Vindication at Last!

In my post on way back on November 7th, I took ASAE and the book Decision to Join (DTJ) to task for what I thought was a misreading of the DTJ survey data.

Here is what DTJ said: “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.”

On the other hand, I claimed, “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.”

If you visit the post, you will see it generated a pretty good debate.

However, I have to say that I now feel vindicated as I read the following in the latest membership book from ASAE and the Center, Membership Essentials.

It says: “For most members, it is no longer acceptable for the association to simply advance a cause or defeat forces that negatively affect its constituents. Today’s members expect a quantifiable return on their investment of dues dollars in addition to the association’s delivering on the mission. For every dollar they spend in dues, they demand at least a dollar’s worth of value in return. Membership dues have become a type of investment for today’s consumers, and the investments that yield lower returns are scrutinized or withdrawn entirely.” [1]

Which side do you take in this great debate?

[1] Membership Essentials: Recruitment, Retention, Roles, Responsibilities and Resources, chapter two, Jay L. Karen, CAE, and Ben Martin, page 10.


Chris Davis said...


I tend to agree with the statement from Membership Essentials stating that dues are investments. Keep in mind, I come from an association where it is companies, and not individuals, who hold Membership, therefore making it all the more true that it is an investment.

One of the main benefits of being a Member of any association is to gain something that one could not ordinarily accomplish on their own, whether individuals or companies. They are investing in a service. And, as with any service, if they feel like they are not getting a return, then they will stop paying.

This makes a good case for why so much should be invested in marketing the benefits of Membership.

Chris Davis said...

In my previous comment, I eluded to the fact that companies who hold memberships (corporate members) tend to make a bigger deal of needing a return on dues than those holding individual membership.

This is not always true. In fact, it could be said that corporate members have more of a means to pay dues than individual members. And that being said, individual members have more of a need to see a return on their dues since obviously, their dues are coming from personal funds.

The fact of the matter is that corporate members seem to have a more formalized process of finding the return that is based on statistical information, business plans, ect. Individual members seem to base their perceived return on emotional responses they receive through their time as members.

Tony Rossell said...

Chris -- Both excellent comments. You know, it would be interesting for someone to use the DTJ survey (done so far with individual members) with companies to see if their analysis is indeed different. Tony

Anonymous said...

It is hard to argue with the fact that company's expect an ROI on dues that they pay. I've sometimes found it more difficult to "make the case" for membership when our largest members (paying large dues) ask this question. Since a fair amount of our work is in standards and advocacy the return can be substantial but not necessarily (rarely) reflected in a 12 month membership period. Any hints on communicating this value?

Ben Martin, CAE said...

As I was reading that, I was thinking "That sounds so familiar!" I actually wrote that part of the chapter before DTJ was published. As has been covered many times, for most associations, ROI appeals and good of the order appeals are like yin and yang in an effective membership pitch.

Anonymous said...

Our data shows that our individual members join for "stuff." They want resources and strategies to help them with their work.
When we tried to evoke the "greater good" in our text, the campaign bombed.

Also, any thoughts on DTJ vs. the whole Mailboxer, etc. categories? I've found the old categories are more true to our members than the DTJ stuff.

Greg said...

Great discussion. I think Ben hits it here. It is about balance. The DTJ study doesn't show that it is an overwhelming majority; in fact it is barely a majority. The surprise for me was how important people said the "greater good" reason was.

That said I believe an effective membership offering has to offer both a demonstrated ROI for dues paid AND a heart appeal. After all, we are associations and there is power in associating.

The recent study, "Where the Winners Meet" released by the William E. Smith Institute, I think demonstrates that like minded people want to associate with other like minded folks.

I have watched associations only market the ROI aspect of membership and in almost every case, the membership declines or at best stays even. Why, because the retention rate of the services only buying member is low.

I truly believe that for long-term sustainability, associations must market the tangible AND intangible aspects. Concentrating only on one, leaves out a huge portion of the audience.

I would also argue that feeling good about a purchase by knowing that you are helping the common good IS a tangible benefit to some. And it may prove to be a highly sticky one at that. Think about a hybrid. Why do people spend more money than they will ever save on gas to purchase a hybrid car? It drives the same, but it makes you feel good.

Focusing only on the immediate and tangible can deliver short term membership growth, but does it deliver long-term sustainability for the organization. If members are only buying a commodity, can the association maintain its market advantage? There is a competitive advantage of being in a community. Not for all members, but for many.

In fact, I foresee a day where “membership” in the association actually comes with a premium and is designed only for those individuals that want that experience/engagement. At the same time, associations will enhance their standing as a community for like minded individuals and will be able to create opportunities for interested individuals to join the community. In fact, I see that much of the discussion around Web 2.0 or 3.0 is beginning to frame this model.

The big challenge for to monetize this new model. It is possible, but it will take some very serious thought!

OK...more than enough from me. Have a great day!

Tony Rossell said...

Thanks for all of the feedback on this post. One additional comment. Remember that DTJ found that the number one reason members lapsed was due to lack of value. Tony