How One Association Overhauled Its Membership Model to Better Offset Inflation

OconnorPart1_HowOneAssociationOverhauledItsMembershipModelToBetterOffsetInflation August 17, 2022 By: Julia O’Connor

Dues increases can come with a lot of angst. The International Association of Movers knew more revenue was needed to deal with inflation, so chose to restructure its dues in a way that weighed multiple issues, took in member input, and kept the lowest membership tier priced the same.

Raising membership dues is a sensitive subject for associations. However, as costs increase, leadership often turns to raising dues as a means of generating additional revenue to help offset inflation. A typical process for raising dues might proceed as follows: The chief financial officer will recommend raising dues, and the membership team will make the case that, while the increased revenue would be nice, there are members who will view the increase as a hardship and drop membership.

For the International Association of Movers, by 2020, it had been several years since a dues increase. Membership growth had been flat, and the impact of COVID-19 hit hard, especially when IAM had to cancel its 2020 in-person annual meeting. It was not only time for a dues increase but also time for a complete overhaul of the membership categories and pricing model.

Navigating the relationship between current membership models and pricing structures can be challenging because associations rely on dues to support many activities. In other words, any significant reduction in dues revenue can be catastrophic.

Since association bylaws are the rules and foundational principles governing your association, management must ensure that the changes to the membership structure do not conflict with the current bylaws.

IAM devised a plan to address the issue more thoroughly. During the height of the pandemic, when travel was restricted, IAM staff decided it was a good time for everyone to come together and brainstorm about how to proceed with restructuring membership.

Use Data to Plan

To mitigate the risks of uncertainty and change, an association must understand current market trends, as well as look at historical data that shows member engagement and behavior. In this case, the plan’s foundation was to analyze the association’s current state, identify its commitments, and recognize its strengths and weaknesses. To support the plan, IAM used member engagement scoring data from the past five years to analyze member engagement, overall spend with the association, and determine potential drops based on a dues increase or membership restructuring.

Determine Desired Outcomes

Starting in April 2020, IAM conducted a thorough, data-driven process for setting a new strategic direction for the association. Following initial discussions with the senior team, McKinley Advisors conducted qualitative and quantitative research with members and key staff. The findings from the research were shared with the IAM Executive Committee, who engaged in robust group discussions on the implications of the research and the strategic imperatives for the association. Once senior staff and the executive committee had data, the association was able to scan for internal and external factors.

Review Current Bylaws

Since association bylaws are the rules and foundational principles governing your association, management must ensure that the changes to the membership structure do not conflict with the current bylaws.

Revising the bylaws was a long and arduous process for IAM’s senior staff. Over three months, the team dedicated significant time to work through the bylaw revisions. A side benefit was that the staff familiarized themselves with the document that governs the association.

Look at Your AMS Too

Associations that implement a membership restructuring plan will also need to consider changes to their association management system and accounting system. Prior to invoicing, staff and the AMS provider will need ample time to determine the changes that need to be made, factor in new general ledger codes, and test the new pricing model and reports.

Get Member Buy-In

Associations can use committees as a way to get member feedback and buy-in from organizations that may not be as invested as the board members. IAM developed a membership restructuring committee comprised of member organizations representing three different demographics: large, mid-size, and small companies.

IAM already had three membership levels and determined that a similar structure would remain. However, the proposed plan was that the structure would allow members to choose their level of engagement, rather than having it determined by their size.

IAM incentivized enhanced engagement by providing more benefits as companies upgrade their membership. IAM kept the pricing the same for the lowest price point in the membership categories to mitigate the risk of potential companies dropping their membership. With feedback from the membership restructuring committee, a member needs assessment survey, and the member engagement score, IAM was able to create three new membership categories with the proper pricing model to create better opportunities to grow membership.

This is part one of a two-part article series. In part two, learn how IAM shared the rate change with members and got them to select new membership tiers.

Julia O’Connor

Julia Gervase O’Connor is director of membership and database management at the International Association of Movers in Alexandria, Virginia.