Is It Time for a New Model of Membership?

I recently spoke on this topic as part of the April Alexandria Brown Bag focusing on Grassroots Membership Strategies, where I shared the story of my fab client the American Medical Student Association. About a year ago, they switched to a free membership model (disclaimer – I cannot claim any credit for this, as we started working together in the aftermath of the switch). They’ve had some really interesting outcomes, as I’m sure you can imagine.

At the same time, there’s recently been a big discussion about membership models on ASAE’s Collaborate community, which frankly, got a little chippy. I think the reason for it resulted from a fundamental misunderstanding: one, considering new membership models doesn’t automatically mean an organization is going to switch; and two, “new membership model” does not automatically mean “free membership” (despite the fact that it’s been garnering a fair amount of attention recently).

In fact, I’m currently working with another client on looking at their membership model with an eye towards a potential change, and we’re not even considering free membership as a possibility.

If you are considering doing the same, there are a few key things you need to think about:

  1. You need to make an accurate and clear-eyed assessment of your association’s financial picture. No rose colored glasses, no overly optimistic assessments of future increases in revenue or decreases in expenses, review of your investments, review of your reserves and what you are and are not willing to use them for, how big a change in revenue or expense you can absorb and for how long, etc.
  2. You need to know where your revenue comes from and where the potential for growth lies.
  3. You need to have an open and honest conversation with your Board and your senior staff about potential risks, what you will do to ameliorate them, and how you would handle the worst case scenario, should it arrive.
  4. You need to be CRYSTAL clear about your goals and be certain about how you’ll know you did or did not achieve them.
  5. You need to be willing and able to give it time.