8 Irresistible Member Benefits for Associations to Offer in 2021

Associations, Retention, Revenue Growth // As we head into 2021 and anticipate another year of virtual working, you’re no doubt looking for new member benefits to drive member value and engagement to support retention and acquisition - try these.

Melanie Bond
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As we head into 2021 and anticipate another year of virtual working, you’re probably looking for new ways to drive member value and engagement to support member retention and member acquisition.

The effectiveness of your association’s growth strategy depends on your organization’s willingness to adapt, innovate, and implement data-backed solutions that produce maximum member value.

The problem is, many other organizations have similar offers and value propositions. So what membership incentives can you provide that convince people to join – and stay – with your association?

The eight member benefit ideas we suggest here will help you support a sustainable association growth strategy.

1. Online Member Community

2. Flexible Online Learning and Certifications

3. Mentoring Programs

4. Members-Only Job Boards

5. Virtual Events

6. Directories

7. Volunteering Programs

8. Exclusive, Industry-Specific Offers

Building a quality selection of modern member benefits helps your association stay relevant while keeping member satisfaction at the core.

Let’s dive in.

1. Online Member Community

The benefits of an online community for your membership are endless – peer-to-peer connection, access to experts, exclusive resources, and more.

Virtual Member Engagement All in One Place

With a community, you can engage members from day one: Your online community becomes a digital home for members to land and connect with each other and connect with your organization. Your members don’t need to wait for your annual (virtual) conference to interact—they can do this every day with an online community platform.

Your community is a destination that members can return to again and again to find the connection they crave, as well as resources, event information, volunteering opportunities, webinars, access to subject matter expertise, and more. And engagement automation features (like automation rules in Higher Logic’s Community platform) can draw them back in with relevant content when they haven’t been engaged in a while.

Communities have been even more important for associations this year. For example, during the first month of the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, community engagement jumped for many of our customers, indicating that members were relying on their association communities as vital sources of connection and information.

An online member community can be a great selling point, too. For example, the North Carolina Dental Society increased new member acquisition by 200% this summer with exclusive member benefits, including their community.

But community’s value in a crisis is just a small example of the impact online community has had for these associations and their members. Having a digital home for their members, where members know they can go for support and resources, has allowed these associations to pivot their strategies to support their members and even the rest of the industry.

Understand Your Members’ Wants and Needs

An online community opens the door to understanding your members’ interests, wants, needs, and pain points. Their discussions, the resources they download, and the feedback they give you are all crucial to building your member personas.

Here’s just one example: Community data shows you how you can better help current members.

The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) worked with Association Analytics to analyze their community data, which helped them identify overarching membership trends and popular topics, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enabling them to tailor programming:

“When we started aggregating data, GDPR was strongly searched and frequently discussed in the community. So, we created a group and started pushing more GDPR content and resources based on the data we had collected. This was well before the regulation went into effect – we knew we had to be proactive. We put together a GDPR program much faster because we saw it growing early.”

– Reggie Henry, Chief Information and Engagement Officer, ASAE

2. Flexible Online Learning and Certifications

Whether it’s through continuing education, certification courses, or gamified interactions, extending online learning components to your members and prospects shows you’re dedicated to their professional growth.

To make the most of this member benefit, many associations use a learning management system (LMS) integrated with their online community. Creating that sense of community in your online and in-person educational offerings can lead to higher member satisfaction and increased engagement.

A learning management system may also help you increase non-dues revenue by selling some of your online courses or certification materials. You can set prices for courses individually or base them on membership tier. Members in your highest tier may have complimentary access to all your courses, while lower tiers pay for more in-depth material.

The best LMS software supports a variety of content types, which makes it easy for you to create online courses with text, videos, live webinars, and tests to gauge how much information members retain.

3. Mentoring Programs

Your association’s goals might be to advance your industry and/or empower professionals within your industry. Starting a mentoring program is one of the best ways to accomplish those goals!

Plus, 61% of associations believe that the top reason members join their association is for networking with others in their field (Marketing General, Inc.).

When you have an online mentoring program, mentors and mentees connect with one another and choose the relationships that they find most valuable. Mentees can request a mentor from a different company, department, or location based on their interests, while mentors search for and connect with promising young professionals who may benefit from their expertise.

Mentoring programs encourage professional development and networking, giving your association the power to connect the experienced with the ambitious so both can share resources and work together towards mutual career goals.

Here’s a tip if you’re just getting started: 

“Find a good core group of mentors first (more than you think you’re going to need). If you’re estimating 50 people who want to be mentees, make sure you have at least 50 mentors available, and make sure those mentors are in place before your program launches. We did that by asking our mentors to register first before launching with our mentees.”

-Barb Boggs, Events & Volunteer Relations Manager, Grant Professionals Association

To learn more about mentoring programs, download our tip sheet: 11 Steps to Start a Successful Mentoring Program

Check out how the Southern Medical Association supports its members with an online community-run mentoring program.

4. Members-Only Job Boards

Everyone wants to land a great job, right? Your association has the industry connections to make that happen. Partner with major employers and experts in your field to create job boards for your members.

Try keeping job postings open to the public to entice prospects, but make the application available to members only. This creates a public-facing benefit that helps potential members find you while also providing a compelling reason to join.

Active job boards are a great way to attract younger generations as well. Community Brands found that job opportunities were the number one benefit young professionals are looking for.

5. Virtual Events

The current crisis makes in-person events difficult – but you can still use virtual events to create engaging, valuable experiences for your audience and reach your overall goals. Members still want connection and education, and events are a great way to make that happen.

In fact, Marketing General Inc reports that 77% of associations did or will offer a virtual conference in place of their annual in-person event.

But your virtual event shouldn’t be just another webinar – make it a chance for your members to engage by weaving community and connection into it.

If you’re new to the concept of an event community, you can think of it as the event’s digital “home.” You’d still run your event on a virtual events platform, but you’d pair that experience with all the engagement tools the community has to offer, like networking opportunities, Q&A, discussion threads, and a resource library. It helps engage your audience before, during, and after your virtual event.

Your event community can help you make sure attendees continue to find value in the event even after it’s over. They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and keep up the connections they made at your event.

And speaking of webinars – even if you end up doing a large virtual conference, webinars can still be excellent tools for member education, and can help you achieve multiple goals – like offering great member benefits while generating revenue.

6. Directories

Directories can take multiple forms. You can create a list of members, experts, vendors, partners – all of which can be locked up behind your membership wall. Not only is this a great way to earn revenue from your partners and sponsors, but when you help members create a network of their peers, they’ll become more engaged and more connected to you through these relationships.

Member directories help people find peers in their area and build relationships. New connections can meet in person or exchange emails to share best practices or support one another through personal and professional challenges.

If you create an expert directory, you can aggregate accomplished professionals in your field. Members can browse your online expert directory to find speakers for their events as well as freelancers or guest contributors, like authors. An easily-accessible, searchable directory will save members time and effort trying to fill their event lineup and content calendars.

7. Meaningful Volunteer Opportunities

Association members volunteer for several reasons, but every one of them is hoping to get something out of the experience. These are two of the top reasons volunteers seek opportunities:

  1. To support a cause
  2. Professional experience

Motivate members to join your association and renew their membership by providing volunteering opportunities as a member benefit.

For volunteers who want to make a positive impact or further a cause, provide advocacy opportunities or volunteer positions that directly contribute to meaningful projects. Communicate with these volunteers often by sharing their impact through video, photos, and testimonials. When they feel like they’re making a difference, these volunteers will get value out of your association and stay with you.

For those who want experience, boost your volunteers’ resumes by offering them the chance to learn new skills, such as how to use Excel or common marketing tactics. Volunteers can list these positions on their resume to further their careers. By enhancing their volunteer experience with practical knowledge, they’ll have a reason to maintain and renew their relationship with your association.

Here’s a tip on volunteer management from the American Academy of Audiology, who uses Higher Logic’s volunteer portal in tandem with their online community. Lauren Reimer, AAA’s volunteer coordinator, says:

“Having everything in one place makes it easy for members to peruse what each opportunity involves. Members want to understand the time commitment for an opportunity before they sign up, so having details available with each opportunity is effective.”

8. Exclusive, Industry-Specific Offers

You know your industry and your members better than anyone. Use that knowledge to create benefits that solve your members’ unique problems.

Divers Alert Network (DAN), an association serving scuba divers and businesses, did this by offering travel and accident insurance. Unlike most other insurance policies, DAN’s options cover hyperbaric chambers, an important medical treatment when divers suffer from decompression illness. DAN’s insurance policies can save a diver tens of thousands of dollars, making it a valuable member benefit personalized for their members’ needs.

The National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR) has another take on this. They offer a valuable shipping benefit to help their retail members more profitably send wine to their customers’ homes.

To create your own industry-specific benefit, identify a core problem that many of your members face, then solve it. You can do this by creating content, like a professional education course, or by building a partnership with a company can help (NAWR took this route when they partnered with FedEx for their shipping discount).

The Bottom Line? Offer Member Benefits that Create Clear Value

The most irresistible member benefits are the ones that help members see a return on investment (ROI) for their dues.

Discounts, training, professional opportunities, and other benefits that help members save money or advance their careers are some of the best ways to earn ROI. But it’s important to remember that financial ROI is bigger than numbers. Many association members are looking for a different type of value, such as a feeling of belonging or making a difference.

Association membership in the modern age is all about providing people with real value on their terms, and strategically leveraging your member benefits is an effective way to attract and retain those members who you’ll transform into your trusty advocates. Give people indisputable reasons to join and renew.

Melanie Bond

Manager, Strategic Services

Melanie is Manager of Strategic Services at Higher Logic. Melanie advises clients on community management strategy and best practices for building a highly engaged and successful community. Prior to Higher Logic, Melanie worked at WeddingWire as a Senior Customer Success Manager.

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