Recently, I attended the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE) annual conference in Niagara Falls. A session on  “Today’s Missing Link for Explosive Growth” put on by Ed Rigsbee, author of the book “The ROI of Membership,” made me think about how we frame the features and benefits of membership when selling it to existing members and attracting new members.

What are member benefits? Do they have value to your members only or do they benefit people in the industry at large?

These questions were the crux of the conversation during the session. Ed Rigsbee walked us through a process of how to measure the value in dollar terms of the benefits, then communicate them clearly to members and potential members.

This got me thinking about the clients I manage and how they frame the association’s benefits when speaking to their members and recruiting potential members. During the session, I pulled up a client’s website to review the member benefits page and looked at the list through the eyes of a company that was not a member. Most of the benefits listed were benefits that the members definitely received, but many of them also benefited the industry at large.  This is problematic when trying to recruit new members who already receive benefit as a non-member. It is important to define the membership value and speak in terms of what you receive for your membership dollars.

A good example of an industry-wide benefit is advocacy work done by an association. When an association does government lobby work on behalf of the association, all the members benefit from this, but so do the non-members in the industry. If change happens because of the work your association is doing, then all members within the industry benefit from that work. Therefore, if you are trying to attract new members to your association, and your association does advocacy work, don’t lead with this as a benefit of membership as it is a benefit to the industry as a whole.

Weekly e-newsletters are also a member benefit that truly works for members. Two of our association management clients send out weekly e-newsletters through a partnership with Multiview, a provider of association newsletter services. The members benefit by receiving current industry or profession news each week and the association benefits from advertising revenue and positioning the association as a valuable source of industry information.  This is a win for the members and the association.

If you are struggling as an association to attract new members and retain existing members, it is important to define clearly what the true benefits of membership are. Ed Rigsbee’s book goes through a process of measuring the value, and identifying clearly, the features that add that value to your members as opposed to the features that add value to the entire industry. He argues that this value needs to be shown in financial terms so that members can easily see what the return is for their investment in the association. He points out also that the more you speak about value to your existing membership base, the easier it will be to sell the value to future potential members.

If your association is struggling with keeping members, you may want to look at purchasing the book to work through the process. The book is available on the CSAE website: