Associations have played a significant role in connecting people for thousands of years. From hunter-gatherer societies to modern professional organisations, associations have taken many forms and have had a profound impact on society. In recent years, rapid changes in technology, economics, and culture have necessitated a transformation in the way associations operate, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated this shift.
One of the most fundamental changes many associations are considering is their membership model. An association membership model is the foundation of an organisation, underpinning all aspects of its operations. It is essential that this model is the result of careful consideration and aligns with the purpose and goals of the association. The includes consideration of the following elements:
An association is a group of people who come together to achieve a shared goal. Its primary function is to work towards this goal, rather than to attract and retain members. A clear and defined purpose is essential for guiding the actions and decisions of the association, as well as for measuring success and navigating through changes. To ensure that the association is aligned and motivated towards its purpose, it is important to define its vision, mission, and values. The vision is the desired outcome or impact that the association hopes to achieve. The mission describes the actions and services that the association provides to achieve its vision. The purpose is the reason behind these actions and serves as the driving force for the association. The values are the core beliefs that guide and motivate the association and its members.
Association Type and Structure
The type and structure of association will influence the membership model. There are various types of associations that can be classified based on their goals and objective such as philanthropic foundations, environmental and animal protection organisations, hospitals and health services, social services, religious groups, international aid organisations, educational institutions, cultural and recreational clubs, advocacy and political organisations, business and professional associations, and labour unions. Within each of these categories, there are subcategories that further classify the association based on specific characteristics. The structure of an association, whether it is a single entity operating nationally or internationally, or a federation of independent organisations, will also impact the development of its membership model.
Who the Association Serves
It is important to identify the specific individuals and businesses that an association should focus on serving and engaging with, rather than simply attempting to attract as many members as possible. A clear understanding of the purpose of the association can help to clarify which groups are most important and should be prioritised.
There are five types of stakeholders that an association may interact with: those it exists to serve, those it engages with to further its purpose, customers who purchase its products and services, those who are targeted as part of a specific campaign, and vendors who provide products and services to the association’s community (stakeholders will fit into only one of these groups).
To determine whether an association is serving or engaging with a particular group, it is helpful to consider whether members of that group should have a governing role in the association. If the answer is “yes” that group is more likely to fall into the cohort of members you serve.
How the Association Serves
It is important for associations to carefully consider their activities and prioritise those that will have the greatest impact on achieving their purpose. This can help to avoid wasting resources on activities that are not aligned with the current goals of the organisation. There are five main ways in which associations can serve their stakeholders: representing the interests of the group to external parties, mobilising people or organisations to take action towards a specific objective, providing products, services, and other resources to assist stakeholders in achieving their own goals, creating opportunities for participation and excellence, and fostering a sense of community and connection among members. The choice of functions that an association undertakes can have a significant impact on all aspects of the organisation, and it is important to make these decisions intentionally rather than simply continuing with activities that have been conducted in the past.
How the Association engages with stakeholders.
An association’s engagement model outlines the way it communicates and engages with its members and stakeholders. To effectively develop this model, it is important to understand the current and ideal methods of engagement delivery and the gap between the two. This includes considering the type of engagement tools being used, such as traditional, modern, or online methods, as well as the association’s ability to effectively utilise these tools, ranging from developing to advanced. It is at this state that an association would consider the role of chapters, special interest groups, and components in achieving the purpose of the association.
How to make the model financially sustainable
The association’s financial sustainability is critical to its long-term success. The full range of revenue streams, of which membership is only one, should be carefully considered to ensure they align with the other elements of the membership model. Factors that will impact this decision include current reliance on membership fees, cost of delivering the membership program, whether fees are appropriate for all membership categories, current capacity to execute the ideal state revenue streams, and resources available for change.
A final note – the difference between a membership fee and a membership category review.
It is important to note there are two main types of membership reviews: membership model reviews and membership category reviews. A membership category review involves finding a better way to structure existing membership categories to offer value to different market segments, while a membership model review involves examining the entire membership model to ensure it aligns with the association’s purpose and meets the needs of its members.
Undertaking a membership model review can be a complex process, but it is essential for the long-term success and sustainability of an association. By adapting to changing circumstances and staying relevant, associations can continue to make a meaningful impact on society.
If you are looking for support to maximise the success of your membership program we can assist. Email Belinda Moore for more information.