Here is the bitter pill…if non-members can attend…the meeting is not a feature of membership. However, the discount on registration is.
Nearly every membership organization can further its mission more effectively, with more members. More members generally translate to larger meetings. To recruit more members, especially Millennials, there must be an outstanding perceived return on investment (ROI) offered.
Contemporary membership research, surveys, and reports all indicate that many membership organizations are challenged with trying to justify why one should join their ranks. There is the good old admonishment, “Join to support your industry.” This has become increasingly ineffective. Let’s not forget the old standby, ”We have great networking.” Perhaps your organization has progressed to a more contemporary “We have great live and online communities”?
Yet, something is still missing…a truly compelling reason to join. What’s an association executive or director of membership to do?
Accelerate Your Action
In order to grow your membership and member meeting attendance, perhaps it is time to push against conventional wisdom and look in a new direction? Consider the inaccuracy that most of what is offered up by membership organizations as “member benefits” are in fact, features—perhaps features of membership. For an organization’s services, activities, or other things to be considered “features of membership” said services or activities must be available only to members.
Industry benefit activities are those things, like advocacy, that create great value for everyone in the industry—not just the members. These activities are great customer service accomplishments for the longer-term members that care about them. However, they are quite ineffective in recruiting new members—because they receive the value without having to become a member.
Show Me the Money
While advocacy generally is not a feature of membership, a legislative update…distributed only to members clearly is a membership feature which will save the member time, money, and avoidance of regulatory pain…all buying motives. These buying motives are the actual benefit…the things that make your members’ lives better…the things that will motivate non-members to join. Like the above mentioned feature of membership, discount on meeting registration, saving money is the benefit and not the meeting.
Consider grabbing the opportunity to drive more value, more member ROI, for members at your meeting. There is currently much discussion in the meetings industry about “meeting ROI” but very little about “member ROI.” What the members get in exchange for their annual dues should be important to any association executive. To effectively increase “member ROI” at any of your meetings, consider including in your scheduled offering a number of “member-only” educational, networking, and/or social sessions. You will find this most effective at times when multiple activities are taking place at the meeting so there will be something for non-members to do. And, remember to develop some specific member-only education or activities for your long-term members. They need more than simply a place to see their friends once a year.
As you now know, it is only the registration discount that is the true feature of membership. Add to this feature some member-only activities and those activities also become features of membership. You will greatly increase the total perceived member ROI (member-only). You will be offering your current members more compelling reasons to attend your meetings and to retain their membership. For the non-members, this is like the take-away close—a powerful reason for the non-member to join your organization.
Influence the Decision to Join
There is no advantage in vague or fuzzy-bunny “member value proposition” marketing. In order to grow your membership base, which will increase your opportunity to influence more members to attend your meetings; it is crucial that your organization clearly communicate its member value proposition. A reasonably easy and inexpensive way to achieve this goal is to calculate the member-perceived real-dollar value of each “member-only” feature of membership. Communicating your organization’s real-dollar member ROI via your website and other marketing channels, both printed and electronic, will go a long way to telling your value proposition story and influencing the decision to join.
Give ‘em What They Want
There is the question of which segment(s) you will get the best “bang for your buck” in influencing both membership and meeting attendance? Generally it will be those people that are newer to the industry. They truly have the most to gain from membership. To influence this segment, you have to communicate how it is in their best interest to participate with your organization. During recruitment, is not the time for talking to these younger people about all the great value the organization delivers to the industry. There will be plenty of time for that after they have engaged in your organization and will better understand the value.
Now is the time to communicate the great value that your organization delivers to its members—the ROI of membership based on each member-only feature. It is your job to help them understand the real-dollar value of each of these features of membership that your organization offers. This will hopefully include a number of new “member-only” activities at your upcoming meetings.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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