One Thing I Do Not Like about DTJ

As I mentioned in my last post, there is some great insights in ASAE and the Center’s Decision to Join (DTJ).

As you may recall, DTJ is book taken from a survey that included 18 individual membership associations and 16,944 survey respondents. The survey went to the associations’ current members, lapsed members, and prospective members.

However, one finding that I do not agree with is DTJ’s contention that prospects “more important” reason for joining an association is to support the “community of interest”. I think that this conclusion can lead membership marketers in the wrong direction when it comes to asking new members to make a decision to join.

Here is what DTJ says: “the decision to join an association reflects an expanded understanding of what constitutes a benefit. It goes beyond the self-oriented assessment of the value received by the individual making the decision to incorporate a more other-oriented assessment of value generated for the community of interest.” Based on a comparison of two separate questions where personal benefits of joining received a mean score of 3.4 and benefits to the field received a mean score of 3.6, the study concludes “that the benefits for the good of the order are more important than personal benefits” (page 6).

Clearly, we all are influenced in decisions for joining or buying any product in part because what the decision will mean for society. But I believe value, price, and usefulness are influencers that impact our buying decision more than joining for the good of others.

I’ve come to this conclusion based on what the decision to join research actually reported and on the results of membership marketing efforts for many associations over the years.

Here are statistics from DTJ that would support this value based joining contention.

  • Of those who responded to the survey and had dropped a membership, the primary reason reported by 56.1 percent of the responders said that they dropped membership because they “did not receive the expected value to justify the cost of the dues” (page 81). If members do not join for value, they sure leave for lack of value.

  • When asked how important various personal benefits to joining were, “access to the most up to date information” received a 4.22 rating and “professional development” received a 3.91 rating. This compares to a 3.85 rating for “”promoting standards” as the highest rated item for joining for the benefit of the profession (page 82 and 83). So information and professional development were the top rated reasons for why members joined.

  • One could argue that the highest rated “benefits to the field” as defined by DTJ are really personal benefits. To do their job, members need someone to provide “standards and guidelines” and the “gathering analyzing, and publishing data on trends in the field”.

In addition to what DTJ reported, my experience in testing messages in new member solicitations also supports the value based membership appeal. Regularly – typically at a board’s direction – we create messaging around joining an association for the good of the profession. And regularly this message loses in head to head tests to a benefits oriented theme focused on “here is how membership can benefit you in your career.”

Let me conclude with a couple of caveats to my point. First, I always include an altruistic message in membership solicitations. Joining for the good of the field is an extra benefit that warrants mention and can serve as an additional motivator to joining. Secondly, I believe that the longer a member remains with the association and the more involved the member becomes, the more likely he or she becomes to staying with the association for the good of the community. However, in DTJ, we are not asking why an involved member stays, but what the basis of the decision to join is.

I believe the bottom line is that we sell membership on value. Do you agree with me?


Greg said...

Great post Tony! You raise some very good points. For me, what the DTJ results point to is that you can't just sell membership on the ROI of what's in it for me. I beleive that there has been a rush to do this and that over time, many associations end up commoditizing their value. For me, it comes down to a simple statement that I believe to be true..."Winners want to be with other winners!" Assoications are about community, not things and I believe truly healthy, sustainable assoications are the ones that find the eefective balance between the "things they do and give" and the sense of purpose and worth provided to members for being part of a unique select community. All too oftern, over the past ten yeats, I believe membership folks have forgotten how important the call to the ego and the heart is. It is intersting to note, that corp America is investing millions of dollars in new mothods to help create an emotional/personal connection to a brand or product. This connection is present from the very beginning in associations and many of us have ignored it. Again, for me, the DTJ finding isn't about ignoring the cost benefit equation, it is about NOT ignoring the ego/heart appeal.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

I agree with you. And I agree with DTJ. My fence-sitting thoughts on the matter.

Tony Rossell said...

Greg -- Good points as always. I think people very well may stay for a sense of purpose, but I do not think that they initialy join for that reason. For example, I joined the church I attend initially because of what it would do to help me an my family. I now particpate much more because of how I can be of help to others. Tony

Tony Rossell said...

Ben -- Thanks for the follow up post on your blog related to this topic. As you mentioned, I will try and share some real stats with you and others. Tony

Matt Baehr said...

Good points all the way around. I would like to see the DTJ stats cross-tabbed about the answers you pointed out with whether they pay for the membership themselves or their company pays for it. I would be willing to bet that if the company pays, you are only talking value (cold, hard ROI). Plus, the question is a little tainted anyway. Who would say they don't join for the good of the order? The question might have better data if it asked folks to weight the reasons. Steve Rauchenecker and I just talked about asking actionable questions in our Membership session in The Hats You Wear.

Long story short, I think Greg hits the nail on the head:
"the DTJ finding isn't about ignoring the cost benefit equation, it is about NOT ignoring the ego/heart appeal."

Tony Rossell said...

Matt -- As always good points. The reason I raised the issue is that if someone just read DTJ and then tried to write a membership promotion, they might have it sound like a fund raising appeal. As I mentioned on Ben's blog, joining reminds me of going to church. Many people join a church for what it will do for them and their family. However, their commitment changes over time to the mission of the church and what they can do for others. I go back to the point that DTJ is the decision to join, not the decision to renew. Tony