Membership growth is top of mind for board members to ensure sustainability of an association. Is it always in the best interest of the association to grow? Does your board understand the reasons for growth, the implications of that growth and the resources necessary to sustain that growth?

All of these are really good questions and should be addressed before planning to grow the association’s membership base.

Reasons to Grow Your Association Membership

Adding members to your association clearly adds value in a number of ways. There is more revenue from membership dues, new blood with new ideas to keep the association current and potential new committee and board members down the road. These are just to name a few.

The Challenges of Growing Your Association Membership

There are also some challenges that exist with growing your membership. The more members you have the more resources you use in servicing those members (increase staff costs and system utilization to sustain the growth can get expensive). There is a balance between growth and being able to afford growth so this should be monitored. Ideal growth is growth that takes you to your current organizational capacity to support members without requiring any new expenditures.

This topic came up in a board meeting I was recently at where my client has always talked about growing and getting bigger by adding members from the same industry but in a different region. Being new to the association I wanted to get a clear sense as to why this growth was important and does it really add value to the association.

I pitched some questions to the board for them to ponder over the next several months so we could discuss this at the next in person board meeting:

  • Does adding these members add to the strength of the association?
  • What are the regional challenges that exist if we add new members?
  • What are the new member’s expectations of the association and can we deliver what they need?
  • Does adding their voice give the association more clout in other jurisdictions in Canada?
  • Can the volunteer board members take on more work to make the growth successful?
  • What are some of the ways that regional membership can be structured (Chapters, Committees etc.)?
  • Are the regional differences similar enough to add to the value and strength of the association?
  • What extra resources are required to service these new members (staff hours, volunteer hours, financial resources (increased hours required from your association management company)?
  • Do the member benefits of your association align with the group that you are approaching as new members?

Is Growth the Right Strategy for Your Association?

Clearly based on the questions that arose from my discussion with my client the consensus is that they need to think strategically about growing the member base and come up with a detailed plan. The plan needs to include the goal of the association and and understanding if, and how, growing with regional members would support that goal. It also needs to take into account the resources that will be required to make the growth happen and sustain it. Do they have what it takes? Will the effort be worth it in the end for their current members and their new members?

We all come from industries and live in countries where growth is viewed as a great thing. Overall it is a great thing but everyone needs to be on the same page when making the decision to grow. Growth for the sake of growth is not always the best answer.