9: Why Is Membership the Only Relationship?

Why is Membership the Only Relationship?

In position number 9 of the top ten all time Spark blog posts: Why Is Membership the Only Relationship?

Originally written as a follow on to a panel session I participated in at ASAE’s 2013 Great Ideas Conference, I noted that while associations have LOTS of different types of constituents, we still, with a few limited exceptions, tend to consider everyone who interacts with us a membership prospect and push everyone we interact with towards becoming a member.

In other words, you can have a relationship with us in any color you want, as long as it’s membership.

As I wrote nearly ten years ago:

The world has changed to one of mass customization, and we aren’t keeping up with people’s expectations and experiences.

How have things changed?

I would argue that the forces I was talking about then have only intensified, even before the pandemic and certainly in its wake.

People’s expectations of our organizations are influenced by their consumer experiences – mass customization and personalization, paying only for what you want, on demand services, subscription models, free and freemium models, and the sharing economy. That may not be fair, but it is a fact. Meanwhile, we’re offering them a model T.

Post-pandemic, a lot of people are re-examining their lives: work-life balance, how they invest their limited resources (time, money, attention), what really matters to them, how much travel they want to and are willing to do and for what purposes, how busy/booked they’re willing to be, what causes are worthy of their volunteer energy and attention, etc.

All of those things influence both what people are looking for from your association and what they’re willing to give to it.

I do get it. We’re membership organizations. That long-term, loyal relationship is critical – it’s a key part of the foundation both of associations’ revenue models and of the work we do to benefit our professions and industries.

However, there are people within the larger profession/industry community your association serves who have valuable things they want to and can contribute to the betterment of that community who might not want to or be able to be members (maybe for now, maybe forever).

Are you making space for them to be part of your community in ways that make sense to them? If not, why not? 

Image Credit: “Henry Ford Quotes.” QuotesCosmos.com, Last modified July 30, 2021. https://www.quotescosmos.com/quotes/Henry-Ford-quote-2.html

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