Aligning Membership Categories to Enhance Outcomes

Oct 30, 2023

Your membership categories are not just an administrative classification. The labels you apply to your membership categories play a significant role in shaping member expectations, fostering inclusivity, and optimising the allocation of resources.

Labels create expectations.

Consider the implications of using the term “member” versus “supporter”. The former generally evokes a sense of personal benefits tied to a fee (eg: “What will I get in return for my money?”), while the latter creates the expectation that your fee will contribute towards advancing the association’s purpose (“I’m paying to support the cause.”). It’s important to select membership labels that align to purpose to ensure you are creating the right expectations with your members.

Intuitive labels help prospective members find their “Home”.

Counter-intuitive labels such as “affiliate” or “full member” don’t immediately allow a member to see which category is right for them without getting additional information.

They can also infer a bias – for example a “Full member” would be regarded as better than an “associate” member. When a member feels a bias against them, they can easily assume the association is not the best one for them to join.

Intuitive categories such as “student”, “retired”, and “10-20 staff” enable people to easily find where they fit. Intuitive membership categories are a great first step to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Labels aligned to market segments make it easy to personalise the membership experience.

By aligning categories with top-level market segments, associations can create offerings that resonate deeply with each group. For example, a category for “Owner/Operatos” could contain a focused mix of benefits that address their specific needs – as opposed to a “Over 50 staff” category that would have a different set of needs.

This strategy not only ensures targeted service delivery but also enables the association to focus limited resources where they can make the most impact for each market segment.

But what about the Constitution!

Constitutions often specify the membership categories an association offers. And, most of the time, associations use the labels in the constitution when promoting membership. Ideally, the constitution should be updated to reflect practice. However, if constitutional change isn’t possible, keep in mind that the words we use for marketing don’t have to be a carbon copy of what’s in the constitution. Using more appropriate terminology when marketing membership (while noting the constitution alignment where appropriate) can generate the same benefits. 

At SMS we specialise in helping associations to build sustainable membership programs. This includes support to ensure your membership categories are optimised. If you are looking for support to optimise your membership programs, please email [email protected] and we can set up a time to speak further.