Membership + Marketing

How to Identify Really Great Members

How to Identify Really Great Members

We all want engaged members who volunteer, share great ideas, and pay their dues on time. But is that all there is? What really makes a great member?

Could a member who pays membership fees every year but doesn’t interact in your community be a great member? Could someone be a great member if they take advantage of every grace period there is but create memorable fundraising events?

I would suggest that the value of members goes far beyond how much money they contribute to the association each year. Yes, we need operating funds, but an association’s heartbeat doesn’t come exclusively from a big budget. It comes from the intangibles – community, enthusiasm, sharing, and an openness to new ideas and people. We should consider five types of member engagement:

  • Financial
  • Community
  • Participation 
  • Leadership in your association
  • Leadership in the industry 
Member Engagement #1 – Financial

Financial engagement is an obvious type of engagement and one that is easily tracked. Your AMS or accounting system records member dues payments, as well as non-dues related purchases.

You may want to break it down a little more and determine how valuable each member is to the association over their lifetimes. With a quick calculation, you can figure that out.


How to Determine Lifetime Value

Here are 3 steps to determining lifetime value:

  1. Add annual membership dues to annual non-dues revenue per member

Dues: $325 + Non-dues revenue: $500 = Total $825

  1. Calculate your average length of membership

Ask your AMS to calculate how long each member has been a member. Then add up all the years and divide the total by the number of members in your list to get the average length of a membership. In the example, the average length of membership is 10 years.

  1. Determine the lifetime value of a member

Multiply the annual member value ($825) by the average length of membership to determine the lifetime value of a member. In this example, that’s $825 x 10 = $8,250.

As you determine lifetime value, you don’t have to be perfect. For example, not all members contribute to the non-dues revenue total. Some of your non-dues revenue comes from booth rentals at your trade show or webinars attended by both members and non-members. As close as you can, determine what percentage of your membership participates in non-dues generating activities and use a percentage of the total in your lifetime value calculations.

Once you know what a member’s financial value is, you can start to look at the cost to keep a member and the cost to acquire a new member. The difference in the two – compared to the value of a membership – is often the catalyst for strengthening retention programs rather than launching acquisition programs. But financial value is not the only benefit members bring to the association. The intangibles might be as important as the financial.


Member Engagement #2 – Community

Your members need ways to connect with each other, and an online community can provide a space for that connection. If discussion is robust in your online community, you probably have a few members who enjoy mixing up the discussion without taking over completely.

If your community is functioning well, it’s because of members who help make it welcoming and open to new ideas. If participation is lagging, you might need to find members who aren’t afraid to introduce new discussion topics or lead the resulting discussions. You can try many different strategies for stimulating community discussion, but it will all rest on the ability of a few members to encourage others to participate. Your staff members can’t do it all. Once discussions start, participation will build on previous successes. What are online community leaders worth to your association?


Member Engagement #3 – Participation in Events

If your association has a tight-knit membership, you can probably predict who will attend your annual meetings, golf tournaments, webinars, and luncheons. They are the ones who will help the staff with registration or will lead the fundraising events like fun runs, auctions, and wine tastings. They are the ones who greet new members at the door and really mingle during networking events. Their contributions go further than the registration fee they paid. What would it cost to replace them with paid hosts?


Member Engagement #4 – Leadership in your association

Once a member is “in the chairs” on your board of directors, how many years will they serve before they rotate off the board. With many organizations it’s as many as seven years or more. Think about the commitment your leaders show to the organization, especially if they serve during a crisis. Conference calls after hours, extra meetings, and the cost of travel are only the beginning of the expenses they encounter.

Yet, what would you do without professional guidance? Your board leadership, as well as the leaders in committees and chapters, is essential to the health of your organization. Developing leaders for the future is essential to the future of your organization. What dollar figure would you put on the service your leaders perform?


Member Engagement #5 – Leadership in the industry

What is your association’s relationship with the industry you serve? Members of the association who have a high profile in the industry can help repair broken connections with the industry or work to strengthen good ties. Having industry leaders as your association’s champions only helps in the long run.

One association that we follow was asked to help write OSHA guidelines for their state because their position in their industry was so strong. Being a respected voice in regulatory discussions helps your association stay on top of developing issues.

Industry leaders have years of work in the industry, as well as years of leadership in the association. You reap the benefit of having knowledgeable industry leaders in your membership.


How do you identify great members?

When you try to determine the real lifetime value of an association member, the challenge is in placing a value on the intangible contributions members make to the association. How much is it worth to have several “connectors” in your membership who can help make introductions and bring people together? How much are your leaders worth? How long could you continue without a strong connection to your industry?

Some associations attach a dollar figure to each of these attributes and use it in their lifetime value or engagement calculations. Others stick strictly to the financial aspects of membership.

No matter where you are, assessing intangibles like leadership and connectivity is more an art than a science, but it will help you determine where your strengths are – and where you may still need some work.

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