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Are Free Membership Models the Future for Associations? - Part 2

Written by Joshua Paul | on April 14, 2011 at 8:30 AM
Membership Models Strategies for Associations

This is the second part of our article on free membership models being explored by many associations. You can read the first part in this series to understand why a membership organizations are thinking about eliminating dues, common concerns about moving to a free membership model, and which types of organizations are most successful in making this kind of shift.

The second part of this series focuses on a framework that associations can use to find the right membership model for their organization.

Strategy Guidance for Associations and Other Membership Organizations

The question of "to collect dues or not to collect dues" is not the same for all organizations. Missions, membership, and value differ from one association to the next. Broad statements like, "freemium is on its way" or "free is the future of associations" are like saying that all software companies are going to price based on a monthly fee, like Netflix. The art of pricing is very specific to individual markets, offerings, and value propositions.

"We came to think that the traditional model"”one that requires annual dues to access information, connect with colleagues, participate in advocacy, and so on"”wasn't the right fit for our industry. That model also was incongruent in terms of how people"”especially our tech-savvy audience"”connect, engage, and commit."  - Erin Fuller, Association Now - March 2011

Let's look at this from a strategic point of view. You can't rethink dues without rethinking your entire membership and revenue model.

Try this - clear your mind of all you know about your organization's past, present, and future. The following steps will help you optimize your association's offering to give your industry what it needs while reducing the burden of costs that don't add enough value to your target audiences.

Building Your Association From Scratch

1. Understand your "market," their problems, and what is important to them.

2. Develop programs and products that uniquely solve the urgent and pervasive problems of your target members.

3. Strip away the rest and assess the costs to provide those benefits that remain.

4. Put a cost structure in place that both aligns with the way your audience wants to pay to have these problems solved and makes it easy for your offering to "fly off the shelves."

5. Test these offerings and revenue models with members and non-members. Then, make adjustments accordingly.

Some associations will find that their members want to pay dues to receive certain benefits. Some membership organizations will be more successful with an a la carte model. And some associations will get creative in the ways that they "fund" their operations. For instance, some of our customers collect dues to provide benefits that solve their members most urgent and pervasive problems, charge separately for extras, and fund much of their daily operations through a vendor program built into their online community platform.

Associations can't make these decisions without doing their research first. Listening to members using the survey tool, online groups and forums, and the analytics engine in your online community software are great ways to collect timely and ongoing data from your members and industry.

How are you listening to members about which parts of your organization they value most?

(photo credit: juhansonin)

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Member Communities, Associations, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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