Associations are “Where the Winners Meet”

From my membership marketing tests over the years, it is clear that the best predictors of someone responding to a membership acquisition effort are typically that they are a subscriber, book buyer, or joiner already in the association’s field. Those who have not demonstrated a tendency to purchase and learn are less likely to join.

That’s why I enjoyed the interesting analysis on the attitudes and income of association members by The William E. Smith Institute for Association Research. It was just published in January.

The report shows that, “On average, association members earn significantly more money and are more satisfied with their jobs than non-members. This is true even after holding constant differences in job categories, disparities in education, and all other relevant personal characteristics. However, the benefits of association membership are not as straightforward as we often hear: Membership by itself does not stimulate higher earnings and job satisfaction. On the contrary, the most plausible explanation based on the data is reverse causation: Prosperity, success and happiness at work encourage association membership, because associations are where the winners meet in many professions[1]

The data for this analysis was drawn from 2004 General Social Survey (GSS), a random survey of 1,200 American adults.

So who do we look for when we seek new members? This research and the marketing data that I have seen suggest that we seek the “winners” as new members. What do you think?

[1] Arthur C. Brooks, PhD., Where the Winners Meet: Why Happier, More Successful People Gravitate toward Associations, The William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, January 2008, page 13.


Scott Oser said...


I wonder if the real underlying thing here is that successful people understand the importance of networking, having a strong network and how to get the most out of their network. Let me explain. In my opinion the #1 benefit of joining an association is in the people you meet--the network. Therefore one could assume that successful people understand the value of networking, understand that associations offer a good opportunity to network and therefore the 2 go hand in hand. I know that it is never this cut and dry but it seems to make sense to me.

Tony Rossell said...

Scott -- I think that you make a good point. Networking is key. I have always loved the proverb: "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." I've have the quote on the tool bar on this blog. I think successful people are also life long learners and they learn from the sessions, books, and articles that they get as a member of an association. Tony

Vinay said...

Tony, thank you so much for bringing this paper to our attention. I just had to read it as soon as I read your posting on the Membership Listserve.

The paper says that those who are members tend to be already successful, happy, and they make more money. While one can't argue with data, I would probably state it a bit differently.

Those who are driven to succeed are the ones likely to join. Your findings that those who likely to join are also book readers, subscribers, and so on. All indicators of folks who are willing to invest their time and money into venues that will help them succeed.

This also means that assn's, if they want to remain, must make the direct connection between their various offerings to how those offerings contribute to members being more successful, make more money and their being happy. This means that the benefits statements need to be written with these in mind, not as they current tend to be.

Tony Rossell said...

Vinay -- Well put. Associations need to help make members successful. I think this ties in nicely with the post on comments from February 14th on the 3 keys to helping an association be indispensable to members. Tony

Ben Martin, CAE said...

Nice find, Tony. I forwarded the report to our senior team at VAR. The report called this "winners associate" phenomenon "reverse causation." I think that's pretty apt. The one thing that this report reinforces for me is to give association membership the attention it deserves when hiring. If association membership correlates to better job satisfaction and engagement at work, those are precisely the kind of people I want to be working with.

Tony Rossell said...

Ben -- That is an interesting slant on the report. Yes, it makes sense that you would want to hire someone with proven associaton involvement based on this research. It also ties in with the CAE. This designation would demonstrate these qualities. Tony

Ellen said...

Tony -- It's great to see you introduce a maturity model that can be applied to associations!

Maturity models have been making their way into other vertical markets (I blogged about the Bersin & Associates model for learning organizations:

Do you believe there are differences in how maturity can be defined, depending on the type of association (charitable, trade, individual professional, etc.)?