Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Free to Fee: Maximizing Association Membership via Engagement Strategies

3 merging trends are crushing down on associations and nonprofits and challenging for changes in the traditional association membership and dues revenue models.

Those trends are:

  • Mobile, social media & online presence 
  • Free and downward price pressures 
  • Engagement expectations 
I’ve written previously about most of these. Specifically two posts back in May:
Today, I want to focus on the engagement aspect of FREE as developed in Maximum Engagement, an awesome book and compelling read from David Gammel, CAE.
Starting with the Engagement Acceleration Curve, Gammel lays out the benefits of a strategy that engages the entire industry or professional with FREE content/services/products that then provides additional content/programs/services to move them to the FEE (paid) model.

I’ve watched the FREE to FEE model work successfully in the publishing business for more than 30 years. And, ever since reading Chris Andersen’s The Long Tail have wondered why many associations have not adopted the strategy.

Here are some key points from Maximum Engagement:
[my take-aways are in italics]

Consistently healthy organizations create more engagement opportunities in areas with strategic value of the organization.

Social media, combined with free online content attract and accelerate engagement.
  • know who you want to attract 
  • know where they are already gathering online 
  • determine what you can do to reach them where they are and draw them to your online presence 
Organizational management is largely about creating engagement opportunities and then marketing them to those most likely to value them. Failure to grow engagement with your members, donors and constituents ultimately leads to stagnation and failure as an organization.

Engagement is the result of a person investing time and/or money with the organization in exchange for value. Isn’t this true? As associations, we ask people to give us time and money ... and that puts us in competition with nearly every other part of American life.

Successful organizations create engagement where it matters.

Some associations are moving to find new, free ways to engage prospects:
  • The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) provides a free one-year membership to all newly-minted CPAs in the state. Their Executive Director reported that the free year membership program is accelerating the speed with which the Society brings new CPAs into the membership and increases the renewal rates. 
  • The National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) reported that they use free individual membership offers to market corporate membership as well as targeted educational offerings. 
  • This summer, The Ohio State University Alumni Association converted from a paid membership to an “inclusive” membership resulting in membership increasing from 210,000 to nearly 500,000. In selling the plan to its membership, OSUAA noted that its staff could move from “selling memberships” to “building relationships.” 
Each interaction must deliver value and entice the person to want to move to higher levels of value with you sooner or later.

Innovative engagement opportunities is absolutely required as a long-term activity to keep your organization healthy, vibrant and growing.

Most organizations innovate during growth but, are challenged when growth slows or stops. That is the issue: just when you need to be more nimble, you are actually at your least flexible. This is the GROWTH trap.

Two key areas to watch:
  • ENGAGEMENT FEEDERS: products, services, activities, actions that feed into the engagement opportunity. They create and/or channel demand for something else. 
  • ENGAGEMENT TARGETS: Engagement opportunities that the current action, product or service is designed to feed people into. 

Tomorrow, I’ll share an in-depth interview with the CEO of an association that has converted to the FREE to FEE strategy. Don’t miss it!

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