5 Strategies to Strengthen Member Value

5_Strategies_to_Strengthen_Member_ValueHow do you reverse a declining membership trend in a profession suffering through serious contraction? What if its members’ are passionate about their work and in it for love, not money–but annual income is low and the perception is dues are high?

When it comes to strategies to strengthen member value the short answer to this challenge is you can’t—at least not without making significant changes in how you go about assessing and communicating with sparkling clarity real member value. Defining ways to turn member’s passion into personal and professional aspirations is at the root of the member value conundrum. In this sense, form truly follows function. And that’s what’s missing from the conversation these days.

When membership dues just north of $100 are seen as a significant investment by current and prospective members, the value to aspirations ratio are clearly out of balance. The choices are clear. Lower the dues or increase member value, right?

Maybe. But let’s not go there—at least not right now.

Let’s start with a basic fact. Keeping current customers will always be cheaper than acquiring new ones over and over again. Getting a new member costs somewhere north of seven times as much as keeping one that you already have. Said differently, there’s a lot of elasticity in serving your current members. Looking at the acquisition costs of a new member versus the service costs of the current member makes the case for greater flexibility and innovation in your member-retention strategies. Given the passion-driven nature of your members, a better understanding of how their passion drives their aspirations is in order.

— What is the greatest opportunity they see for themselves today and why?
— What is the greatest obstacle they see for themselves and why?
— Ask your members to name three things that would make their lives easier and why they think so.

Then consider how the association might play a role in serving those needs and solving those problems today and in the future. Aligning your association with the specific needs of members will help redefine the member value proposition and better illuminate the wisdom of people investing resources in membership dues than most anything else.  If you decide to reconsider your dues model, here are several options worthy of consideration:

Pay What You Can
If your members are feeling squeezed by the economy or changes to their industry or profession, giving them the option to keep up their network or access to the association’s newsletter may buy some time. The American Alliance of Museums offers membership at three tiers, allowing smaller institutions to pay whatever they can. Its model offers greater benefits for higher-tier members, but everyone receives a basic set of 11 benefits. AAM made accommodation for individual staff dues as well. According to AAM, it has achieved a 60 percent increase in the museum-category membership and a 25 percent increase in individual memberships since 2012.

Pay As You Go
Not everyone wants an entire meal. If they did, every restaurant would simply offer a “prix fixe” menu. But that’s just not how it works. The rise of fast casual restaurants like Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and Panera have changed the way customers—and your members—think about the world around them. Restaurants and associations face a similar challenge: giving customers what they want, when they want it, at a price they consider reasonable. The association version of “pay as you go” requires a minimal level of dues to get access to basic services with incremental costs for most everything else.

The Green, the Gold, and the Glorious Membership
While associations have long been innovators and the creative force behind membership-based customer engagement, our success has not gone unnoticed. Increasingly everyone from Amazon and Netflix to credit cards companies and movie theatres has deployed the membership model. Credit card companies have been especially good at grouping benefits at differing levels—American Express offers 19 different card choices with differing price points and benefits. Member value has its privileges. You choose.

Segmentation of Benefits
Recently, my association magazine arrived with an insert signaling it was my last issue unless I renewed my membership. Just in case I wasn’t planning to renew, it also helpfully suggested I could subscribe to the association’s magazine for a fraction of my annual dues price. Segmentation works to keep your association “top of mind” for current, prospective, and renewing members. Offering options for members who may only care about one small segment of benefits may be a smart strategy while you work to win them over with other benefits in the future.

Mind the Funnel
So much has been written about the outbound sales strategy that mentioning it almost seems redundant—until you remember that it actually works. In short, there are four steps worth revisiting:

  • Identify the right prospective members and opportunities.
  • Cultivate and strengthen those relationships while uncovering member needs.
  • Position your association as the source of value and creative solutions to those needs.
  • Deliver on your promises with win-win solutions.

Simple in theory, demanding in execution, and occasionally tough to measure. Looking at your existing membership through these lenses can help find the best potential members and your strongest value propositions. Doing so requires discipline, focus, and a willingness to question everything. Now’s the time to get started.


Kerry Stackpole, IOM, FASAE, CAE, is president and CEO of Neoterica Partners. Kerry and his team empower associations and nonprofit leaders to envision a future no one else sees and to invent growth strategies that have yet to be imagined. He shares his insights through consulting, speaking, research, and regular contributions to association publications.

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