Rethinking the value proposition

What’s the number one advantage new community-based websites like MySpace and Facebook have over associations in gaining new members? They’re free. The barrier to entry is lower. No member application PDFs. Fill out a three field form and go. Of course, most associations have a lot more to offer members than a profile page and the ability to add buddies. These items are the “Benefits of Membership.” For $100-350 a year, you get:

  • Access to online publications and other resources
  • A discounted rate for the annual conference and/or learning seminars
  • A listing in the member directory
  • Access to a jobs board
  • Listserv/forums subscription
  • Membership card

The problem is that with Google and Wikipedia the sites mentioned above, some of these items are starting to be commoditized. The value proposition isn’t as strong. Of course, this isn’t the case for every association but it’s essential to recognize that there’s more competition for members’ attention (and money) than ever.

In the not-incredibly-distant past, or as our colleague Dean likes to say, The Golden Age of Associationsâ„¢, companies would buy every employee a membership. That’s simply not the case anymore. The for-profit sector just isn’t as generous these days. Employees might get the day off to go to their association’s annual conference, but they have to pay their own way. They’re paying for their own memberships as well. Adapting to this climate will be the making or breaking of many associations and nonprofits.

I’ll end by throwing out a wild suggestion: dues are dead. In the not-incredibly-distant future, many associations will offer memberships free of charge; and if not free, at a fraction of the cost. They’ll make up for that lost revenue by consistently having more members (because memberships are free, right?) to market and sell other services and offerings to. Technology will make user-driven content and meetings not only a reality, but the value-driving force behind the association. Power to the people! Advertising will play a larger part as well, at least online. Power to Corporate America!

Am I crazy?

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