Bundling Dues and Publications for Revenue

By: Andrew S. Lang, FASAE

How the American Institute of Steel Construction hooked more members with a new approach to publications. [Titled "Better Together" in the print edition.]

Here's something different: an association that restructured and repriced a portion of its dues structure, bundling it with an essential product.

The American Institute of Steel Construction is both a nonprofit technical institute and a trade association. Since 1921 AISC has served the U.S. structural steel design community and construction industry in the United States through specification and code development, research, and standardization.

One critical part of AISC's role in standardizing the industry has been the Specification for Structural Steel Buildings, which is used for the design of every steel building in the United States. It's the basis for the Steel Construction Manual, used by designers, fabricators, contractors, and code officials. The Specification and manual are published every six years. These essential documents led to a creative restructuring of dues for architects and engineers.

Unlike most standard-setting organizations, AISC does not charge extra for the Specification. Full members accepted giving away this valuable resource. However, the manual was a different story. Previously, professional members paid $135 for membership, which included the manual. Alternately, they could pay $99 for a manual if they were already a member or $149 if they weren't a member. So certain professionals would join AISC the year the new manual came out, then quit for five years. When the next edition of the manual was published, they'd join again.

To address this problem, AISC decided to radically revise its dues structure. The association now charges $135 for a single professional membership. Organizations are charged $160 for two to six members, increasing from there and topping out at $1,000 for 500 to 1,000 members. These members receive steep discounts on the manual as well as access to more than 15,000 pages of online technical documents. Because the price of the manual jumped to $175 for members and $350 for nonmembers, joining became an easy choice.

All of this happened a decade ago. Did it work? AISC's professional membership went up from 1,500 members to approximately 25,000. In the process, its gross revenue has increased threefold. And thanks to its growing membership, AISC has increased its opportunities for marketing structural steel to key decision makers.

"Initiating a program like this only works at an association where senior management and the board of directors have faith in their staff," says Scott Melnick, an AISC vice president. "We've given our staff leeway to implement a lot of programs, many of which seem counterintuitive.

Taking a risk, doing something creative, and substantially increasing both gross and net. Should you be looking at something similar?

Andrew S. Lang, CPA, FASAE, is with LangCPA in Potomac, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Andrew S. Lang, FASAE