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What Do Members Really Expect
From Their Associations?

The value that you receive from your Association Memberships
each year should far exceed the annual membership fees.
Whether you personally pay your association membership dues, or they’re covered by your employer, Association Memberships are a costly expense that should provide a strong “Return on Value” (ROI) for each and every member.

Of course, this creates a significant challenge for associations and their teams considering the diversity of their membership. While members are generally all in the same industry, the challenges that each of them face can be quite diverse and, of course, ever-changing.

Whether you work for an association that serves a specific industry, or you are a member of an association that serves your industry, it’s always important to focus on the ROI the association provides for their members.

As a member, every year I ask myself, “is the cost of the membership worth the values that I receive?” I normally make this evaluation based on the following five categories of benefits that associations typically offer:

Benefit 1: Collaboration and knowledge sharing with other members

There are several ways that associations typically facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst their members, with the most popular being:
1. Hosting an online knowledge repository on their website,

2. Fielding requests from members and distributing via an email distribution list to other members,

3. Hosting a social media group page (Facebook or LinkedIn) where members can post questions and share learnings, or

4. Maintaining and distributing membership email addresses and phone numbers amongst members so that they can reach out to each other when required.
All these options have both pros and cons, but any can serve as a basic level approach to knowledge sharing amongst members. Of course, the ultimate solution must be cost-effective and allow members to share knowledge fast and efficiently.

Benefit 2: Training and education

Most associations provide some form of training opportunities for their members. This can be as informal as a webinar conducted by trusted service providers, to formal multi-day education-focused conventions with a multitude of timely topics being presented by guest speakers. Often, Associations can provide training and certification required for you to practice in your chosen profession, or at lest stand out from other job candidates.

When considering the cost vs. value equation for such offerings, you are encouraged to consider the ‘total cost’ including travel, accommodations, meals, etc.

Benefit 3: Conference and trade shows

You likely have attended conferences put on by your association and are familiar with the typical agenda of such conferences so I won’t go too far into the details on this one. Such events do provide excellent networking opportunities alongside informative sessions that address current ‘hot topics’ in your sector.

You should expect that such conferences are available to ‘members only’ or at least provide a discount on the registration fee for members.

Benefit 4: Advocacy

The Associations that serve your industry often serve as the ‘glue’ that holds the industry together on several fronts. As such, they are in the best position to advocate for their members. Thus, it is important that you share your challenges with your association so that they can appropriately focus their advocacy efforts.

For instance, if you are a City Manager dealing with homelessness in your city, it is important that you share the details of how this challenge affects you and your community. It is sometimes easy to forget that association staff and executives don’t work for cities, and are not on the front line of the battle every day like you are. The value that associations can provide to their members through advocacy to provincial and state government (or others) is directly linked to your ability as a member to keep them appraised of the challenges that you face.

Benefit 5: Member trade support and discounts

This is probably my favourite as I do love getting a good deal!

There are several volume/bulk pricing (including discounts) opportunities that associations can provide to their members. This is probably the most tangible and quantifiable benefit that often makes it easy to justify the cost of membership.

Examples includes group insurance price discounts, bulk fuel discounts or even entertainment discounts for staff and their families. When done effectively, such programs can be a real win-win as companies can save on marketing costs and pass those savings on to members all while producing a more predictable revenue stream for the business.

Conclusion...

While it’s sometimes difficult to quantify the value provided by the associations that you belong to, it’s worth trying to do just this. The 5 categories of benefits listed above can form the basis of this evaluation.

If you can honestly say that the payback to you greatly exceeds the cost of membership, then you are clearly engaged with an association that is a great fit for you.

If you see a cost/benefit gap, then it is important that you provide feedback their member relations staff, perhaps offering up some suggestions regarding how they can improve value to their members. Chances are, they will be grateful for your feedback! Not only will you benefit from any new offerings, but so will your peers.

I personally belong to several associations, including CAMA, and am happy to report that the value provided indeed far exceeds the cost. Particularly, I’m a huge fan of their annual conference that provides excellent networking opportunities, allowing me to reconnect with customers. I always love to hear about both their successes and their current challenges.
• Which Association(s) do you belong to?
• What is the most valuable benefit that they provide to you?
• Is there a unique benefit they provide that others may want to know about?