Partnership v. Membership: Communicating Change

Neon sign that reads "Change"

Now that you’ve mapped out the changes you want to make to your membership program, and your board of directors is on board with those changes, how do you go about communicating them to the members who will be affected?

In contrast to communicating with your board about changes, dues increases can be the hardest sell to members. “What do you mean my dues are going up? Why?”

This highlights the danger, which I talked about in my last post, in going long stretches with no dues increase and then hitting members with a large increase all at once. It’s relatively easy to make the case that dues need to go up 2% this year because of inflation and the need to retain good staff. It’s much harder to make the case that dues need to go up 10% – or 15%, or 20% – this year, even though we’re not adding anything new, because we haven’t raised dues in five years, and now we have a problem. Some – hopefully most – members will still understand, but some will not, and you will likely experience at least a temporary dip in retention rate. So raise your dues 2% a year.

Changes like offering more choice in packages of benefits are actually relatively easy to explain in concept. “Hey! They’re giving me more choices! I like choices!”

Well, yes, but your members are likely to need guidance about which package best suits their demonstrated behavior, particularly if they’ve been accustomed to the Henry Ford “you can have your Model T in any color you want as long as it’s black” model of membersip. This is where all the data work you did creating the packages in the first place will help. You should already know what the markers are for the groups of members who would most benefit from bundled conference registration or webinars or publications or whatever you’ve chosen as your differentiators. Now you just have to connect those people with the option that will suit them best (and realize that not all of them are going to take you up on it in the first year, so you probably need at least a two year plan to educate people).

What if you re-do your categories to reflect changes in your industry? Well, again, communicate that (to be honest, your members are already aware that the shift in the industry is happening – you just need to explain how your association is going to respond). What usually happens is that some members dues barely change, some go down, and there’s always at least a handful that go up – sometimes WAY up.

Uh oh.

First, get out in front of it. You have to talk to those members before you announce the changes. They’re not stupid – they’ll be able to do the math on what they have been paying versus what they will be paying, and you need to prep them beforehand. Second, offer to work with them. They will eventually have to pay the new full dues amount. But there are lots of ways you can get there. Be creative, and ask for their suggestions.

No matter what your changes are, be honest. Be real. Show how your change – even if it’s sacrificing a beloved but under-used program – will benefit your members. Be prepared to explain it more than once, in more than one format, on more than one platform. And be confident! You did this for good reasons – your members will get it when you tell them why.

In his next post (which I think will be the final post in this series), Lewis will take on this topic from the corporate partnership side: if you’re switching from “$500 for the lanyards/$1000 for the conference bags” types of sponsorships to high-dollar, high-value corporate partnerships, how do you communicate that change to the current sponsors who are your potential partners?

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash