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Dear Betty: Why don’t our chapter members join?

By Dear Betty |November 20, 2013

Dear Betty,US

We have a lot of non-members at our conference. I mean A LOT: 43% of our annual conference attendees are non-members. The thing is, the majority of them are active members of their regional chapters (we know because we asked). Why don’t they want to join us, too? What can we do to entice them to become members of the national association?

Name and association withheld upon request

Gentle Reader,

Are you sure you want them to join? Looking at your registration and membership rates, it appears that, at least for most of your membership categories, the cost of non-member registration is actually higher than member registration plus an individual membership. If all those non-member registrants were to join, it appears you’ll experience a revenue decline.

Are they sure they want to join? As I wrote recently in the Spark blog, we tend to give priority to the member relationship, but it’s not the only relationship we can have with our audiences. Stakeholders can be attendees, presenters, subscribers, authors, book purchasers, volunteers, etc. without being members. Perhaps these non-member attendees prefer one of those other roles for reasons that have nothing to do with your association or its membership offerings.

But maybe you do want them to join and don’t mind about the revenue loss, and they would want to join if only they knew. Now what?

I assume some chapter members are national members. You need to find out what’s different about them relative to the chapter members who aren’t national members. What makes that group of chapter members unique? If you can mine your data and identify that, you will know which chapter members are good prospects for national membership, because not all of them are. One initial clue: what will their employers pay for? Many employers who will pay for professional development related registrations and travel will not pay for professional memberships. If that’s frequently the case, you’ll need to try to find a creative way around that.

Also, how easy is it for people to figure out what’s the best deal? If I’m a chapter member who’s decided to attend your annual conference, and I’m on the registration page of your website, I might think, “Hmm. That’s a pretty big price difference between the member and non-member rates. I wonder what membership costs?” But if I have to go hunting around the site to find the rates, figure out which of your rather lengthy list of options is the appropriate membership for me, figure out how to do two transactions, and wonder how long I’ll have to wait to qualify for the member rate, I might just skip it, again, particularly if my employer is paying.

A better approach would be something like:

Someone selects the non-member rate, so the registration form dynamically populates or creates a pop-over with something to the effect of: “Did you know that you can join our association right now for $XXX and register for the annual conference at the same time at the member rate of $YYY, saving you $ZZZ off the non-member rate? Click here to find out more….” Clicking would send her to a combined join and registration form, where she could do the whole thing in one simple transaction

Of course, once you’ve gotten that new member to join in order to qualify for the discounted conference rate, the question becomes: how do you keep her if she decides not to attend your conference again next year? But that’s a topic for another post.

Have a question for our membership and marketing expert, Betty? Leave a comment below or email .

Dear Betty

“Dear Betty” is the association advice columnist alter-ego of Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO and Chief Strategist of Spark Consulting LLC. Elizabeth has over sixteen years of experience helping associations grow, in membership, marketing, communications, public presence, and especially revenue, which is what Spark is all about. She speaks and writes frequently on a variety of topics in association management. When she's not helping associations grow, Elizabeth loves to dance, listen to live music, cook, garden, and blog about the Philadelphia Eagles.

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