The Evolution of Association Membership Models

In the coming months, I am presenting two sessions on the transitions and opportunities that are taking place in the packaging of association memberships, otherwise known as membership models.
What an increasing number of organizations are doing is re-packaging their traditional membership offering to appeal to new market segments and to adjust to new business realities. They are encouraging the market to drive their membership product instead of their bylaws.
There is one change in particular to highlight.  An increasing number of individually based associations appear to be offering both individual and institutional membership instead of the traditional clear delineation between an individual membership and company or institutionally based structure.
In fact, since starting our Membership Marketing Benchmarking research, the proportion of associations reporting that they offer a combination or “hybrid” membership has gone from 17% to 28%.  And as the chart below shows, this has been accompanied by a drop in associations’ reporting that they only provide individual membership from 54% to 44%.
When one looks at the outcomes of adopting this hybrid membership model, one can also see the wisdom of considering of these changes.  In my consulting experience, it is not unusual to see organizations that offer both individual and institutional membership options achieving five to ten points’ better renewal rates with their institutional membership offering compared to their individual membership.  Additionally, our 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report highlights the mean renewal rate for individual membership associations is 76% and the mean for combination associations is 80%.  Both, however, fall short of the mean renewal rate for trade or institutionally based associations of 85%.
Perhaps the reason for these better renewal rates is an institutional membership will typically be paid from a company budget, not out of an individual’s wallet.  Also, an institutional membership obviously supplies benefits to multiple people adding to the potential endorsers of continuing the membership relationship.
Finally, offering a combination of membership may help with recruiting new members.  Our research shows that combination associations were more likely than both trade and individual membership organizations to report an increase in new members over the past year.
One of the 4 P's of marketing is "product", so adjusting the membership product to meet the changing market conditions is an important strategy for associations.  One of these adjustments to the membership model that seems to have been beneficial, in particular for individually based associations, is offering the option for the members’ companies or institutions to join and hold the membership as an organization.

Membership Growth Helps Increase All Association Products and Services

The famous quote from John F. Kennedy, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” certainly applies to membership.
In our soon to be released Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, we cross-tabulated organizations that reported an increase in membership numbers to the outcomes that they were experiencing in other areas of the association. 
When we compare associations who saw a decrease or no change in membership over the past year to associations reporting growth in membership, we see associations with increasing membership reporting better performance in many categories.  
Here are the associations reporting increases in a category -- like meeting attendance or volunteerism -- broken out by the percentage who had memberships that Increased/Unchanged/ Decreased). 
·        Attendance at annual conference/trade show (55% vs. 45% and 34% respectively)
·        Attendance at professional development meetings (52% vs. 38% and 33%)
·        Attendance of webinars (70% vs. 45% and 54%)
·        Volunteerism (37% vs. 30% and 17%)
·        Number of members who acquire or maintain certification (59% vs. 42% and 36%)
·        Purchase of non-dues products (45% vs. 24% and 25%)
·        Purchase of non-dues services (46% vs. 28% and 17%)
·        Number of visits to members-only section of website (61% vs. 48% and 36%)
Fundamentally, for most associations, members are the driving force behind attendance, volunteerism, and purchases.  Members pay the association to be customer.  A growing and thriving member base contributes revenue and time to all areas of an association.