Companies have been employing online-only memberships for years now. Is it time for your association to embrace an online-only membership option? If you’re considering it, you’ll need these five things first:
Robust Online Offerings
If you don’t have defined membership tiers, adopting an online membership level is a little premature. Assuming you do, in addition to a tiered structure, you must have robust online offerings. Such benefits may include a private online community, a mobile app, webinars for continuing education credits, virtual events, online conferences or tutorials, a learning portal, an online magazine, or other valuable online tools. Without robust offerings and an engaged online community, people won’t stay online members for long.
Flexible Payment Plans
One of the things that makes an online membership popular is payment flexibility, such as monthly billing. Members are charged in an auto-payment arrangement, unless they cancel. Some organizations allow cancellation at any time, while others spread payments over a 12-month period but the member is accountable for the year’s worth of dues and cannot cancel prior to that year.
If you allow for monthly payment, and a cancel-at-any-time option, you will be testing your association’s value. That means you have only a month to show your online members ROI before they leave. If you’re wondering whether your online offerings are robust enough, this micro-membership is a clear indicator. It will perform as your canary in the coal mine. If you’re not providing value and engaging your online member, you’ll know quickly.
Automatic Processing of Payments
If you offer an online membership, you should be flexible with your dues collection by offering one of the payment suggestions above. However, in order to minimize the association’s administrative work, monthly dues members should be processed in auto-payment fashion via credit card or ACH, and you should allow for online payment processing (and application). Allowing payment by check is not practical for an online (monthly) membership.
Ability to Deny Access
For online memberships, particularly those charged monthly, you must have the ability to shut them out of the benefits if they don’t renew (you can include a grace period if you’d like). Otherwise the member continues to benefit from membership and you may never recoup those unpaid dues.
Time to Market
Online memberships are gaining in popularity because they allow members to be a part of your association on their schedules. Online memberships are a way to reach previously lost members who couldn’t make meetings but wanted to stay connected. It also provides a less expensive way for people to “try” membership.
However, if you’re not able to market your association’s new membership level, you’ll never get the interest you expected. Marketing is more than just posting it to your website or mentioning it in a newsletter. You’ll want to dedicate some time and resources to getting the word out. Your current members may switch – especially those who are considering canceling – but you’re also looking for new recruits with this innovative membership tier, so marketing is extremely important in the success of online-only membership.
While online membership helps reach a group that may otherwise be lost to you due to lack of time or money, they have even less reason to continue to pay each month if they don’t see value. In some ways introducing an online-only membership places added pressure on the association to engage these members in a smaller window of time. However for some of your prospective members, this may be the only way to reach them.