I know, it’s sounds crazy - but a part of Lowell Aplebaum’s contribution to our 2018 association industry predictions post has really had me thinking: What if member-based organizations stopped charging dues for the most basic level of membership?
In his prediction, Lowell said: “Associations will begin to see the ‘member’ definition evolve as they continue to recognize that the annual dues transaction is only one step along a pathway of overall belonging. Active contributors on social media, those that attend events and volunteer but have not yet joined, those whose thought leadership instructs and guides - whether or not they’ve paid dues yet, these individuals are a part of the community. As being a member becomes more about a feeling of belonging, the payment of dues will be an important, but singular, step along a much richer path of engagement.”
Let’s break it down:
Evolution of “member”
Up until now, I’d venture to guess that your organization’s definition of a member is any person or organization who pays dues - right? But as Lowell noted, that’s just one step in the hundreds (even thousands) of ways a member will interact with you. Many new members come to you after having viewed a webinar, attended an event, or subscribed to your blog - so, often, making a dues investment isn’t even their first step!
Ask yourself: “What does it truly mean for a member to belong to my organization?”
If your goal is to encourage prospective members to be a part of a community and engage in ways that matter to them - both personally and professionally - perhaps asking for money right out of the gate isn’t the answer.
Identifying active contributors
Think about all the people who positively impact your association in some way. Are they all dues-paying members? The ecosystem of those who touch your association is vast, and they’re not always necessarily involved in the transaction of joining. These are your former board members, volunteers, partner organizations, vendors (Hi, there!), industry and community leaders, non-member event attendees, etc. The only difference between them and a traditional member is the exchange of funds!
Ask yourself: “How can I bring those who are already engaging into the fold?”
You work so hard to show non-members (and often current members, too) the value of actively engaging with the association, but you have a plethora of people in your community who didn’t need any convincing. Maybe it’s time to think about extending some kind of membership to those folks, too - and through them, encourage others to do the same.
So really - what if you stopped charging dues for basic membership?
What if belonging at the most basic level was completely free? How would that change your relationship with your members? My two cents: You would probably have an easier time getting some bodies in the door and furthering your mission! By allowing individuals (or businesses, if you’re a chamber) to participate in certain ways at no cost, you’re allowing them to explore membership in a way that is comfortable for them.
Now, I’m not at all suggesting that you give all members every single benefit for free. After all, you have to have revenue! Think of it like a “freemium” model - one where the initial product or service is offered for free, but money is charged for additional features (or in your case, benefits).
The idea lends perfectly to a tiered dues model, where members opt-into a package of benefits that will give them the value they’re seeking from membership. The only difference here is, your first tier would be offered at no cost! For more on tiered dues, including how to set up your packages and communicate the change to members, check out our free guide: How to Increase Chamber Membership Value by Implementing Tiered Dues.