Developing a Successful Student Membership Strategy

According to the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, 52% of associations offer a Student membership category.  At 71%, Student membership is offered most frequently by individual membership associations.
When you take a look at existing programs, students are typically offered a somewhat downsized membership package ranging from one year free to a dues payment of between $25 and $50. Many Student programs are presented very nicely and highlight the economic benefits and advantages that are available through membership. 
Here are some examples:
·        Association for Computing Machinery makes five levels of Student membership available starting at $19.

·        Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics makes free Student membership available with some conditions, but Student members receive the periodical in an electronic format.

·        American Counseling Association has a Student membership that parallels their New Professional membership at a $94 dues rate and includes professional liability insurance.

However, in speaking with membership professionals, it is not always clear that there is a defined strategy for what a Student membership is attempting to accomplish.  Here are some important questions to consider in building a Student membership strategy.

1.      How do you identify eligible students for membership?  If you build it, they will not come.  And unlike established professionals or firms in a field who can often be identified in marketing and licensure lists, finding accurate contact information for students is much more challenging.  So a strategy needs to include building a channel to reach students through schools, referrals from professors, online ads, or a chapter structure. 

2.      How do you deliver value to these members?  There are many conversations today about the different needs of each generation.  The needs of students will vary from your typical member. So spend some time defining what will be of value to a student and how they want to communicate.  One dental association, for example, uses a free booklet titled, “Keys to a Successful Career in Dentistry” to encourage acceptance of a free membership and to demonstrate relevance to potential student members.   

3.      How do you stay connected to students once they join? When you calculate retention rates by membership category almost every group will find students have the lowest renewal rate.  Often the chief challenge is not that students do not value the membership, but that the association loses touch with them as they graduate and relocate.  Therefore, it is critical to capture permanent mailing address, phone, and email information from students.  Requesting an opt-in for texting is also of value.

4.      How do you justify the economics of servicing students? Perhaps the most important part of a Student membership strategy is building a sustainable economic model.  Do students ultimately convert to a regular member who is engaged with the association?  One way to determine this is to track the pathway of students to full membership or do a computer match of previous Student members and your current membership database.  A smart strategy will evaluate whether the economic commitment of acquiring, serving, and in many cases subsidizing students ultimately leads to a committed member. 
In the long run, today’s students are the future of any organization.  Developing a strategy on how to reach them, serve them, retain them and building a foundation that makes economic sense is time well spent for any membership organization focused on a sustainable future. 

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