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Association Affinity Programs Fuel Growth and Member Value

In a recent episode of the Member Engagement Show, I had the opportunity to chat with Lucas McCanna seasoned professional in association growth and president of Core Affinity, about the world of affinity programs for associations. With over two decades of experience working with associations and vendors, McCann shared invaluable insights into harnessing the potential of affinity programs to benefit both the association’s goals and member engagement. 

What Are Association Affinity Programs?

McCann explained that affinity programs are carefully curated networks of vendors that associations might partner with because their products or services align with the association’s specific industry or verticals. Associations work with these vendors to secure discounts or special offers that will bring added value to their members. From office supplies to industry-specific solutions, affinity programs bridge the gap between vendors and members, creating mutually beneficial relationships.

Keys to Successful Affinity Programs

For some associations who’ve tried and later abandoned affinity programs, McCann shared with me that sometimes organizations won’t see their program reach its full potential because they don’t dedicate attention and resources to it. He said that many associations also struggle to measure the success of affinity programs accurately because they don’t track the impact on members or evaluate vendor performance regularly.

So he emphasized several key steps for associations looking to establish, revive, or enhance their affinity programs:

  • Commitment and Intentionality: The association must be clear about why they are pursuing an affinity program. This clarity drives focus and sets the stage for success.
  • Vendor Selection: Associations should only partner with vendors that have a strong brand presence and align closely with their industry. More is not better if you’re offering benefits members have zero interest in. Understanding the vendor’s motivations and success metrics and how those will align with your members’ needs is crucial for alignment.
  • Member Engagement: Engage members in the process. Conduct surveys, seek feedback, and involve members in shaping the affinity program. Deciding which vendors you work with should be based on the experience your members have with them and whether or not those vendors can help members meet their needs effectively.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Start with a manageable number of vendors or benefits. Test the waters and expand gradually based on member feedback and performance metrics.
  • Promote Member Testimonials: Member testimonials are vital in boosting credibility and attracting new members or engaging existing ones in affinity program benefits. Highlight success stories to showcase the tangible benefits of the program.

Ease of Access and Feedback Collection

Another important component of affinity program success is making the experience effortless for members. Simplifying processes, reducing barriers, and actively seeking feedback from your members are all critical components for the success of your affinity program.

You should be maintaining your list of affinity program offerings in a place that’s easy for members to find, highlighting opportunities and testimonials in your member communications, and regularly reviewing what the user experience is like for members who take the time to engage with the program.

It only takes one discount code on your affinity program page that no longer works, or one link to a 404 page to undermine your members’ trust in your affinity program’s validity and benefit. So don’t just contract vendors, slap each discount on your affinity program webpage, and never check on those offerings again – your affinity program needs to be something you evaluate with the same care as you evaluate your other member benefits.

The Impact of Affinity Programs on Membership Value and Member Retention

But why are affinity programs worth it? Ultimately they help you support your members more than your association can on its own. They open up member benefits and cost-savings that only your chosen vendors/partners can provide.

And that cost-savings for members is nothing to sneeze at. A successful affinity program can result in members saving significantly more money than they spend on rheir membership dues – which is a great thing to highlight when it comes time for them to renew. That financial impact not only bolsters member satisfaction but also strengthens the association’s value proposition when members advocate for their membership internally.

McCann’s expertise underscores the transformative potential of affinity programs in fostering deeper member engagement, enhancing value, and driving sustainable association growth.

Affinity Program Analysis and Data Reporting

McCann emphasized the critical role of data in evaluating member engagement with your affinity program, the success (or not) of specific partners or vendors, and the impact for the organization.

His organization, Core Affinity, works with associations to manage their affinity programs, and one othe main things they’ve been able to track and showcase for their clients is that associations who see high engagement with their affinity program have the potential to see higher member renewals, especially when those associations highlight that cost-savings for their members.

When a member is renewing, how great would it be to be able to remind them that “Yes, your membership dues are $200, but the discounts you’ve used this year have saved you $400”?

Core Affinity’s data-driven approach shows that savings are a powerful incentive for renewals, marking an important shift in the program’s focus.

McCann highlighted the necessity of frequent reporting for assessing program effectiveness, stressing associations must commit to regular analysis, using these insights to refine or discard ineffective vendors. Strategic abandonment emerged as a crucial practice, allowing associations to concentrate on high-impact programs rather than juggling an extensive yet less fruitful portfolio.

Affinity Programs Can Benefit Organizations of All Sizes

An intriguing observation was the transformation in the incentive to affinity programs. Initially, these programs were often seen as a tool that smaller member organizations could use to gain more buying power. The association – by bringing together the collective size of their member organizations – could negotiate larger discounts for products and services that smaller organizations might not be able to get on their own.

Now, however, these programs are now becoming increasingly attractive to larger member organizations. Even though the additional savings percentage might not seem like a lot more than what these organizations can negotiate on their own, for organizations with larger opperating budgets, any percentage saved significantly impacts their bottom line, making these programs appealing across the association spectrum.

Key Takeaways for Associations

McCann and I concluded out conversation with him sharing this advice for associations exploring affinity programs:

  • Prioritize member experience.
  • Evaluate and revamp programs regularly, and don’t be afraid to get rid of ineffective vendors
  • Concentrate on fewer high-impact programs, which streamlines management efforts and maximizes overall value.

The interview provided a comprehensive understanding of the nuanced dynamics within association affinity programs. As the landscape continues to evolve, the key lies in adaptability and a commitment to delivering value that resonates with members.

Check out more episodes of The Member Engagement Show, including discussions about non-dues revenue, association community benchmarks, trends in the association industry, and more!

Kelly Whelan

Kelly Whelan is the Content Marketing Manager for Higher Logic. In this role, she develops content to support association professionals and advise them on member engagement and communication strategy. She also hosts Higher Logic’s podcast, The Member Engagement Show. She has ~10 years of experience working in marketing for associations and nonprofits.