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Is This the End of Association Membership?

Dead End and Opportunity Crossroads Signs
It might just be the end of membership as we know it. In March, I attended a workshop that pointed to a perfect storm of outside influences that are reshaping associations and their marketing efforts at breathtaking speed.

At the workshop, hosted by the Canadian Society of Association Executives, author Sarah Sladek of XYZ University said it’s little wonder that many associations are watching their membership numbers decline.

·         An unsteady global economy has forced associations into a struggle to build and retain a membership base, and members are demanding more value for every dollar they spend.
·         Changing technology has made information more easily accessible to members than ever before—and they don’t necessarily need an association membership to get it.
·         Demographics are shifting. By 2015, Generation Y will outnumber baby boomers in the work force, and while they may be willing to join associations, Gen Yers will arrive with a very different set of values and expectations.

And as demand for membership declines, there is greater competition among associations, with every organization scrambling to demonstrate superior value to existing and prospective members.

Here are some of the things you can do to reassess your member value proposition and revitalize your strategic direction:

·         Find your niche. Decide what your organization offers to members that sets it apart from the crowd. In the past, your goal may have been to maximize membership numbers. In the new reality, the winning strategy might be to identify the audiences you serve best and find the unique value that you alone can offer them.
·         Find your valuable commodity. And once you’ve found it, capitalize on it. You can eliminate the competition by showcasing your best work and making sure members understand how it sets you apart.
·         Create fabulous member experiences. What does the membership experience look like? Do you know what kind of first impression you make when a prospective member finds you online? What is the member experience for your active volunteers, committee members, and directors?
·         Focus outward. If you’ve been paying a lot of attention to bylaws and internal structures, it’s time to shift focus. Build an emotional connection with your members and show them how they make a positive difference—personally, professionally, and in their community. 
·         It’s all about them. Your marketing materials for new members and renewals should emphasize what members get back when they form a relationship with their organization, and help them remember why they should keep that relationship going.

Unless your association has suddenly lost the impetus to retain and recruit members, Sladek’s techniques can help you get them emotionally invested in your cause. And we can help you market your services properly, to make sure your crucial message is received.