A Wake-Up Call for Associations

Most associations that I interact with view competition as coming from the association next door. Going forward, I think that it will most likely be coming from a for-profit company. And in my mind, the best way to protect and grow your association before this happens is to build relationships and connections through membership with your market.

Companies moving into the traditional association marketplace are eager to fill any vacuum that they can profitably find in the markets you serve.

That’s why developing or hiring expertise in membership marketing is more important today than ever for associations.

Here is one example, Merion Publications; the publisher of ADVANCE Newsmagazines. They provide a magazine, current job listings, education/events, job fairs, and communities to professionals in the following fields.

Imaging & Radiation Oncology
Directors in Rehabilitation
Physical Therapists & PT Assistants
Occupational Therapy Practitioners
Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists
Long-Term Care Management
Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine
Administrators of the Laboratory
Medical Laboratory Professionals
Health Information Executives
Health Information Professionals
Nurse Practitioners
Physician Assistants
Healthy Aging

I do not want to communicate that there is anything unethical with companies moving into the realm traditionally owned by non-profits. They see a market opportunity and have taken advantage of it using the marketing and sales expertise that they have honed over the years.

The questions associations should ask themselves are: How well prepared are we to deal with for-profit competition? Should this be a wake up call for our association? Is business as usual sustainable?

As I have shared on this blog, building the membership relationship is driven by making prospective members aware of who you are, actively recruiting these prospects, engaging new member in the organization, and effectively renewing them.

Agree or disagree, please let me know your thoughts on this.


David M. Patt, CAE said...

I know of one company that went further. It morphed into a not-for-profit and changed its newsletter subscription to a membership.

Tony Rossell said...

David -- Thanks for the comment. I actually did a post last year on other ways companies are adopting the membership model as a way of doing business. The post was on January 17, 2008. Here is the link.



Jeff Hurt said...

I know of one company that is for-profit and competes directly with a non-profit trade association for the same audience. The for-profit went as far as calling its customers members and offering services and programs. It competes with the nonprofit by creating confusion in the industry on which organization is the nonprofit there to serve the industry and which is the one there to make money from the industry.

Tony Rossell said...

Jeff -- You describe an interesting situation and also help make my point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Tony

Kevin said...

I've posted several times over the years about for-profit "association" competitors, because we've had them for years. Back in the late 90s/early 00s when our association was in a freefall, several for-profit entities emerged to fill the gap. Since we changed and re-emerged as the leader in the space, almost all of them have fallen by the wayside. There are still a couple around, and frankly I like having them around; competition makes everyone better and the market benefits.

kare anderson said...

i heartily agree and also have written about associations' vulnerability to competition from existing for profits and from a virtual, mostly outsources start-up, perhaps with a contract meeting planner, social media expert, leader/leading expert in the field served by the association and a good writer. If that start-up can offer more value to the stake-holders in the association - with the right mix of online and in-person services (including capacity to share, compare, collaborate and buy from each other) then new forms of membership-based communities may emerge.

And they will learn from each other as they do.My fervent, traditionalist hope is that associations adapt in time, including in how they listen to members, prospective members and other stakeholders - and provide more interactivity options.