Thursday, September 29, 2011

The End of Membership as We Know It


In her book, The End of Membership as We Know It, Sarah Sladek, makes important points – based on best practices in membership marketing -- that membership professionals should take to heart in order to grow a successful program.

Her fundamental thesis is that “three key shifts in our society have caused a decline in membership: economic rescission, demographic shifts, and rapidly changing technology. [And] while the economy is likely to rebound sooner or later, the other two influences are here to stay.” 1.

Sladek proposes a number of solutions to help in meeting these membership challenges.

The first is to focus on offering members’ better benefits. She maintains that “your association’s success hinges on one thing: member benefits. . . Members join your association because they believe in your ability to solve a problem for them. They renew their membership when you are successful at solving the problem.”2.

In order to identify and develop better benefits, she advises that you “survey members or host focus groups regularly to keep your finger on the pulse of any changing needs among your membership. Nothing can replace the open, honest feedback you receive from members.”3.

Another key opportunity to improve membership Sladek says “comes down to marketing.” The four aspects of marketing that are highlighted include differentiating your association from its competitors, providing a guarantee to members, identifying your core benefits, and determining your target market.

Sladek also recommends building online communities as a key to solving the threats to membership. “Throughout history, she writes,” community has been defined as a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common culture and history. That definition has changed in recent years, partly because of demographic shifts and economic dips but largely because of technology. Technology has given us access to the world and the opportunity to network with anyone, anywhere, anytime.” 4.

Another important solution that Sladek recommends is examining your membership model. She notes that “For hundreds of years association memberships have been cut from the same cloth. With few exceptions, people paid dues once a year for access to a full year’s worth of membership. Today, membership associations are introducing a variety of operational models and revenue streams. Innovation is a must:”5. I call this tendency of offering only one membership option the “black Ford” syndrome. As Henry Ford famously stated, “you can have any car color you want as long as it is black”.

Some of these membership models that you might want to consider include what I call tiered membership, Freemium membership, online membership, and group membership.

Here is why I believe The End of Membership as We Know It is an important contribution to the literature on membership marketing. Complacency in membership marketing is the contagion that is most likely to hold back a membership program. This book serves as a wakeup call to remind marketers of the need to continue to research, innovate, test, and improve and to give those who do not see the need for change a warning of what could happen without action.


1. Sarah L. Sladek, The End of Membership as We Know it, ASAE, page 94.
2. Ibid. page 45.
3. Ibid. page 56.
4. Ibid. page 92.
5. Ibid. page 95.

2 comments:

Dan said...

Tony, I'm finishing the book now and agree with you entirely. I'm going to use this book to provide the wake up call to others and as that warning to make some needed changes. I feel it is giving me a bit of a wake up call too as I don't feel as innovative and creative lately in my approaches to membership growth. I look forward to discussing it further with you.

I was also glad to see ASCD mentioned as a good tiered model. I feel proud to have worked with you on that over the years. Thanks.

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Dan -- Thanks for the comment. Yes, it is nice that a membership packaging model that you and I developed is being presented as a best practice for associations to follow. The great thing is that it not only appears good looking from the outside in, but the results show that it has also been an effective tool to grow membership. Tony