We knew it would come to this. For the past decade for-profit companies have been slipping into “membership mode” in search of new customers and leveraging the powerful tools of retention inherent in the not-for-profit membership organization. You’re not a customer, you’re a member—and membership has its privileges after all. Problem is, it didn’t really work for them. The profit motive came to outweigh the service motive. Although their lingua franca was crafted to appeal to the sensitivities of membership—the benefits were fleeting—rarely more than an extension of a one-to-one marketing scheme gone astray earmarked by lousy execution.
Predictably, for-profit firms have started to flee their “partnership” or “membership” programs having realized in hindsight that it takes a great deal more “care” to hold onto “members” than it does “customers”. Simply put, the expectations are different and if you are not prepared to manage them you will fail.
The path forward for associations is surely different today and will be tomorrow too. Yet it is important we not miss the lessons nor repeat the mistakes of our for-profit brethren. There’s a reason tax exempt organizations live free of federal income tax. Keeping mission and service at the forefront can help us not forget that.