathered  from your website, historical data pulled from your association management software, personal feedback, whatever tools you have on hand to make sure you understand what makes your members tick.” 
− Steve Loos, vice president of membership, Associated General Contractors of Missouri

Members are individuals and consumers. By adopting a membership model that is flexible enough to meet each member’s unique needs, you will increase member satisfaction as well as the perceived benefits of membership.

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