What Sponsorship Trends Also Reveal About the Future of Membership

January 10, 2023 By: Jeanette Gass

Like your sponsors, members also want personalized and customizable benefits. That means associations will need to reimagine their current member benefit structures to remain attractive and competitive.

In a September 2022 Associations Now article, sponsorship consultant Bruce Rosenthal noted how the pandemic has accelerated the demand for customized sponsorship opportunities, including thought leadership, greater member access, and something beyond the average expo hall booth. What it basically comes down to is that sponsors want to choose what they get for their money and are no longer happy with tiered packages and brand awareness that relies on conference attendance. 

Combine these trends in sponsorship with our current era of customization, levels of access, and pay-as-you-go for almost any service (think Netflix, Hulu, and the like), and you can see that the traditional membership model is next on the list.

Organizations generally contribute larger amounts of money to associations than individuals, so it makes sense that they would be the first to raise the issue. However, individual members are not far behind. Facing rising costs across the board, individuals are forced to choose what really matters to them. Increases in choice increase the demand for personalization and connection. And associations that deliver on those will likely see higher engagement and renewal rates.

While associations may be able to work with sponsors to create customized opportunities for everyone, individualized membership options would be cumbersome in terms of marketing, staff time, and budgeting. However, this doesn’t mean that membership options should stay stagnant and be a set list of benefits. This is especially true in global associations, where major benefits like a conference discount may not be relevant to members who live thousands of miles away and are unable to travel.

Increases in choice increase the demand for personalization and connection. 

In an October 2022 Virtual NextGen Talk hosted by ASAE’s Young Professionals Advisory Committee, Tommy Goodwin, CAE, vice president of government relations at the Exhibitions and Conferences Alliance, share that his previous organization, the Project Management Institute, offered different levels of membership with different benefits. People could choose what worked best for them—whether that was the standard membership, one with a lower price with fewer benefits, or one that gave them more benefits at a higher price point. 

Sylvia Gonner, CAE, founder and CEO of CultureWiz, added to this by acknowledging that associations cannot be everything to everyone, but at the same time, they must accommodate diverse needs and interests to operate globally. She shared the example of working with the Institute of International Auditors (IIA) to help build local connections for their members, something that was highly valued. For IIA to execute this well, they needed partners to help them understand what resonated in different regions when it came to culture, language, price point, and overall needs.

This example shows the benefit of working with sponsors, partner organizations, or dedicated members to help tailor offerings and benefits around the world. This strategy also helps make people feel connected and that they are contributing to the organization beyond monetary exchange. 

To make sure these offerings are successful, it is also important to effectively communicate the scope of benefits available. Gabriella Lehimdjian, communications manager at ASIS International, noted that while the tiered model is a good strategy, a lot of associations are having a hard time getting members to know and use all the benefits that are available to them. This leads to a gap between the value of membership recognized and understood by association staff and the perceived value by current or potential members.

Overall, sponsor customization gives us a framework for the future of association membership. As the world continues to give people customized content and offer opportunities to pay for exactly what they want, associations will need to reimagine benefit structures to remain attractive and competitive. 

Jeanette Gass

Jeanette Gass is an association executive focused on global partnerships and development.