No matter how successful or strained the economy is, prospects always scrutinize the value of membership and what you’re offering. What’s more, you aren’t always targeting a single decision maker: More group billing models leave you with the task of marketing to multiple individual interests and meeting the employer’s goals. Managing a successful membership-based organization today is a multifaceted undertaking.
After you’ve tackled the complexities of finding the right prospects, valuing your benefits, and selling them, you must personalize the experience and solidify renewal behavior in the first 90 days. With the onset of the Internet, many benefits that associations could depend on offering exclusively are now available online, such as networking, training and industry information.
Membership organizations must do a better job of communicating the unique offerings they have and differentiating themselves from peer organizations and the Internet.
The Art of Membership is a thorough look at attracting, recruiting and retaining members. Author Sheri Jacobs has filled her book with helpful case stories and examples from associations, nonprofits and companies. She includes how-to guides, checklists and worksheets that break down her concepts from goal to strategy to tactics, resulting in a comprehensive guide to membership.
We asked Sheri Jacobs to tell us what inspired her to write The Art of Membership and her answer contained some interesting thoughts on what causes an organization to lose members.
Sheri Jacobs: Over the years, I have frequently heard association executives ask the question: What causes an organization to experience a drop in membership? Some would cite a global recession that began in September 2008 and continued well into 2012. Although the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research states the recession started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, many continue to blame current economic woes for a decline in membership.
In spite of the recession, however, the demand for information and education remains quite strong, regardless of the industry. Although individuals may have tighter budgets, my research has shown they still need to stay up-to-date to maintain their licensure or job.
What have changed are the criteria they use to make “purchasing” decisions (decision to join, renew, register or buy). Pricing, ease of access and other factors detailed in this book all have a significant impact on the decision to buy.
Another reason cited for a decline in membership is the commonly held belief that the 79.8 million people who fall into the category of Gen Y (individuals born between 1977 and 1995) are not joiners. Organizations, however, cannot ignore the importance of attracting and building a sense of affiliation with an entire generation–and the future pipeline for the organization. Many organizations today face a greying of their membership. Understanding and implementing the “Membership Rules” presented in the book will help organizations make the small and big changes needed to build an inclusive and diverse membership base.
CausePlanet: What are the current trends you feel are affecting membership directors today? How have these trends impacted their ability to deliver relevant services?
Sheri Jacobs: There are four trends that are impacting membership organizations today.
1. How people spend money: In 2013, 80 percent of U.S. consumers looked for a “good deal” compared to just 69% in 2012, and price was the most important purchase driver for every income level. The issue isn’t that people cannot afford to pay membership dues, but they are questioning their usage of the benefits and the relevant value. It is similar to what is happening in the publishing world with the decrease in magazine and newspaper subscriptions. After months of magazines piling up on your table with no time to read them, you may not renew your subscription when you receive the invoice. You may still enjoy the publication and feel it provides high quality or entertaining information but if you don’t have time to read it, it doesn’t make sense to renew the subscription.
2. The social influence of others has a tremendous impact on how we make decisions. Today, people turn to TripAdvisor when choosing a hotel or a destination that is unfamiliar. They read the reviews on Amazon before purchasing a book or other item. The same is true for joining associations and taking advantage of the benefits. The influence of friends, peers and colleagues is strong and will help sway the decision to join, register, volunteer or become engaged at any level…
Join us for our next installment of membership trends impacting acquisition and retention when we share more of our interview with Jacobs.