Editor’s note: This post was originally published by Julie Dietz in July 2017 and has since been refreshed to make sure we’re bringing you the latest and greatest.
Getting people to join your association is like making a sale. You need to offer them something they want enough – an incentive – to encourage them to join.
The problem is that 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?
Here are six member benefit ideas that should do the trick.
1. 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. Keep 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. Abila found that job opportunities were the number one benefit young professionals are looking for. Even millennials who are already working in their chosen industry are often interested in new opportunities because, while they’re one of the most well-educated generations, millennials still make less money than their older counterparts. All that makes job boards an excellent benefit for acquiring new millennial members.
2. Networking and Directory Access
Job boards aren’t the only way to help your members make professional, or even personal, connections. Online networking, like connecting through an online community or looking up experts in a directory, is also a valuable benefit.
Plus, when you help members create a network of their peers, they’ll become more engaged and more connected to you through these relationships (can you spell r-e-t-e-n-t-i-o-n?).
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.
Similarly, you can offer expert directories that 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.
3. Flexible Online Learning and Certifications
Lifelong learning is a major goal for many people, so provide flexible learning options to help your members master new skills. For example, you could create an online course that teaches your members how to use Excel better, if relevant to their field. Or, depending on your field, how about a course on issues like health and wellness?
To get the most of their online courses, many associations use a learning management system (LMS), often integrated with an online community. 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.
Award certificates to members who pass a course, or series of courses, so they can demonstrate their expertise to current and future employers. These certifications, especially if widely recognized in your industry, are often key motivators for joining your association.
Expert Tip: Learning management systems 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.
4. Professional Mentoring Programs
People learn and support one another differently, so provide an online mentoring program to help members learn practical skills in a one-on-one setting.
In 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. Just think – you could help your members create a valuable relationship that they’ll rely on for the rest of their career.
Expert Tip: Even associations and nonprofits that don’t deal directly with professional skills can use mentoring programs as a benefit. Just shift the focus from learning professional skills to personal fulfillment and knowledge sharing.
For example, if your organization supports those with serious illnesses, for instance, mentors who have experience dealing with the illness could help mentees who are new to the situation. Their support can be life-changing when it comes to mentees coping with their diagnosis or the diagnosis of a friend or family member.
5. Meaningful Volunteer Opportunities
Association members volunteer for several reasons, but every one of them is hoping to get something out of the experience. 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 these benefits as an incentive.
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.
The American Academy of Audiology uses Higher Logic’s volunteer portal in tandem with the online community, and Lauren Reimer, AAA’s volunteer coordinator, suggests you make sure members know what they’re getting into:
“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.”
6. 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, not to mention their life.
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.
Build Benefits that Provide a Clear ROI
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.
It’s your association’s job to find out what type of ROI your members are looking for and build benefits that deliver it. Those are the benefits that will convince people to join and renew year after year.
Learn more about online communities in The State of Community Management Report, below.
Content Marketing Manager
Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.
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