What do your members get in exchange for joining your association?
It’s not a trick question. You’re just reading a blog post. You don’t have to sell yourself (or me) anything. So be honest:
- Do they gain access to something that is not available anywhere else?
- Is it something that provides a genuine return on investment (ROI)?
By ROI, I mean only something that saves the member a significant amount of time, or puts money in the member’s pocket at a rate higher than the dues you charge.
Now, if you’re honest answer to those questions is, “Well, not really,” then you’re not really selling membership. You’re raising funds.
And that’s okay. Really. Stay with me for a moment, and don’t get defensive. (Now we’re being honest here, remember, so you know that access to your e-newsletter and a discount on your conference registration is not a genuine ROI, right?)
If your association provides advocacy support that benefits your entire sector …
if your association develops standards that benefit your entire sector and their constituents …
if your association provides research and gathers data that anyone can access (either free or via purchase) …
if your association offers education that anyone can buy into …
and if it does all those things, but does not also offer members exclusive access to something that provides a genuine ROI …
then people who are “joining” your organization may be merely expressing support for your organization’s goals.
In that case, quit treating your supporters like members and start treating them like donors.
You see, members pay for benefits.
But donors support causes.
Why is this such an important distinction? When you recognize that you are more of a fundraising organization than a membership organization, things change. Just a few examples:
1.) Marketing to potential donors is very different from marketing to potential members. For example, you’re not going to sell many potential donors by talking about “networking.” (Actually, that’s not a selling point for most potential members, either.)
2) Retention becomes all about making people feel good about the cause they have supported, not mailing out an invoice and offering a discount for early payment.
3) In any community of donors, there are some donors who care more than others, and have more means than others.
- Don’t focus all of your energy on expanding the number of members in your organization.
- Don’t force everyone into simple membership levels or tiers.
- Do spend some of your resources to identify the truly passionate among your constituents, and develop ways to increase their involvement (ie, raise more funds from those with both the means and the desire to support your goals). That can offer much better ROI for your organization.
But, if you don’t offer an actual, genuine ROI for your membership, then quit marketing as if you do. Play to the strengths you have, and sell what you actually have to sell.