'Discounts and downloads?'

Why community is the value your members want

The evolving nature of work, accelerated by Covid-19, has caused associations to think differently about their membership models. Paying a set fee for a sweeping suite of benefits looked antiquated, as members sought more customizable options to take advantage of what they need, when they need it, and how they need it. The social and financial upheaval wrought by the pandemic left many members wondering if paying yearly dues to their association made any sense.

In response, some associations removed the barrier of payment for a limited time while, at the same time, evaluating whether their current membership model made sense. Should it always be free? Should we explore regional pricing? What would a subscription model look like? How will we differentiate value for the price?

As association leaders sought to answer these questions, it became clear that it would take more than a discount to the annual conference or the ability to download a special report to add value to membership. Members view these perks as table stakes in exchange for their membership dollars and during a time when they are scrutinizing how they spend, it just isn’t enough. What they are seeking are experiences that set your association apart and that help meet a need. This is where associations can leverage online communities to, not only attract perspective members, but retain the ones you have.

Online communities are partly about delivering on a meaningful member experience. Whether that experience meets a need in time or over the course of the member journey, what takes place in these spaces are huge drivers for participation and engagement and, in many cases, prove to be an introduction to the value that your association holistically provides. What does that mean for the evolution of membership models and how can associations use community to make those needed changes?

"Ask your members what they're looking for..."

Tap into community to deliver unique experiences. There is no shortage of ways that we think about delivering amazing experiences for those who attend our events. Yet when we think about membership offerings, we default to discounts and “exclusive” reports that, once distributed to another person outside of the membership, isn’t so exclusive anymore. Because experience is such a large part of community building, it comes as a natural fit for extending membership value. Community can hold an Ask Me Anything for session speakers before an event. It can hold online networking with the Board on a quarterly basis. It can even lend to gated access to special groups or content as part of the membership experience.

Utilize a freemium community access model for your membership. Community isn’t just about your paying members. It also can be home to those who haven’t yet invested in your association in that way but may one day in the future. Many communities subscribe to a freemium access model that allows all of those who interact with the association to benefit from general content like articles, blogs, and discussions, but that save professional development webinars or online events for those who pay annual (or monthly) dues. If you’re not sure what other benefits could be delivered through the online community experience, refer to your member satisfaction surveys. Or better yet, ask your members what they’re looking for and utilize the online community to help create those benefits.

"Hold workshops with keynotes or book clubs with session speakers..."

Deliver dynamic pre- and post-event activities. Events are riddled with swag. If you’ve ever attended a live event, you’ve walked away with your fair share of water bottles, pens, or notebooks that you may or may not have ever used again. What if those who were members were privy to amazing pre- or post-event virtual activities that kept people engaged long before and after your live event? Holding workshops with keynotes, book clubs with session speakers, or masterminds with attendees based on the content/experiences of the in-person event is an incredible value add that can be facilitated through the community to help keep people engaged long after the event has ended.

Online communities open doors to innovative ways of delivering value that may not have been uncovered before all while fostering greater connectivity to your members and building trust. Membership models will change as the needs of your members change – and as the world changes and people prioritize what is important. That means that you must abandon “how we’ve always done it” to stay tuned into those needs. Associations can be incredibly creative in what that looks like. And the future can be bright for delivering member benefits and evolving membership models as long as we continue to listen to our members.

About the author:

Marjorie Anderson is the product manager of digital communities at the Project Management Institute, founder of Community By Association, and an AMI Expert Contributor on the subject of member engagement.

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