The Relationship Between Member Benefits, Discount Programs, and Successful Associations

I joined a professional association once. Over the course of several years and thousands of dollars, this is what I had received for joining: a useful PowerPoint on writing press releases.

That’s all. Obviously, that relationship didn’t last too long. The press releases I’ve constructed since are better, I suppose. Worth my investment into the organization? Eh, nope.

Ask someone why they join a professional association and they’ll offer up networking, educational opportunities, certifications, or representation. All important and vital functions of any association.

Then, ask someone why they won’t renew a membership, or why they’re not interested in joining at all, and they’ll tell you it’s because they didn’t see the personal value in it. There’s just not enough in it for them to justify the expenditure.

Dollars and Sense

The problem is that many of the benefits of an association are hard to quantify. What’s the value of being able to place an acronym after your name on a résumé? How do you put a specific dollar return on that helpful tip you learned from an association’s educational webinar?

These questions often go unanswered, and that causes members to lapse or never join at all. As a result, there has to be a greater emphasis on the “other” member benefits, such as supplemental insurance, AD&D, identity protection, and others that can show a sort of dollar-for-dollar value to the member.

While those benefits can certainly show a financial return, they’re generally not highly-utilized. That’s where discounts come in.

Member discount programs seem to be growing among associations because of the simplicity of the benefit: the association helps the member save money on their purchases, and that money offsets their dues. For many, these programs provide a simple answer to the “What’s in it for me?” quandary.

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5 Great Benefits of Discount Programs

Access works with dozens of professional associations (in fact, here’s how we partnered with one of the largest education associations in the country to help them build engagement and add value to their members). While we can certainly vouch for the purely financial connection between discounts and dues, there are also a few more benefits to this particular benefit that our clients have shared with us.

1. They open the door to greater engagement

Discount programs are like the gift that keeps on giving. Members can take advantage of them every day, which not only reinforces the association's brand but also strengthens the bond with its members. After all, who wouldn't be more receptive to the organization's outreach efforts when they've just scored a sweet $30 discount on a pair of shoes?

2. They provide the opportunity to say something other than “Give us more money”

In actuality, discount programs say the opposite – “Let us GIVE you more money.” Promoting deals and offers is a great engagement strategy, allowing you to have regular communications with members. But it goes beyond that. By offering discounts, associations are showing their members that they truly care about their financial well-being and want to alleviate some of their financial burdens. In a world where expenses are constantly rising and budgets are tight, being able to save money on everyday purchases can make a significant difference in someone's life.

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3. They bring the association home

People often keep their professional and personal lives separate, and that's understandable. However, when members can directly connect their association membership to their everyday life, it strengthens the relationship. For example, saving money on their weekly pizza order or getting a discount of $100 on back-to-school shopping can make the membership feel more meaningful and relevant to their personal needs.

3. They give you member contact information

Obtaining member emails, phone numbers, and other information can be a difficult task. However, with discount programs, members are required to register, providing two significant advantages: associations gain access to contact information, and members willingly opt-in to receive messages regarding the benefits. (See this article about how to collect more emails)

5. They add meaning to every member

Low-usage benefits like AD&D or pet insurance discounts are not usually utilized by a ton of members, yet they can still hold significance for those who need them. On the other hand, a well-designed discount program with a variety of merchants and offers can cater to the individual preferences of each member. Some may take advantage of daily discounts on groceries, while others may only use them for Friday night dinner ideas. Regardless of how they choose to use the discounts, members will find their own personal value in them.

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Perfect Benefits for an Imperfect World

In a perfect world, an association takes care of its primary business – advocacy, education, and so on – and that alone is enough to bring members to the table and keep them there.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is one where dollars are scarce and each expenditure has to be scrutinized for some kind of return.

Maybe my old PR association had some great benefits buried under the surface beyond cool PowerPoints about press releases. Maybe not. I’ll never know, because I never found any value anywhere in the organization. I was never inspired to look beyond the surface.

That’s why discount programs are important. They provide an obvious answer to the “What’s in it for me?” question.

Adding a turn-key discount program into the mix not only helps eliminate financial objections, which helps with retention and acquisition, but they also deepen the relationship by adding personal value and opening the door to deeper engagement.

Topics: Member Benefits, member engagement

Written by: Andrew Graft

VP of Corporate Marketing for Access Development / Access Perks. Professional marketer. Amateur guitarist. HR husband. Weapons-grade consumer of diet Coke.

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