I recently had a discussion with an executive director of a construction industry association. The discussion revolved around giving members more value. Through my querying about this association’s member ROI activities, I discovered that this association was putting on seminars and charging non-members the same price as members. Hmmm…
Challenging this association leader, I pointed out that this practice is truly a membership disincentive rather than a vehicle for delivering member ROI. He countered with his belief that it was a good way to recruit members, suggesting that non-member attendees might join the association after attending an event or two. Asking about the associations recruitment numbers, it appeared to me that the premise was erroneous. After a long discussion, I held to my belief about this practice delivering effectively zero value to his members—then the admission was finally revealed.
The Truth Will Set You Free
This association leader finally admitted that a vendor pays for everything and gets maximum value when more people from the industry attend. The vendor is naturally looking for customers—fair enough. Are the seminars put on by this association really a member benefit? Absolutely not; the seminars are primarily a vendor benefit. While there is nothing wrong with extracting sponsorship dollars from vendors, please do not confuse sponsorship revenue with delivering member ROI. If the non-member pays the same price, there is no additional value in membership delivered during this scenario.
Pick a Lane
To deliver honest yearly sustainable real-dollar value for your members, you must deliver services that are (a) not available to non-members or (b) priced at such a differential that joining the association is a logical and good business decision. The challenge here is when the association executive tries to create a hybrid—you’ve really got to pick a lane. Delivering bottoms in seats for vendors is a far cry from developing member needed seminars with a proper pricing structure. Being redundant—I’ll repeat that I have no issue with generating additional vendor revenues—go for it. However, realize that these activities do not create perceived member ROI and are not motivators when you ask your members to renew their memberships.
The Advocacy Delusion
This one is the most difficult for association staff and volunteer leadership to stomach. Association sponsored legislative advocacy serves the industry, but does not necessarily deliver direct member ROI to association members. If non-members and members alike receive the same benefit, then there is no way that the advocacy can be called a member benefit. If certain information and/or access is only available to members, then that is a completely different situation—one that does deliver real-dollar member ROI.
Member ROI Positioned Activities
After a decade of conducting my Member Value Process for quite a number of associations and societies, and listening to countless members describe what creates value for their lives—I can state, with complete confidence: Within every service, activity, or product, associations and societies must build a price or access differential favoring the paid members verses the other industry non-members. This is not always easy to do. I site the above seminar example as proof—the association selected to accept the vendor revenue over delivering real-dollar value to the members. While there are always shades of gray in exploring this issue, my recommendation is that you error on the side of delivering member value. The other option only delivers continued membership hemorrhaging. With a little effort, all associations and societies can position all activities and offerings to deliver great member ROI.
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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