Not so fast. It’s a good idea, but it might not yield the results you want.
First of all, waiving membership dues will probably boost membership numbers in your association. If your whole goal is to get that roster filled out, that might be a good idea. But the goal for more members is ultimately engagement, participation, and more volunteers, right? Free membership doesn’t necessarily guarantee all those new members will start to participate.
Sure, a few of them probably will, but the argument can be made that less value is assigned to an association membership that the member didn’t have to pay for. There’s occasionally the thinking of “I have to make it to a few events to make this membership worth it” for associations that have annual dues associated with membership.
Instead of offering a blanket free membership promotion, why not offer free or discounted membership dues to certain partner organizations or businesses whose staffs could be particularly interested or engaged with your association. If a group of people joins together, your association will be on their collective radar instead of getting lost in an individual calendar.
Okay, so maybe free dues or membership isn’t a great idea. What about a free event?
Again, there are pros and cons.
A free event will almost certainly have a bigger turnout, but that’s only if your event prices were high to begin with. Honestly, a free event might have just as high or low of a turn out as it would if there was a small fee involved. For events, it really comes down to the marketing and promotion.
It also depends on the quality of the event. If you offer some great networking and learning- and actually deliver on those promises- then it sets a great president for future events. It also gives you some recruitment tools to reach out to new attendees.
However large, well-attended events can get pricey and cause a big hit to your budget if there's no registration fees to offset the expenses.
The bottom line, as it usually is for this blog, is that free events and membership can be great, but can also backfire. Every association is different, so think about the best way that you can use any wiggle room in your budget. Maybe the best solution is to have a celebration for your most active members! A little appreciation goes a long way and quality is many times better than quantity when it comes to membership.