Is Membership Really Dying?

Or is it just changing?

Why do we assume that all our members want and need to have the exact same relationship with us?

We understand this concept in our personal lives. We have different circles – hell, Google+ is built on it – and they aren’t all our BFFs.

The large majority of members in the typical association are “mailbox members.” They send you a check, you send them some magazines, everyone’s happy.

Except the association usually isn’t. We spend large amounts of our scarce resources fretting about why those “mailbox members” aren’t more involved and trying to force them to be.

What if we viewed them as what they really are: subscribers?

I’ve subscribed to MIT’s Technology Review for eight years. And I LOVE the publication, which you probably already knew, since I give them regular shout-outs here. Do they spend time, energy and money trying to get me to participate in their online community and attend their events and become a volunteer? No – although all those things are, in fact, available. But they aren’t right for me, and MIT doesn’t waste time trying to convince me that they are.

Let’s do some math.

Assume you have 10,000 members. Your annual meeting regularly sees 500 attendees, at $500 a pop. Based on past attendance, your actual number of prospective attendees is about 1,000. And you have a $10,000 marketing budget.

Most of us proceed to blast undifferentiated messages out to the entire 10,000 members. Which means we can spend $1 per member trying to get people to our conference. What if, instead, we focused that $10,000 and our staff time ONLY on the 1000 prospects who are likely to attend? All of a sudden, we’re only managing 1000 contacts, not 10,000, and we have $10 per prospect to market the conference. What if those focused, high-impact messages aimed only at truly likely attendees could increase conference attendance from 500 to 700? At $500 a head, that’s an additional $100,000.

I’m not saying don’t tell the other 9000 members that the conference is happening. They can find out about it on your website or as an item in your weekly enewsletter or association news in your magazine. I’m just saying don’t do any direct outreach to them. They aren’t coming, and you’re wasting your money.

Not everyone is actually a prospect for everything. Invest your resources where you’re going to get a return.

3 thoughts on “Is Membership Really Dying?”

  • Elizabeth, this ideal is a bit easier to accept for a giant association, but tougher for a smaller one. Small associations struggle with this mindset of focusing on the engaged Members, while merely informing the passive Members. We want ALL our Members to like us and want to be active.

    But your point is well put. Learn to accept and embrace the differences in your Members. They might belong for very different reasons.

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