Ten Elements to Ensure Your 2024 Membership Plan Is a Success

bedell_membership plan January 16, 2024 By: Angela Broderick Bedell, CAE

In the association space, membership is constantly evolving, and 2024 will likely be no different. Keep these 10 foundational points in mind to develop a plan that meets member needs and strengthens your association.

Developing a strong membership strategy has long been foundational for strong associations. Here’s a look at 10 elements to help construct a membership plan that’s not only successful in 2024 but also for years to come.

1. Your plan answers the question, “Who are we as an association?”

Consider how your mission makes you unique. Members need to know about continuing education, conferences, and other benefits. Showing value through the lens of your mission will help them understand, and support, your “why.”

According to ASAE’s The Decision to Join publication, members join associations for what they can give, not just what they can get. Keep this idea central to your strategy and messaging. Your community is doing well, and your members deserve to feel good about being a part of that.

2. Your plan outlines last year’s successes and failures.

You can tweak or avoid what didn’t work last year if you learn from those experiences. Giving last year some brain time will help you and your organization move forward.

3. Your plan outlines category verticals and member-persona targets.

Since modern life is unpredictable, your verticals and targets should include demographics and value-based information.

Let’s say a 35-year-old woman wants to volunteer for her association. If she’s raising children or caring for her parents, virtual meetings may be her only option to participate. Segmentation based on demographics alone, like age, wouldn’t reveal her needs. It would help to know her values (e.g., that family is currently a higher priority than career advancement).

Instead of creating multiple versions of every program, personalize communications. The more you know about your members’ values and interests, the more you can connect with them.

4. Your plan includes researching, testing, or launching a new membership category.

In recent years, consumers have started to insist on paying only for what they want to buy.

I worked with three medical societies on extreme membership growth, and every time the catalyst was enrolling an entire medical staff at a health system or all physicians in a large group practice. Making the pricing affordable requires a different membership category. The large group membership allows you to introduce physicians to the organization, and with a strategic engagement plan, eventually upgrade them to a higher-level membership. 

You can also test member benefit bundling. The days of everyone paying the same amount for the same thing are over. Try testing a new offer with a personalized approach.   

5. Your plan outlines big-picture growth goals and defines marketing objectives.

Though it’s a marketing cliché, it’s true that if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t be able to get there.

Review your organization’s goals and determine how to align membership strategies to fit those goals. Which members might support a new program? What do you need to do to achieve your goals for website metrics, lead generation, or social media engagement?

6. Your plan includes a commitment to adding value.

We’re always working to elevate membership benefits. Consider how the for-profit world adds value for customers. You can also improve the “buying” process (e.g., how easy is it to join or renew), provide valuable content, and reward loyalty. 

There will almost always be a gap between what leaders define as value and what members define as value. CEOs can schedule a focus group with members who aren’t highly involved in the association or nonmembers and put the board behind the glass. This way, board members can learn about these groups’ interests and see the organization from another perspective.

7. Your plan includes set expectations for how teams work together. 

Developing a culture of cross-communication, trust, and collaboration with teams that are crucial to membership success can help achieve membership goals.

Consider the power of incentives for meeting a goal. Closing the office early, granting extra PTO, or hosting a lunch would make excellent rewards. If these aren’t in budget, simple “thanks for the effort” messages demonstrate that the organization values members.

8. Your plan includes markers and touchpoints for at-risk members.

It’s a good idea to contact at-risk members midyear. Calling or emailing after a member has been dropped, or six weeks after dues invoices, is often too late.

The best customer relationship management system won’t give decent ROIs if you don’t use the information to reach members. Sending personal messages can be productive and insightful.

9. Your plan explores ways to use AI.

AI holds many opportunities for membership professionals. Data analysis, content generation, and real-time personalization are a few ways to use this technology.

10. Your plan includes a tracking and analysis game plan.

Measuring results will help you move toward continuous improvement. Since there’s always a story behind the data, your analysis should include thinking and debriefing. Study the reports, consider the information from calls to non-renewing members, talk to staff and leaders, and digest everything. Analyzing information should include reflection and conversations. 

The beginning of the year often sneaks up on us. Making time for membership planning can help you get on the right foot for 2024.

Angela Broderick Bedell, CAE

Angela Broderick Bedell, CAE, is founder of AB Communities.