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Membership: Back to the Drawing Board

We hear too regularly the difficulties of keeping members happy, engaged and coming back without asking the same question each year: ‘Why should I be a member of your Association?’

Now before we continue, it’s important to note that many associations are thriving off their current membership structures, and if so, don’t think we are telling you to change!

We have spoken about membership engagement before – the need to provide your members and delegates something tangible that they can’t access anywhere else. Some examples include access to training courses, online webinars or high-quality publications. If your association is a provider and / or organiser of Continued Professional Development programmes, you already have a very simple and tangible element to offer your members.

What if it has nothing to do with this? Some associations tick all the boxes – they release high-quality publications on a regular basis and provide access to reduced rates or collated educational material, yet are still struggling to convince members to take a dive in.

A recent presentation by Michelle Crowley really brought to attention some of the potential issues with the current, rigid membership model. 

Knowing next to nothing about your association from the exterior, your average John Smith has little to work with. He is restricted from your content and has very indirect access to the tangible benefits you may be offering. Whilst associations are often pulling their hair out as to why John the millennial won’t join for only $1,200 a year, John is equally frightened to pull back the curtains and potentially find an empty stage.

The idea that a citizen should join their association because frankly ‘it is the right thing to do’ may be outdated. It sounds harsh but the number of reports we receive regarding a lack of millennial engagement, registration or retention has become quite alarming.

As a millennial, I would like to throw a few ideas out there that could make a difference for your associations short and long-term future.

Very rarely to never do I take financial leaps of faith, and association membership isn’t an exception. I am unlikely to spend $1,200 dollars on a car that I haven’t driven, nor buy an expensive item on Gumtree for hundreds of dollars. I am being asked to trust in the value of an object or service with no means of verification – an all or nothing leap of faith.

Netflix Netflix Netflix they all cried! What is it all about? Have you heard about Spotify? Is it worth it? Well I can find out – because it is made accessible.

Joining or signing up is made easy – I don’t have to provide details on my local Thai restaurant or my dog’s favourite park. The information required is simple, limited and quick. You pay monthly and can opt-out whenever suits you. The entire process has been designed so that it can be completed as quickly and easily as possible. The same goes for Netflix, Amazon, Stan and so on.

Now I understand an association isn’t Netflix. It may be unwise to allow someone a month free subscription to your association and granting them full access to all the available membership perks. It could also be a complete success. It would seem more appropriate giving them a bite-sized taste of the association for a bite-sized price. Maybe access to a recent webinar and some recent publications.

You could change your membership to a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Membership ticks over in increments rather than members having to think each year: ‘What did I really get out of last year?’.

It is about removing the ‘grand decision’ each year and reducing the sizable chunk of money someone has to give up to be a part of something. If they need six months off they can put their subscriptions on hold, almost like a gym.

Having difficulties recruiting students? Give them reduced rates, involve them in your media strategy, provide them with opportunities to be published and heard and give them benefits if they repost content through their own media channels. You could be reaching and influencing thousands and thousands of younger Australians and potential members through a few simple ideas. Everyone likes being felt valued, millennials are no exception. We like being part of a movement or community, we just need a reason to join.

If you genuinely provide the benefits you claim to, it will become very apparent for your members once you pull back the curtains.

I am not saying these are all guaranteed solutions to your issues, but it may be time to review how your organisation approaches membership moving forward into 2019. It comes down to giving your members an incentive to join and making it easy. You may find it changes your demographics, member engagement and experience offered fairly quickly.

Get creative! The worst that can happen is things stay the same. Equally, as mentioned above, don’t feel obliged to change what isn’t broken!

Jack Slater – Business Development and Marketing Manager