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Getting Rid Of The Freeloaders In Your Association: Is It Realistic?

I was recently asked the question “How do associations turn freeloaders into paying members?” I personally think this is a loaded question. While you may be able to convert some of your members through the right marketing and recruitment plans, the idea of converting everyone is unrealistic. “Freeloaders” who show up to events, participate in webinars, and benefit from the great work your association does is just something you have to deal with. But this can work to your advantage.

I was recently asked the question “How do associations turn freeloaders into paying members?” I personally think this is a loaded question. While you may be able to convert some of your members through the right marketing and recruitment plans, the idea of converting everyone is unrealistic. “Freeloaders” who show up to events, participate in webinars, and benefit from the great work your association does is just something you have to deal with. But this can work to your advantage.

In a November 2012 post for Associations Now, Joe Rominiecki encourages embracing freeloaders. “Most associations have a mix of free and paid products. Commonly, they offer either content, events or membership for free, and try to funnel people toward paying for the other two”.  He goes on to say “In any of these cases, there are freeloaders…there are probably more freeloaders than buyers. And that’s OK; as long as you can generate adequate revenue from the buying portion.”

I agree with what he is trying to achieve with this post – that “scaring off freeloaders would mean its pool of potential buyers would dry up”.

If however, you are no longer benefiting from their presence anymore, it may be time to start making these freeloaders pay to play. I encourage you to make it a gradual, affordable process:

  • Start with your content: If you are producing content on a regular basis, that is free at this time, make it free to members as part of their member benefit structure. For the rest, produce an executive summary that is free and is structured to be a teaser and encourage those to download the full report.
  • Charge a nominal fee for your local events: In many cases, local networking functions are free to attend. Charging a nominal fee upon registration will not only help you offset the costs of hosting these events, but also help you with no-shows, which in some industries can be very high.
  • Introduce an e-membership: Perhaps you can try an e-membership with these freeloaders, offering them unlimited access to your content, and the rest of your collateral online for a fee. However, if they want to participate in some of your conferences and professional development, they should be paying a different fee structure than full-members.

One final thought – has your organization focused any research towards why these “freeloaders” have never joined your association? Asking questions relating to why they have never joined, why they do not see the benefit of being a member, etc. may help you re-focus on your vision, mission and values, and re-structure your brand to be more appealing to these people!

What else could you be doing to convert freeloaders?

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