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Why It Is Not Enough To Know Why Members Join

Amanda Kaiser helps associations stay relevant by deeply understanding member challenges, needs and wants.  You can find more of her articles about member research, member experience and member insights at

“What do you think is the top reason members join?” is a critical question asked in membership benchmarking surveys but the ranked answers may be inaccurate. The question asks association professionals to report why they think members join which may not necessarily actually be why members join.

Meagan Rockett beautifully illustrates this in an earlier post when she questions a big swing in the results in the 2013 Pulse Report. Education, as the reason to join dropped significantly and Meagan says, “If associations are listening to the tone of the times, rather than the needs of their members, and positioning themselves accordingly, they may be missing an opportunity to boost member engagement and retention.”

Knowing why members join is crucial for developing great marketing and innovation. This question can’t be left to a benchmarking study to answer for you. And the one or two word answers your members gave you do not help either. What you need to know is the motivation and emotion behind why your members join.

Know their motivation

When you ask a member why they joined they are likely to give you a quick answer: “for networking”, “to have access to professional development”, or “to receive industry data”. You need to find out the why behind the why; what is their motivation behind joining?

A member says the #1 reason they joined is to go to the conference. Now it is up to you to determine the motivation behind their need to go to the conference. Did their boss tell them to register? Are they new to the profession? Are they struggling with a problem and they hope to meet someone who successfully found a solution? Do you see how knowing member’s motivations can help you craft a better message or alter the session subject matter to better meet your member’s needs?

See the emotion

With almost all purchases there is an emotional reason that drives the purchase and the same holds true for joining an association. You should know how your members feel when they join. Are they thrilled at the opportunities for being a part of your organization? Do they feel uncertain that joining will meet their needs? Are they hopeful that joining will help them solve a problem? Understanding the underlying emotion helps you fix flaws and fine tune the member experience.

Knowing that “networking” or “education” as the reason to join is not enough. When you know why they join, their motivation to join and the emotions surrounding joining you can develop strategies that unquestionably meet your member’s needs.