Associations often offer multiple membership categories to cover various backgrounds, entrance requirements and preferences within the association’s structure and membership base. Membership categories could be based on professional and/or educational backgrounds, years in the profession and working status among other criteria.

Depending on the association’s structure and goals, membership categories are either chosen or are assigned based on external factors. Regardless of the structure of the association and its membership categories, the Board of Directors has put time, thought and effort into building their membership base to its current state. Each membership category has been meticulously planned and has been deemed necessary to recruit and retain association membership.

If an association board is considering adding a new membership category, a gap in membership accessibility or attainability has likely been identified. For more on surveying members to find these gaps, read my colleague’s article here.

By creating a new membership category, the association will be attempting to reach a new audience and to grab the attention of those who were not previously eligible for membership or would now be interested in becoming a member based on new benefits, accessibility or cost.

Once a board has voted to create a new membership category, the task of marketing and properly displaying the new membership category are the next steps.

Market your new Membership Category at Events

In order to get the most out of a new association membership category, spreading the word about this new option is going to be crucial. Although it will be helpful to send the announcement to your current membership base so that they can spread the word to their colleagues and friends, the tricky part is going to be reaching an entirely new audience.

Reach current members using the following avenues:

  • Social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
  • Association’s website
  • Membership e-blasts

Since social media accounts and association websites are routinely checked mainly by current association members, it is unlikely that you’ll reach a large pool of potential new members through these avenues. And since membership e-blasts are only sent to current members, the annual general meeting (AGM) or conference is going to be the focal point for marketing the newest membership category. It is highly beneficial to hold a joint annual general meeting/conference for the purpose of exposure and marketing.

If an association can partner with another or multiple associations with similar interests and goals, everyone will be exposed to a new pool of likeminded people with a collective interest in the association’s industry/area of expertise. A joint AGM/conference will likely comprise the following people:

  • The association’s membership base
  • Other associations’ membership bases
  • Non-members

Reeling in Non-members

In the interest of partnership with other parties involved, the goal is not to poach members from other associations, but to entice them with the benefits of holding dual membership with both or multiple associations. Describe the ways in which the new membership category will compliment any memberships that an attendee already holds. More importantly, non-members attending the conference are going to be the people that you really want to target marketing of the new membership category.

Talk to non-member attendees about the reason(s) that they have not joined your association in the past. Perhaps the association’s new membership category solves this person’s previous concerns (cost, accessibility, purpose) or maybe now they are eligible for membership when they previously were not. Use this opportunity to acquire a new member with a face-to-face personal connection that they will never forget.

Once this non-member wants to join your association, be sure that there is a way to register new members on-site at events. Whether there are paper membership forms to fill out or a laptop to use, being able to secure new prospective members is key to growing a membership base and ensuring the success of a new membership category.

Make your new Membership Category Appealing Online

After putting in the hours of recruiting new members on-site at an AGM/conference, ensure that the association’s website and social media are easily accessible and have all the information that potential new members might be looking for regarding an association’s new membership category.

Find a way to make the new category pop by adding NEW to the renew/register page on the website. Dedicate a section of the association’s website to promoting the new membership category: highlight its benefits, explaining why it was created and why people should now become a member of your association. Create social media postings dedicated to the new category by comparing and contrasting it to other available membership options.

To attract more of a crowd to social media posts, request that they be shared by followers and similar associations. Create a hashtag that can be used by new members; this can also be used at an AGM/conference as a form of promotion.

The goal is to spread the word about the new membership category and to communicate to everyone why the category deserved to be created. Make it exciting and attractive for people to join the association!


All in all, the creation of a new association membership category can be a strategic and beneficial step in the right direction to grow a membership base, but it must be done correctly in order for it to take off. Draw on the support from existing members, connections you can make at the joint AGM/conference, and strong social media platforms to ensure that the new membership category will be launched successfully.