A few weeks ago, I received an RFP from an association asking for consulting to help them explore new membership models. They currently offer traditional individual membership that includes a magazine and a discount on the annual meeting for dues of around $100. Not too different from many associations with whom I consult.
I thought that it was a very intelligent strategic marketing question for the association to ask. Probably every couple of years all associations should explore new membership models. And getting help from a consultant was also a wise move for this type of a study.
Anyway, the RFP got me thinking about the variety of membership models that now exist. Here is a list, off the top of my head, of my top 10. This is a brain dump, not the result of historical research. I did not include classic individual professional or trade association memberships in my list.
- Religious Membership – Maybe the oldest, still active form of membership is membership of a religious group. As one ancient text says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.” Faith based membership is to help change the heart, but donations are welcome.
- Credit Card Membership – American Express was one of the earlier for-profit companies to coop the concept of membership. They used the famous tagline, “Membership Has Its Privileges” and charged an annual fee for the card, but made their profits on the use of the credit card. The new tagline is “Membership Begins with the Right Card”, and they have generally dropped the annual fee, but not the interest payments.
- Retail Membership – Costco was a revolutionary concept in retailing that started in the mid-1970s. “Membership was initially limited to small business owners, whose fees would also offset overhead costs.” Membership fees still apply. Costco offers three levels of membership, Executive, Business, and Gold Star memberships.
- Magazine Membership -- National Geographic started in 1888 and “[Alexander Graham] Bell and his son-in-law, [Gilbert Hovey] Grosvenor, devised the successful marketing notion of Society membership and the first major use of photographs to tell stories in magazines.” When you go to the National Geographic web site now, the focus seems to be much more about becoming a subscriber than a member.
- Insurance Membership – USAA is a membership based around providing insurance and financial services to those in the military and their families. “In 1922, when 25 Army officers met in San Antonio and decided to insure each other's vehicles, they could not have imagined that their tiny organization would one day serve 6 million members and become the only fully integrated financial services company in America.”
- Alumnae Association Membership – As a member of the Dickinson College Alumnae Association, I get a magazine, online alumnae directory, my own web email account, an annual networking day, and the chance to participate in local Dickinson clubs. There’s no membership fee, except $43,000 annually for tuition, room and board, but donations are welcome.
- Electronic Membership – The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) offers an innovative electronic only membership for $29 a year. It is truly a paperless membership including no mailed renewal notices and full access to magazines and newsletters.
- Avocational Membership – The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) offers membership to those who are joined together by a common hobby or interest. Dues are fairly low at $39, but AOPA generates operating revenue from additional products and services ranging from aircraft insurance, to newsletters, to personal loans made available to members.
- Fund Raising Membership – Many donation driven, non-profits offer memberships including WETA the local Washington DC, PBS TV and radio station. As a member, you get a one-year subscription to WETA magazine, WETA member decal, volunteer opportunities, and television and radio station tours. Your motivation to write the check to support the cause.
- Frequent Flyer or Hotel Membership – “The first frequent flyer program was created in California by Western Airlines in June 1980,” according to Wikipedia. Soon after the airlines, hotels also launched programs like the Marriott Rewards membership.
What surprised me when I completed this list were just how many organizations of which I am a member. I am or have been a member of my church, American Express, Costco, Dickinson College Alumnae, USAA, ASCD, AOPA, WETA, and Marriott.
Each operates with a different financial model. Numbers of them let you in for free, but make money on secondary purchases.
Can you add any others to my list? Which model -- if any – would you recommend for your organization to explore?