4 Ways to Grow Your Association’s Membership

Associations fill critical needs among working adults, including keeping them abreast of the latest industry trends, providing high quality professional development, exposing them to a broader community of professionals in their industry, and advocating for their profession or industry.  According to a recent study conducted by Rockbridge, nearly a quarter (23%) of working adults in the U.S. belong to an association representing their profession.  These members tend to be highly satisfied, with 63% who are “very” or “extremely” satisfied with their membership, and the majority (69%) believe their association provides “very good” or “excellent” value to them.

While associations are clearly delivering on their value proposition, 26% of working adults who have an association available to them have chosen not to join.  So how can associations attract these non-members?

#1 Change the Meeting Paradigm

The hallmark of association membership is participating in face-to-face meetings, events and conferences with others in the profession or industry.  These in-person events provide a chance for members to interact and usually include learning opportunities.  While they may be of interest to many current association members, they are not necessarily of interest to non-members.  In fact, it is the top reason non-members have not joined a professional association; 44% of them are not interested in attending regular meetings or in-person events.

Associations should consider investing in and promoting member benefits that appeal to a more virtual community of professionals, including networking and learning opportunities that do not require meeting frequently in-person.  Online communities, webinars and podcasts may be of more interest to non-members than traditional in-person chapter meetings and conferences.

#2 Create Training Opportunities that Go Beyond the Norm

One of the most popular ways non-members increase their skills is through employer-sponsored training, with 40% of them participating in these sessions.  To provide added value to these potential members, associations will need to offer professional development content that clearly goes beyond what employers provide.  Associations can take advantage of their strengths and offer training that reflects broader industry trends, is more up-to-date, and introduces members to areas relevant to their profession, but are not necessarily the focus of their positions in their current company.  Associations may also attract potential members through certification programs, given the broader value these have to one’s career.

#3 Show Them What You Can Do

Potential members may not be aware of the value their association can provide them, but they are interested in career- or industry-related content.  Nearly half of non-members (46%) read free online articles on industry trends or information, and about a third participate in webinars (34%) and take free online training courses (35%).  Associations should consider offering selected content or webinars free to industry professionals to demonstrate the value of their information and professional development to non-members.  Another option is to offer free access to the association’s content, including articles and information, on a trial basis, which a third of non-members (33%) feel would increase their likelihood of joining an association.  This introduction to the association may be all some non-members need before joining.

#4 Offer a Lower Commitment Option

Since many non-members are uninterested in some of the traditional benefits of associations, such as in-person events, another solution is to offer lower commitment membership options based on usage.  A third of non-members (31%) feel a lower tier membership option with fewer benefits at a lower cost, or a pay-as-you-go membership, where they pay only for the benefits they use, would increase their likelihood to join an association related to their profession or industry.

These are just a few ideas associations should consider in their efforts to grow their membership base.  While the value proposition is clear to current members, associations need to think beyond the traditional membership paradigm to entice non-members to join.

Learn more about Rockbridge’s association practice.

About this Study:  Rockbridge surveyed 132 members of U.S. associations and 417 non-members who have an association related to their job or profession available to them from a national online panel.  The results were weighted to match the demographic representation in the U.S. Census.  Rockbridge is a custom market research firm specializing in technology issues and research for services firms, including many associations.

Written by: Gina Woodall, President