Our models certainly are.
Associations desperately need to change the ways they view and engage with members, according to Nikki Walker, vice president of global association management and consulting for MCI Group, because the current model used by most organizations is no longer sustainable. Global association execs discussed why during Walker’s session on the subject today at the Messe Frankfurt Conference Center during IMEX’s Association Day. Their concerns:
- Attrition, retention and recruitment
- Differentiation among membership levels
- Country/corporate memberships with individual benefits
- Relevant member value with fewer resources
- Member/volunteer participation
- Valuable networking experiences
These issues (many of them relatively new) are being caused by a number of changes in the global marketplace, including:
- Great availability of information
- Economics (the inability to pay dues, mainly from developing countries)
- Increased competition
- Social media/technology
- Demographics (and Gen Y and Z)
- Time depletion
And because of these, the traditional bundling of services for a set membership fee may be an outdated model—especially in parts of Asia (China) where the membership standard is incompatible with corporate culture.
“We’re restricting our sense of building a community,” Walker cautioned. Associations represent a broader community than their memberships suggest, and they need to engage on multiple levels to survive. In associations that have long survived as essential to a given industry, de facto membership is failing.
Walker suggests that many associations should begin focusing less on membership and more on communities that reflect “service users” of all types—members being one, because many professionals just don’t have the time/drive/vision to participate at that level. Future membership models may include (according to conversations during the session):
- Corporate/institutional packages
- Bulk corporate payments, but individual members
- Internet-only memberships
- Memberships that cover several associations at once
- Youth memberships (35-and-under)
- Product-based memberships at a lower cost (and with fewer benefits)
- Multi-year memberships
But, then maybe the whole idea of membership-as-an-elite-paying-few itself is obsolete. Thoughts?