No matter your association’s industry, layoffs have probably touched your membership somehow. If a member is faced with the reality of losing his or her job and must make tough choices regarding expenses often your association’s dues are one of the first items to be redlined. 

The ironic thing is that your association could have maximum benefits for a member during unemployment and vice versa. When a member is on the job hunt not only do they have more free time but they’re also anxious to volunteer and mingle. So the natural conclusion there is, “so why don’t we offer reduced or free dues to members who are currently unemployed and job seeking?”

Pro: Your association is compassionate and understanding to the struggle of unemployment. Talk about great PR! Have you heard about those dry cleaners around the country who clean suits for free for the unemployed to wear to interviews? That kindness and compassion goes a long way, especially in smaller communities. What you lose in dues may be made up in donations.

Con: You lose money. Your dues are in place for a reason, and you have a carefully laid out budget for that cash. A non-dues paying member may drain resources but not contribute to your bottom line. 

Pro: You could have an amazing success story. Imagine if this member gets a job through association networking. He or she would be the biggest advocate for your association ever! You know that they would bring friends and colleagues long into the future and be a true embodiment of the benefits of membership.

Con: You could have no return whatsoever. The member could drop off entirely or worse, find no connections that immediately result in a job opening. He or she may just let it go, or they could take it the other way and say, “Well that was a waste of time.” It sounds extreme, but unfortunately there are bad apples out there. 

Pro: Your member networking could grow. Just because someone was laid off doesn’t mean they’re not valuable, knowledgeable, and experienced.  Having that person be part of your networking groups could be incredibly valuable to your other members, even if only for the advice they give. 

Con: You may fill with a pool of less-than-qualified candidates. Sometimes layoffs follow the “last in, first out” model and less experienced people are laid off. If that’s the case, you may have a pool of a lot of question-askers and not a lot of knowledge-sharers. Remember that networking needs a good mix of both to be successful!


After weighing the pros and cons there are some other considerations. How would you answer the following questions:

Will members be expected to pay dues once they get full time employment? How will you enforce that? 

Will your free dues allowance come with certain conditions? What are they and how will they be enforced? 

Do you already offer volunteers free access to events? Is that a viable option for those facing unemployment rather than full membership benefits?


Ultimately the decision to offer free dues to unemployed members shouldn’t be made on the spot. Take some time to talk to your board, examine your budget and your upcoming events calendar, and even talk with members and colleagues in the field in question.

Also keep in mind that this could be an opportunity to expand programming. Rather than offer unemployed members full member benefits, how about offering one or two information sessions, networking opportunities, or even a job fair? That way you may be able to keep those expenses low while providing a valuable service.

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