2023 is the year for associations to bounce back from the pandemic stronger than ever with a comprehensive retention and growth strategy. 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. To support member retention and member acquisition, you need to make sure you have a solid list of member benefits.
The problem is, many other member organizations have similar offers and value propositions. So what membership incentives can you provide that convince people to join – and stay – with your association?
Since the main reasons members join associations are networking with others in the field (63%), continuing education or certification (36%), and access to specialized or current information (35%) (MGI, 2022), we’ve put together a list of eight member benefits to help you meet your membership goals.
Use the links below to jump to any section.
- Online Member Community
- Flexible Online Learning and Certifications
- Mentoring Programs
- Members-Only Job Boards
- Virtual Events
- Volunteering Programs
- 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 member community are endless – peer-to-peer connection, access to experts, exclusive resources, and many 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 connect with each other and connect with your organization. Your members don’t need to wait for your annual conference to interact – they can do this every day with an online community platform.
Your community is a destination members can return to again and again to find the connections they crave, as well as resources, event information, volunteering opportunities, webinars, access to subject matter expertise, and more. And features like automation rules and automated engagement campaigns built into Higher Logic Thrive, our member experience platform, can draw them back in with relevant content when they haven’t been engaged in a while.
Hear what one of our customers has to say about their Higher Logic community.
“Higher Logic has become one of our most popular member benefits. Members say it’s an integral part of their work day.”
Rachael Bell, Content and Communications Director, NJSCPA
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.
Community data shows you how you can better help current members. Here’s just one example.
The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) worked with Association Analytics to analyze ASAE’s community data, which helped ASAE identify overarching membership trends and popular topics, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). They used this to tailor programming to just what members wanted to hear.
“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
Want to become a more innovative association? Hear what Dawn Sweeney had to say on The Member Engagement Show about revenue strategies for association leaders.
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.
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.
As a bonus, a learning management system can help you increase non-dues revenue through course or certification sales. You can set prices for courses individually or base them on membership tiers. For example, members in your highest tier may have complimentary access to all your courses, while lower tiers pay for more in-depth material.
3. Mentoring Programs
Starting a mentoring program is one of the best member benefits to help members grow their careers and meet new people in the industry!
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.
Check out how the Southern Medical Association supports its members with an online community-run mentoring program.
Mentoring programs encourage professional development and networking, giving your association the power to connect experienced members with ambitious members just starting out, 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
Mentoring programs work best when you have a great plan. Get tips for success in our short guide: 11 Steps to Start a Successful 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 a job board for your members.
Try keeping job postings open to the public to entice prospects and make the application available to members only. This creates a public-facing member benefit that helps potential members find you while also providing a compelling reason to join. A job board can be a great way to keep members involved with your association—especially during the Great Resignation—even as they switch to a new job. Learn more about tactics to support your job-seeking members here and keep your members for life!
5. Virtual Events
Whether you’re doing an annual conference virtually or in-person, or doing a hybrid event, you can use virtual events throughout the year to create engaging, valuable experiences for your audience and reach your overall goals. Members want connection and education now more than ever, and virtual events are a great way to make that happen.
Your virtual events should be more than the traditional 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.” Your event still runs on a virtual event platform, but you 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.
Directories can take multiple forms. You can create a list of members, experts, vendors, partners, you name it, all of which can be either available to the public or locked 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.
And if being a member of your association gets experts listed in a public directory, you can easily create one of those, too!
7. 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 are to support a cause and to gain 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.
Here’s a tip on volunteer management from the American Academy of Audiology, who uses Higher Logic’s volunteering functionality in tandem with their online community. Lauren Reimer, AAA’s former 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, offers travel and accident insurance to its members. 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 for members to help their retail members send wine to their customers’ homes more profitably.
Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, told us how the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association discovered members had an issue with pallets and appliance transportation. Since pallets were one-size-fits-all, appliances would fall off, get scratched, and end up in clearance. So the association created a software program to engineer and draw the perfect pallets for whatever was being shipped. This was exactly the value their members were looking for, thanks to effective research by the association.
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. You’ll want to make sure to communicate the benefits in a way that the members interested in them will be motivated to join. Learn more about those motivations in our podcast episode featuring Todd Henry, author of The Motivation Code.
Association membership in the modern age is all about providing people with real value on their terms. Strategically leverage your member benefits to attract and retain those members who you’ll transform into your trusty advocates. Give people indisputable reasons to join and renew.