How to Communicate a New Membership Model

Many associations are evaluating and launching new membership models or restructuring their current membership.  Some of the new approaches include discussions previously outlined on this site including tiered membership, hybrid membership, and electronic membership.
But once a new membership model has been researched, defined, and approved, the next steps are critically important: the communications plan to introduce the model to members and the larger marketplace.
Here are some recommended steps for effectively introducing a new membership model.
  1. Create Messaging Document – As a first step, in order to have a consistent message shared through staff, promotional materials, and volunteer leaders, a clear and concise messaging document should be drafted that states the official reasons for the membership model change and the cost and benefit implications.
  2. Advise Association Stakeholders – Every association has important volunteers and leaders who carry a high level of influence.  Notifying them of the coming changes and the purpose for the changes before they occur helps with the acceptance of the new model. 
  3. Complete Website and Database Updates – Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects in establishing a new membership model is making sure that it functions seamlessly from the website through the AMS for both the join or renewal process and that the instructions provided on the website are clear.  Make sure everything works before going public with the new membership model.
  4. Develop Dues Notification Letter, Email, and Article – It is unlikely that you can communicate with members too frequently about a change in their membership.  So the best plans are to notify members of the new model and how it will impact them with multiple communication channels.  The letter and email can be personalized to highlight how the changes will impact the member as an individual or company by noting new dues prices, benefits, and operations.  An article published in the association’s newsletter can address the careful process that was followed to make the changes and the larger benefits to the industry and to members. 
  5. Update and Launch Membership Renewal Series – A new membership model will certainly impact the renewal process of an association.  The renewal communications need to highlight the changes and benefits of the new mode. If dues will be substantially higher for an organization then an early notification may be needed so the new dues rates can be budgeted for ahead of time. 
  6. Review Membership Collateral Materials – Membership benefits are communicated in multiple ways by associations from magazine ads, to exhibit booths, to brochures.  Review all of these materials to be sure they accurately represent the new membership model. 
  7. Launch Membership Recruitment Campaign – One of the purposes of a new membership model should be to attract new members who previously did not see value in the membership.  Once the new membership is operationalized, an aggressive membership recruitment effort should be launched to highlight the new opportunities and options now available.
Many associations have found that revising a membership structure that may have been established decades ago can be a lever for substantial growth in membership counts and revenue.  But coming up with the best new way of packaging membership alone without a plan on how to adequately communicate the reasons and the benefits of the changes will result in the transition falling short.  The process of communicating a new model is as important as researching and building the new membership. 

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