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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Association membership model review

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THE pandemic has made associations review their membership models to ensure they will stay relevant and sustainable into the future. A membership model (i.e., how your membership, communications, content, and dues rates are organized and structured) is key to attracting, recruiting, and retaining members.

In a webinar conducted by Australia-based Answers for Associations, speaker Belinda Moore, director at Strategic Membership Solutions, a specialized consultancy providing strategic, membership and sponsorship advice, assistance and training, talked about membership model reviews and shared useful tips and tools. Below are my key takeaways from the session:

1. Changes in membership models: From the traditional “service provider” model where an association is a knowledge and content creator/supplier, associations are now evolving into: (a) contemporary “community” model, i.e., an association is a facilitator or platform; (b) a bespoke model, e.g., franchise; and (c) a hybrid model (a mix of the other models). While there is a “no one size fits all” model, what is emerging to be a good model to emulate is the community (platform) model.

2. Starting point: Reviewing your membership model starts with knowing: (a) your purpose (i.e., why you exist); (b) who you serve or who you should be serving to attain your purpose; and (c) how you serve (i.e., what activities you need to do to achieve your purpose).

On the last item, there are five activities an association can do in relation to the purpose of its membership model:

(a) Mobilization: to gain as many adherents to the cause and motivate them to action.

(b) Representation: to provide strength in numbers, funds, and influence by targeted members who can bring forth one or more of these.

(c) Participation: to generate sustainable participant numbers by getting non-members to try, commit, and progress along pathways.

(d) Service provision: to develop an ongoing source of active users of association products and services.

(e) Community: to build a large and active user group who habitually engage with others in the community.

3. Next steps:

(a) Create an aligned model by deciding which membership model concept aligns best with your purpose, those you serve, and your activities; developing aligned membership categories, eligibility, fees, and data requirements; generating buy-in and agreement for the concept before investing further time; and determining the details by developing your member value framework.

(b) Build strong foundations through technology, data, and reporting; governance and decision-making pathways; component frameworks and volunteering tracks; product and service offering; revenue sources and sales frameworks; branding and positioning and staffing structure.

(c) Operationally plan and execute: transition and launch; planning and monitoring; stakeholder experience and engagement; sales and marketing; communications; organizational culture; meetings and events; and partnerships and sponsorships, etc.

4. Potential challenges: These include buy-in by members and/or decision-makers; appetite to evolve vs. transform; technology selection; transitional resourcing (staff and funding); shift in work force skill set requirements; potential cultural shift required; funding shift execution; and transitional planning.

Finally, Belinda stressed a point: “Associations do not exist to recruit or retain members. They exist to make a positive impact for those they serve. As such, its membership model must align to this.”

The column contributor, Octavio ‘Bobby’ Peralta, is founder & CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives. The purpose of PCAAE—the “association of associations”—is to advance the association management profession and to make associations well-governed and sustainable. PCAAE enjoys the support of Adfiap, the Tourism Promotions Board, and the Philippine International Convention Center. Email: obp@adfiap.org

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