Tag Archives: Membership

No Dues. Just The Experience.

A Contribution to Acronym’s Big Ideas theme…

If your association couldn’t charge dues, would your members pay you for the experience of belonging? It’s a serious question. The dues value versus member benefit proposition has been thriving for decades.  Associations have been selling it and thankfully there have been an abundant number of buyers.  Until now.  With the economy in the doldrums, the enlightened self-interest of members sends them in search of cheaper alternatives to the services and solutions your association customarily provides.  Dues it seems are dispensable.  Experiences however are not.

Our appetite for self-revelation—the experience of learning, seeing, feeling or living into something new—appears insatiable.  And if we can’t experience it ourselves, many it seems will gladly live vicariously through others.  There is a hallucinatory pastime feeding a celebrity saturated culture captured by People, US Weekly, OK, Star, and In Touch magazines, the E! television channel, and myriad alleged newscasts about stars.  While White House gate crashers, adulterous governors and golfers, misanthropic politicians, and avaricious financiers rise and fall on the swells of the voracious 24/7 celebrity news cycle, real people and serious work is being done elsewhere.

While the desire for meaningful experiences has been twisted by a popular, media-drenched culture, there are social entrepreneurs, innovative nonprofits and forward thinking leaders busily creating experiences so emotionally compelling they are fueling an astonishing rise of donors, members and funding sources unseen in previous decades.  It is important to remember that although the Internet boom and bust of the late 1990’s slowed growth, it did not eliminate innovation.  Likewise today’s economic downturn has not destroyed all of the world’s wealth.

If as some suggest, the world is will turn away from the material and financial excesses of past decades, then surely the renewed human desire for revelation and fulfillment offers an unbounded opportunity for associations, professional societies and the philanthropic community to illuminate and elevate the experience of belonging well beyond dues.  It is beyond time to think about it.  It is time to act.

Membership Blues.

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.

Letting User Contribution Systems Build Your Business

If you only find time to read one business article this month, you may want to make it Scott Cook’s piece in the Harvard Business Review (October 2008) The Contribution Revolution – Letting Volunteers Build Your Business.  Cook, a co-founder of Intuit has done a solid job of outlining the whys and the ways to build a user contribution system which will play a part in the growth and value of businesses ultimately benefiting customers and shareholders alike.  They are what you and I call volunteers.   As Cook points out there are a surprising number of business models that rely almost entirely on user contributions  to add value to the product—think E-Bay or Facebook for starters.  Essentially, E-Bay opened a store on the Internet that relied on its customers to fill the shelves and create an inventory.  Wikipedia blew up the 200 plus year old model of encyclopedias by creating a volunteer led expedition into knowledge capture and the thing that makes Facebook most valuable–the profiles of its users are all created by volunteer labor. 

Cook ponders a number of other user contribution systems at work today and offers a range of constructive ideas about how companies can more effectively engage users in enhancing the value of their products and services.  The article reminds us about the importance of creating truly meaningful user contribution experiences and leveraging those contributions.  Small victories matter and while organizational resistance is to be expected there’s value in ramping up to embed the process organization wide.  In an era when many not-for-profits struggle with volunteer engagement Cook reminds us of the high value propositions user contribution systems make to organizations.  For association professionals, this article is a fresh reminder of the importance and high value potential of volunteers.  It’s also a solid source of fresh ideas for renewing your association’s engagement toolkit yet again.