Global Membership Marketing: Similarities and Differences

This month I was fortunate to be appointed to the ASAE International Section Council. I met some very interesting and dedicated council members.

But I left the meeting with a question. How uniquely North American is the concept of affiliation and membership in associations? Is membership marketing different here in the U.S. compared to other nations and cultures.

As you may remember, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote on this topic. He said,

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

I met with several kinds of associations in America of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object for the exertions of a great many men and in inducing them voluntarily to pursue it.

I have since traveled over England, from which the Americans have taken some of their laws and many of their customs; and it seemed to me that the principle of association was by no means so constantly or adroitly used in that country. The English often perform great things singly, whereas the Americans form associations for the smallest undertakings. It is evident that the former people consider association as a powerful means of action, but the latter seem to regard it as the only means they have of acting.[1]

However, ASAE’s The Decision to Join shows many common perspectives from the 2,439 survey participants who reside outside the United States. For example, “Asked about their overall attitude toward associations, the difference between these two segments [U.S. and Non-U.S} is negligible.[2]

But DTJ did note that there are some demographic differences between U.S. and non U.S. respondents.

“By a very substantial margin, global respondents are affiliated with academic institutions . . .

Respondents outside the United States are disproportionately male, and this is the most substantial gender difference seen in any of the segment comparisons . . .

Global members are less apt to be promoters of their association than their domestic colleagues.[3]

By the way, click here to get your own copy of The Decision to Join.

What are your thoughts on the global perspective of membership and affiliation with associations? Please share your comments.

[1]Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Chapter V, OF THE USE WHICH THE AMERICANS MAKE OF PUBLIC ASSOCIATIONS IN CIVIL LIFE.
[2] James Dalton and Monica Dignam, The Decision to Join: How individuals determine value and why they choose to belong, ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership, p.61.
[3] DTJ, p. 71

The Decision to Join

This is an exciting time for those involved in managing and marketing membership.

Perhaps as never before, associations are looking for and using data to make important decisions. As we learned from ASAE and the Center’s book, 7 Measures of Success, there is a clear correlation between successful associations and those that build the organization around the collection and use of data.

Now practical assistance in data driven decisions for membership professionals is available with the release by ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership of The Decision to Join: How individuals determine value and why they choose to belong.

The Decision to Join study included 18 individual membership associations.

  • American Chemical Society

  • American College of Healthcare Executives

  • American Geophysical Union

  • American Health Information Management Association

  • American Society for Quality

  • American Society of Civil Engineers

  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers

  • The College of American Pathologists

  • Credit Union Executives Society

  • Emergency Nurses Association

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

  • Institute of Food Technologists

  • National Association of Secondary School Principals

  • National Athletic Trainers Association

  • National Court Reporters Association

  • National Society of Accountants

  • Project Management Institute

  • School Nutrition Association

A total of 16,944 responses to the survey were received from not only current members of these associations, but also to former members and those who have never been members. This means the data is statistically very reliable.

The book explores the impact of issues on membership like: the image of associations, reasons members drop, generations and career level, gender, and employment setting.

The top personal benefits for deciding to join an association highlighted by respondents are networking with other professionals in the field and gaining access to up to date information.

However, the study also supports the concept that a member’s decision to be a part of an association is also tied to much more than a classic procurement decision. Respondents highlighted that “promoting a greater appreciation of the role and values” of the association motivated the decision to join.

Over the next few weeks, I will do some posts on the specific findings from the book.

Have you read it yet? What do you think?

Corporations Coop Membership Marketing

Is your next job likely to be the membership director for a corporation?

I ask this question, because last week I received two interesting calls seeking membership consulting services. The first was from a credit union that wanted to recruit more members.

Okay, that made sense.

However, the second call was from a web news broadcasting company that is signing up hundreds of “members” who pay dues of $10 each month.

To top it off that night I went home and received a mailing from clothier Joseph Banks telling me of the upcoming “Corporate Member” sale.

Of course, I am already a member of Costco and American Express.

Clearly the corporate world is increasingly tapping into the membership concept to support customer relationship marketing efforts. They understand that people want to feel like they belong and they are special.

If you think I am overstating the case, take a look at some quotes from an article by David Frey entitled: Membership Marketing: Turning Occasional Buyers into Loyal Customers. He believes that

“Every business can benefit from a membership program and should establish some form of membership marketing.”

He goes on to explain:

“Membership programs provide powerful benefits that will improve your company’s performance. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits that were just mentioned.

1. Conserves limited company resources – Resources are allocated according to the customers’ level of membership (i.e. lower membership level = less resources, higher membership level = more resources).

2. Increases customer loyalty – Membership provides a sense of belonging to an organization, which breeds loyalty.

3. Provides a predictable stream of revenue – Instead of sporadically selling products and services, membership programs provide a steady stream of customers providing a steady stream of cash flow.

4. Sells more services and products with less effort – Because slow moving or less desirable products and services are included in membership packages people are more likely to take advantage of them.

5. More revenue from existing customers – Multi-level membership programs incentivize customers to spend more by moving up to higher levels of the program.

6. Improves referral business – People like to tell their friends about a company to which they feel a sense of loyalty.”

Frey’s article is very good. It sounds like it could have been written for association in Association Now. But it is directed at corporate marketers.

If you would like to see the entire piece, I have provided the link here.

What are your thoughts of the use of the membership model by corporations seeking to strengthen the customer relationship? Feel free to post your thoughts here.

Nothing to do with Membership Marketing

As the summer comes to a close and it starts to get really busy again, I thought that this lesson that I just came across in a church newsletter might be worth taking to heart.

Charles Darwin loved scientific studies. He devoted his life to them including his five year voyage on the Beagle. But his devotion to study came at a cost.
Here is what he noted in his autobiography.

“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. . . .My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. . . .The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.” (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin Page 26)

The newsletter where I found the story concluded with this basic message, “We become what we behold” (John Piper). There is a text that sums this up, it reads, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

No matter what your faith preferences, it is probably good advice to take time to stop and smell the roses.

Early Returns on Dues Increase Survey

In my post on August 9th, I shared that we were doing a survey to get feedback on how associations handle a dues increase. We sent out about 12,000 surveys and returns are coming in at a pretty good clip.

I spent some time this morning going through the open ended responses to our question: “In your own words, what lessons have you learned and what would you do differently next time an association you work for raises dues?”

There are some varied responses ranging from don’t raise dues at all and grow revenue in other ways to communicate the need for a dues increase frequently.

I would value your feedback on the initial survey comments that have been submitted.

Here are some representative responses.

“A dues increase should always be a last resort. I think the winner in business is the one that finds the way to give the customer/member the most for the dollar.”

“Always make small increases rather than large ones made less frequently. Nothing slows or stops renewals like a shocking increase.”

“Say it more than once, more than twice and more than three times . . . eight months later, we still have members saying, ‘we didn’t know’”.

"Our primary members’ dues increased at 30 percent. . . I would do a smaller increase more often rather than a large increase at once.”

“Never raise dues unless you have added value associated with it.”

“We learned to raise dues every year – even if that raise is only 1 percent. Our costs go up every year (salaries for staff, insurance, rents, utilities, etc.) Raising dues each year is a given, it’s just a question of how much.”

“Raising dues modestly, with ample notice and explanation does NOT impact membership.”

"The larger the dues increase the more detailed the explanation has to be. Small incremental increases don’t require much if any, explanation.”

“The less you make of it, the less of an issue it will be for members as well.”

“You can never start too early to educate [members] of the need for an increase and you can never communicate enough for the need."

There is one comment that I personally really like. Guess which one it is?

How do you handle a membership dues increase?

A dues increase can be a complicated and risky proposition for an association. Yet remarkably little literature exists on the topic to guide association executives through this process.

To help build an understanding of the best practices related to raising membership dues, we are undertaking a research project to gather best practices in this area and reporting our findings in an upcoming white paper.

I wanted to give readers of the Membership Marketing Blog who work for associations a chance to be a part of the survey and to receive a copy of the white paper when the research is complete. Of course, all individual responses for this research will be kept strictly confidential.

The goal of this research is to better understand the following issues:

  • How often do associations raise dues?

  • How much are typical dues increases?

  • How do associations justify raising dues to members?

  • What outcomes have dues increases had on membership numbers and revenue?

  • What lessons have been learned from these experiences?

To participate in this best practices research, please respond online by going to:

To thank you for sharing your experiences and feedback, I will send you a free copy of the final white paper created from this research: “Best Practices: The Why, How, and Outcomes of Raising Membership Dues”

Also, if you have useful experience to share related to your organizations dues increase; feel free to post you comments here.

Come by and say, "Hi"!

If you are a reader of the Membersehip Marketing Blog and attending the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's Annual Meeting & Exposition, please stop by for a visit. I will be in the Marketing General, Inc. booth, number 203, in the expositon.

The Optimized Membership Marketing Program

Stepping back and looking at the forest instead of the trees is often very healthy. So in a white paper that we just released that is exactly what I tried to do for those involved in planning for membership marketing.

I asked the question, “What if you could start over again with your membership marketing program?”

The paper is titled, The Optimized Membership Program and it provides very practical advice on the components that should be considered in building – or revitalizing -- a membership marketing plan. It includes suggestions on:

If you would like to download a copy, just click on the title above.

What would you add to -- or subtract from -- this list that has worked for you?

Association Membership 50 Years Ago

To support research we are doing related to membership marketing, one of my colleagues came across a study that I wanted to share. It is one of those little gems that you are excited to find. It gives us a snapshot of membership in associations 50 years ago.

The research was published in 1957 from a study initiated in 1947. The purpose of the study was to understand the predictors and demographics of people who joined voluntary associations.

As the author wrote:

“Preliminary to an adequate understanding of voluntary associations or their relation to other social structures and processes, it is most necessary to know what kinds of persons join what types of associations and to get a better appreciation of the kinds and degrees of membership participation. Toward a fuller understanding of these and related questions, this study is directed.”

To gain this understanding, the author took a sample of 400 households from the town of Bennington, Vermont and followed them over time. The survey participants defined voluntary associations as formal associations and societies, clubs, and special interest groups.

Among the authors findings are the following:

  • 35.8 percent of the persons in the sample had no membership in a voluntary association other than the church.

  • 75 percent of the men compared to 56 percent of the woman were members of voluntary associations.

  • The average duration of memberships held by the association members was 10 years.

  • Most of the memberships held are concentrated among a few people -- 15.1 percent of the total sample held 50.7 percent of the memberships.

  • Membership participation in voluntary associations increases with the increase in education.

  • The age group of 40 to 54 held the highest number of memberships.

  • The married had significantly greater voluntary association participation than those who were single.

  • People who reported that they had 50 friends or more had much greater membership participation than people with less than 50 friends.

  • 5.5 percent of the participants held memberships in professional or scientific associations.

  • The average annual expenditure for each voluntary association was $22.95.

The article concluded with the following description of a typical voluntary association member.

“The ideal [composite] voluntary association member in this community might be characterized as a forty-five year old married man of high social status who is a Protestant, a non-manual worker and possibly a son of native-born parents; who has two children, a college education, fifty or more ‘friends’, [and] his own home.”

Admittedly, the sample in the article is very limited, but how does this compare to your membership? How much has changed over 50 years? It would be very interesting to have this study done today in Bennington, VT to see how the world has changed. Any volunteers?

Membership and Participation in Voluntary Associations
John C. Scott, Jr.
American Sociological Review, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Jun., 1957), pp. 315-326.