Membership growth in a time of crisis

How to measure your association’s value Research shows membership is more likely to grow in times of crisis. This is because people are seeking solutions that a membership would typically provide. So…

Horizontal side view of a lonely yellow flower growing on dried cracked soil

How to measure your association’s value

Research shows membership is more likely to grow in times of crisis. This is because people are seeking solutions that a membership would typically provide.

So if your organization is struggling to engage and retain members or drive revenues in this pandemic, it’s likely because the membership strategy isn’t showing the value.

Value is measured in two key areas: emotion and return on investment. When a membership is valuable, it’s because the membership helps to solve an immediate need and provides a sense of community and belonging.

When a membership is valuable, its deliverables aren’t easily accessible to those who aren’t members and it’s a ‘must-have’, meaning that members rarely, if ever, question whether to continue their involvement.

Unfortunately, many associations have strayed from their member-centric missions, investing more resources into event planning, large-scale campaigns, and decisions which diluted value and placed non-members and members on a level playing field.

As a result, many associations are observing decline right now instead of momentum and growth.

This statement, made by an association executive I was recently speaking to, sums up the migration away from membership perfectly. He said: “Membership is only the membership director’s job. No one else here needs to be thinking about that.”

Make no mistake about it. If you work for a membership association, membership is your job. It is, in fact, the responsibility of anyone who represents and interacts with the members on the association’s behalf.

Another example of the migration away from membership: I recently polled an audience of association executives and the vast majority reported 40% of their annual revenues come from live events. These associations had backburnered membership to focus on producing bigger events in fancier venues.

I know this is the rule and not the exception, because data indicates membership totals have been declining and the average age of members has been aging for the past two decades.

The fact is, most membership organizations have simply lost their way.

Member disengagement and decline didn’t occur due to a lack of smart, ambitious, dedicated, or inspired people. We didn’t suddenly morph into a society of ‘non-joiners’.

Disengagement happened because membership took a backseat to other revenue streams and missions. Disengagement happened because organizations weren’t inclusive, adaptive to change, responsive, or relevant to the changing needs and interests of current and prospective members.

Thankfully, there is a solution.

Diversification is a strategy which leverages your association’s value and creates a member-centric experience to spur relevance, community-building, and growth.

This is the only path forward.

I’ve been researching membership engagement behaviors and trends since 2002. I assure you, the only way to compete in this ever-changing and disruptive marketplace is to adopt a diversified, member-centric strategy.

Don’t make the mistake of getting stuck or trying to return to the past. The future resembles a different reality than the one that existed in the pre-COVID era, and if you’re not ready for it, it’s going to become increasingly more difficult to engage members, remain relevant, and compete in 2021.

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