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Delivering Effective Membership Tiers Without The Tears

Over the past year I have seen a wide range of membership associations move away from the traditional one-size-fits-all membership offering to a more tiered and personalized membership offering.

Over the past year I have seen a wide range of membership associations move away from the traditional one-size-fits-all membership offering to a more tiered and personalized membership offering.

To be clear, I am not talking about a categorized approach (associate, member or fellow) but different tiers linked to the provision of member benefits. E.g. basic, standard and advanced.

Here’s an overview of the likely membership benefits that could be assigned to a 3-tiered approach to membership:

Basic

Access to basic member benefits linked to professional local networking, monthly newsletter, paid-for eLearning opportunities and/or conference/event/product discounts.

Standard

Access to inclusive benefits and more comprehensive help and support (perhaps via email or phone). It is likely that this membership tier would also include inclusive access to a regular publication or journal to add extra value over and above “basic”. Ideally “standard” membership should provide limited access or paid-for access to a product/service with a unique selling point (ie: basic online CPD tool or insurance).

Advanced

Access to key products/services provided inclusively as benefits rather than stand-alone paid-for product/service. Ideally this membership tier would include comprehensive access to a product/service with a unique selling point (ie: comprehensive CPD tool or insurance or an inclusive conference/event ticket).At first glance this looks like a really sensible idea as it aligns neatly to a more personalized approach that could generate increased annual membership fee income. However, be warned: a number of well-known trade associations and professional bodies have made ‘the jump’ and the results were not pretty.

In 2013 a well-known medium size UK-based trade association (representing over 25,000 members) transitioned from a one-size-fits-all membership model to a 3-tiered scheme following over two years of surveys, discussion and focus groups. The new fee structure was implemented and a reported 75% of members actually downgraded their membership to the basic option instead of opting for the more comprehensive/expensive grades.

By my reckoning this was both unexpected and equated to an immediate reduction in annual membership fee income of $825,000 – Ouch!

7 key lessons can we learn about this emerging tiered approach to membership

  1. When conducting member/non-member research into the provision of proposed new tiers you should consider that in the current economic climate short term cost savings may appeal more than access to a more comprehensive or personalized offering. Remember: What a member or non-member says in a focus group may not translate when he/she is asked to actually ‘put their hand in their pocket’ at renewal time!
  2. If members are provided with the opportunity to pay reduced membership renewal fees without a significant incentive or unique selling point (USP) in place they may well opt for the cheaper option (like in the example above).
  3. Consider that your current generic membership offering becomes the “basic” tier to avoid possible downgrade risk/costs.
  4. If a lower tier option is to be offered you have to make sure downgrades will not occur. Empathy levels towards the organization will play a part along with the tangible benefits of membership.
  5. Tiers linked to enhanced professional status should feature within the medium/advanced offering.
  6. Ensure you have buy-in right from the top and ensure a formal consultation is conducted with key stakeholders.
  7. Gain wider membership sector insight, knowledge and experience in order to make robust, structured, well-informed and future-proof decisions. This is something we do at MemberWise Network.

In addition to the 7 lessons above, you also want to think about how tiered membership options will affect younger members. In the beginning they may be attracted to the lower cost, “basic” tiered option. As they grow in their careers and professionals paths, they may look to expand and add to their membership benefits. Be sure that the transition is both easy and appealing for members at any level to move up in your association.

Take the first step towards your future.

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