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Magnetic Membership: How to Create a Stronger Draw - 1/20/2015 -

Magnetic Membership: How to Create a Stronger Draw

To effectively answer your prospect’s question, "Why join?” you must understand the fundamental difference between benefits and the real-world value of the information you publish.

By Sheri Jacobs, CAE

In real estate, it’s about location, location, location. For associations, the mantra is value, value, value. If you want to attract and retain members, you need to understand your organization’s relevant value and deliver it for the right price.

While this isn’t breaking news, the approach some associations are taking to create and deliver value today is indeed new. It begins with understanding the different reasons different members join.

For example, if the value offered through membership is the combination of networking, volunteerism, and access to information — and a member is only interested in obtaining information — the price of admission may simply be too high. It may make more sense to be a customer than a member.

The key factor affecting member loyalty and retention, then, is synchronizing cost and value. If an association creates a membership package that provides the most value to members who volunteer, participate, and engage, it may not provide enough value at the lower levels of engagement. And these levels are critical to keeping the organization relevant.

So, Why Join?

Why should a member join your organization? Regardless of size, geographic scope, or industry, the answer is almost always the same: "Our association offers exclusive, members-only benefits including advocacy, a journal or magazine, discounts on publications and education, resources to keep you up to date, leadership opportunities, networking, and career assistance.”

But how many of these benefits are truly unique, exclusive, and — most important — relevant and valuable? Members join for different reasons. Some join to obtain relevant and timely information. Some join for career advancement. Some join for purely transactional reasons. What benefits do you offer to these different varieties of members — the information seekers, networkers, rising stars, social members, mission members, transactional members, and lifelong learners? The issue for most organizations is answering the question why. Why join? Why renew?

Part of the answer lies in understanding the fundamental difference between benefits that are important and benefits that are the primary drivers of membership. To get started, review your member benefits and label each one based on the following categories:

A: The benefit is available to members and nonmembers.

O: The benefit is available to members only.

F: The benefit is free to members; nonmembers can purchase or access the benefit for a fee.

D: The benefit is offered to members at a discounted price; nonmembers must pay the full price.

Next, use a simple rating system for each benefit based on its impact as a driver of membership. I recommend 1 for low drivers of membership, 2 for medium drivers, and 3 for high drivers.

To truly understand value and complete this exercise, you need to look beyond demographics and begin to look at need, interest, motivation, and attitude. Scharan Johnson, CAE, director of membership development at the American Physical Therapy Association, undertook this exercise after conducting a member value study.

"Once we completed the process of evaluating the low, medium, and high drivers of membership, APTA could begin to craft statements that truly captured the benefits of joining the organization, not just the ‘stuff’ that new members would receive once they joined,” Johnson says.

What benefits do you offer to different varieties of members — the information seekers, networkers, rising stars, social members, mission members, transactional members, and lifelong learners?

Even in the face of these change, I believe membership is alive and well. Like storytelling, membership is an art. You’ve got to skillfully recruit members who will remain members throughout their careers. And during those careers, you’ve got to successfully provide for them exactly what they need, when they need it. When you accomplish this, they will tell your organization’s story to their colleagues and peers.

Sheri Jacobs, CAE is president and CEO of Avenue M Group LLC and the author of "The Art of Membership,” Copyright ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, August 2014, Washington, DC. This article was excerpted with permission.


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