Needs Assessments for Membership Dues

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January 19, 2023

Whether you’re a new association or you’ve been around for decades, at some point you’ll have to bring up the touchy topic: membership dues. It’s not an easy subject, but a necessary one. If dues are too low, you can’t provide the products and services you’ve promised. Too high, and you won’t gain or retain members. So, how do you find that Goldilocks “just right” balance?

The answer is in your value. What is it your members want? Whether you’re setting up fees for the first time or thinking about raising them, it's key to make sure you get a clear picture on what you’re providing to your industry.

To evaluate whether you’re providing a good value to your members, consider a needs assessment, which will allow you to determine the needs or "the gaps" between current and desired outcomes. You'll be amazed the insights it will provide your team.

Step One: Market Desire. Find out what your members want.

This by itself won’t determine what products and services you provide, but it will be a good starting point. Reach out to your members to find out why they joined your organization and what they value they most. Is there anything they’d like to see more of? This is also an opportunity to get feedback on future ideas that you may have in the pipeline and to see whether it's worth the effort.

Step Two: Feasibility. Can you provide what your members want?

Focus on your goals when you’re thinking about what you can and can’t provide for your members. There may be some things they can get from your association, but they may also be able to get the same from other organizations. You’re the voice and leader for your industry, so your best value will come from doing things that protect and promote that industry. Once you’ve narrowed down the things you want to offer, assess whether your current resources will let you provide all of it. If not, you’ll either need to raise dues or make some cuts.

Step Three: Risk. What if you lose funding?

It’s important to consider sustainability as you think about the products and services you’re providing. What would your plan be if you lost significant membership numbers? This question can help you decide what to focus on and consider whether different payment structures would be more beneficial for your goals.

Step Four: Analyze. What will the value cost?

After you finish the needs assessment and nail down what you’re offering to showcase value, it’s time to add up the total cost. Include everything in this total including payroll, rent, office supplies, insurance, events, and any other expenses you should have. Don’t forget to include a marketing budget, which may need to be higher if you’re looking to ramp up efforts for membership and events.

Step Five: Execute. Put your plan into action. 

Once you have the total, you'll now know how much revenue needs to come in and can determine payment options. The ideal setup will depend on the diversity and cash flow of your membership. If cash flow in your industry is low or peaks at a certain time of year, make sure to account for this. You might consider lower fees, a referral system, or payments that coincide with the revenue peaks. Dues can be annual or on a rolling-cycle, and different payment tiers can come with varied levels of benefits. If your members are individuals, maybe you offer a discount for new members, students, or individuals who are new to the industry. If your membership based is primarily companies, a scaled fee can provide incentive for smaller companies to join, while you can offer more benefits to companies that pay more.

In summary, never be afraid to ask. 

If you’re not sure how changes will be received, always use the power of questions and surveys! Schedule calls with several of your members to lay out the new fees and benefits, and get their opinions. You'll want to make sure to get a good representative sample.

It's critical to communicate the additional value you’re providing with it if dues do increase -- members will pay for value! Have your most loyal members talk about the benefits they receive from the association and share their words with the entire organization. Word of mouth goes a long way!

If you’re still worried a dues increase will be too much for some members, you could offer installment payments, discounts on multi-year memberships, or early-bird discounts on early renewals.

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