Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is Your Association Adjusting for Increased Freelancers & Self-Employed?

Fred Myers, a retired editor friend of mine, recently emailed me questions related to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports showing that 42% of the U.S. work force are in some form working as an independent contractor.

His comment to me: “Following closely behind are those associations that are ignoring the growing trend of independent thought and action that's replacing the traditional top down order of things. The result is more personal involvement not only in terms of work accomplished but in the decisions leading to that work.”

While Fred was commenting on a specific association, the labor stats may help explain my observations about the “downward pressure” on member dues and conference registration fees.

As freelancers and contract workers increase, associations and professional societies are likely to find a growing membership paying dues and fees from their own pocket. And, that makes an incredible difference in how they perceive membership and conference attendance.

I recall an ASAE speaker back in the 1980s outlining the “true cost” of attending a meeting and urging association marketers to account for those realities when they planned (and priced) meetings and conferences.

As one whose association paid for my dues and conference fees, I didn’t get her meaning ... until I started my AMC and began paying those fees (and a lot of other costs) out of my own pocket.

I belong to a national association that routinely charges $800 for a 3-day meeting. In addition, I have to pay airfare/travel costs (around $500) and lodging expenses (about $950). So, my out-of-pocket costs total about $2,250. And, that does not include the time away from my work/clients. This three-day opportunity cost amounts to about $2,000 to $3,000. So, the real cost of attending that one professional meeting totals about $5,600! 

I belong to a local professional society that charges $195 for membership plus $34 for each luncheon meeting. If I attend 10 of those monthly meetings, I’m paying $340. It also costs me about $3,750 in “time opportunity cost.” So, the real cost of participating in this local organization amounts to about $4,285!

These are significant costs for a self-employed consultant. 
And, lead me (and people like me) to take a close look at whether we can afford to participate.

Think about the members, potential members or former members of your association. Those who are freelancers, self-employed consultants, contract workers or someone whose company does not pay for professional development are examining the cost to participate against the potential return on that investment. 

Is your association measuring up? If not, it may be the unspoken reason why your association is getting pressure to hold the line (or decrease) member dues and/or registration fees.

One of the key demographics you should tract is whether the member is paying his or her own dues and/or registration fees. If the number who are paying their own way is increasing, your organization needs to carefully look at what it charges for dues and registration fees.


  1. Thanks for this, Steve. Interesting point. Do you have a link to that BLS data?

    During the recession, ASAE did some surveys of associations and their members, and one of the questions asked respondents if they paid their own dues and whether they'd continue to pay if their employer stopped paying for them. During the three years we did the study, between 16 and 23 percent of respondents said they would drop their association memberships if their employers stopped paying for it (i.e., they wouldn't pay out of their own pockets). Here's a link:

    Twenty percent isn't huge, but it isn't insignificant either. While we were asking that question out of concern for the temporary effects of the recession, you raise an important point about the similar, and perhaps more permanent effects, of a long-term shift in the nature of the workforce.

  2. Thanks Joe. As noted, I grabbed the state from Fred Myers ... I've asked him to track down his source. I'll do an update as soon as Fred gets back to me.

    I do remember the ASAE research about the impact of recession and who is paying dues. Wished I would have though to add it to this blog. Do think you are correct that being self employed is similar to being unemployed in that you rather than an employer are paying dues. And, as the ASAE figures confirm, that makes a big difference in the decision to join!


  3. Keep in mind that many of those independent contractors were laid off their jobs and would prefer full-time employment.

  4. Thanks David ... I recognized that being an independent contractor or free lancer may not from been by choice. I also know that for some, getting laid off led to a new position or new career that they didn't know they were seeking but find they love the independence and freedom to work on projects they like.

    Whether on purpose or by accident doesn't really matter. The point is that they now pay member dues (as well as conference fees & travel costs) out of their own pocket that that is a major difference from the "good old days" when the company paid those costs.

    And, if your association falls into a group where a growing number of members (or prospects) are independent contractors, consultants or freelancers, it changes the pricing dynamics for your dues and other fees.

    Thanks for commenting.