Free Membership for Small Companies Has Big Impact

Membership Associations Now September/October 2014 By: Joe Rominiecki

When the Northwest Food Processors Association eliminated dues for its associate members—companies under $1 million in revenue—it was a boon to the association and its members of all sizes.

Some things are more important than dues dollars.

For years, the Northwest Food Processors Association had been struggling to recruit the smallest companies in its market, "micro" food processors with under $1 million in annual sales. In 2012, it had a grand total of three associate members, and, at $495 per year for an associate membership, NWFPA wasn't even breaking even on recruitment costs.

By mid 2014, though, NWFPA had 82 associate members. What changed? The price. Micro food processors can now join NWFPA for free.

That might seem like a great way to lose money, but the organization's potential gains in other areas more than make up for it, says NWFPA President Dave Zepponi.

Innovation. Small companies are where the newest ideas and trends are being tested in the food-processing industry. "We can start looking for trends earlier, so that we can start following those and see what's going on in the food industry," Zepponi says. "It makes us a better association because we understand the food industry better, not just one size sector."

Risk mitigation. A small company with less experience or less money to devote to food-safety protocols can trigger recalls that affect the entire market. "If we can make sure that the small companies are a part of this, have some basic education on being safe, then we've done a great service, not only to the individual companies in those categories but also to the community in which we live," Zepponi says.

Event attendance. A small-business; day at NWFPA's expo in January doubled tradeshow traffic on what had usually been a slow day. "We need more attendance in order to make our exhibitors happy, and that's about a third of our dues and about a third of our revenues," Zepponi says.

Associate members differ from full members in two key ways: They lack voting privileges, and they do not have access to NWFPA's staff experts. That arrangement has allowed the association to double its company member count while maintaining a sustainable workload on its 18 staff.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "How Free Pays Off."]

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor to Associations Now.